Fast-food chain's Hong Kong outlets plan to follow Guangzhou into virtual victuals Fast-food giant McDonald's plans to serve up wireless broadband internet links to customers in Hong Kong, following a major rollout in Guangdong province. When combined, the Wi-Fi connections at McDonalds restaurants in Hong Kong and the mainland will be the biggest such deployment for the chain outside the United States. Answering inquiries made by the South China Morning Post, the local McDonald's group wrote: 'We are looking into the technology of installing wireless internet access hotspots in our restaurants in Hong Kong to provide extra convenience for our customers.' The company declined to confirm how soon the network might be rolled out. 'We would very much like to share further information with you as soon as the pursuit is finalised,' it said. There are 215 McDonald's outlets in Hong Kong, a handful of which are regarded as among the most profitable branches of the chain worldwide. This month, McDonald's started to offer a Wi-Fi service, based on the popular 802.11b standard for high-speed wireless local area network connections, at its stores in Guangzhou. The Interfax news service reported that the Guangzhou rollout was a pilot programme to determine future wireless broadband internet deployments at McDonald's restaurants in other mainland cities. '[McDonald's] hopes eventually to set up Wi-Fi hotspots in every store across China,' said Marina Leung Lai-shan, director of corporate relations at McDonald's China Development. McDonald's China Development owns all of 560 restaurants in the chain operating across the mainland. Ms Leung claimed the response from customers in Guangzhou had been 'fantastic' and said wireless internet access was increasingly becoming part of the lifestyle of modern young adults in China. Like in the US, partnerships with service and infrastructure providers are expected to support McDonald's push for Wi-Fi on its Greater China menu. 'China Telecom has partnered with Starbucks, KFC and McDonald's to get more Wi-Fi connections available in the mainland, outside of airports and hotels,' said Duncan Clark, managing director at Beijing-based technology consultancy BDA China. 'Telecommunications companies operate some 500 hotspots in the mainland, mostly in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing.' Before these plans were unveiled by McDonald's in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, wireless broadband services operator SkyNetGlobal in July announced a deal with McDonald's in Singapore to set up 140 Wi-Fi hotspots as part of a larger public-access network planned for the city-state. Research firm Gartner has predicted the Asia-Pacific region could have 38,000 hotspots by 2007, with 40 per cent located in cafes and restaurants, 32 per cent in community-based areas likes parks and public buildings, 10 per cent in hotels and less than 0.2 per cent in airports. In Hong Kong, PCCW has already established more than 300 Wi-Fi hotspots. 'Road warriors were the first consumers to make cellphones part of their daily business lives more than 20 years ago, and Wi-Fi is following a similar lifecycle,' said Sean Maloney, Intel executive vice-president and general manager of its communications business group. 'Right now, we see business travellers and technology buffs using Wi-Fi but the technology will spread to general consumers as they become aware of the benefits of true mobile computing.' Intel, which is heavily promoting its Centrino technology for wireless broadband-capable laptop computers, partnered with McDonald's to launch the chain's first in-store Wi-Fi services in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and Milwaukee last month. Other technology firms are expected to be enlisted as Wi-Fi goes mainstream. Richard Moss, Asia-Pacific business manager for Agilent Technologies, said the move by McDonald's and other enterprises to deploy Wi-Fi as part of their commercial operations was expected to boost demand for Agilent's Network Analyzer product. 'This is the kind of application where our expertise in testing networks for security will be needed,' he said.