International coffee chain Starbucks plans to take its public-access Wi-Fi act to Europe and will expand its wireless LAN service in the UK this year from two pilot locations to 50 stores.

Speaking at the annual Gartner Enterprise Wireless Conference, Ann Saunders, vice president of the company's Starbucks Interactive unit, said Starbucks is also eyeing the Asian market for Wi-Fi — especially in Japan, where the company operates 400 outlets — although it has no launch plans at this time.

The Seattle-based company currently offers public-access Wi-Fi service at 2,000 North American coffee shops on a per-session or subscription basis and operates a total of 800 coffee shops outside North America.

Starbucks plans to use T-Mobile, a division of Deutsche Telekom, as its Wi-Fi network partner in Europe, just as it does in the US.

BT detailed its rollout of public-access Wi-Fi services last month in heavily trafficked locations such as airports, hotels, motorway service-station restaurants and coffee shops run by Costa Coffee. The telco has also signed up a number of enterprise customers for a trial of its service, including the BBC, General Electric and Microsoft.

Despite the head start by BT, Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said he believes Starbucks will face little competition in the UK. Public-access Wi-Fi services are location-based, and "Starbucks owns the real estate", he said.

Although Saunders declined to discuss revenue from the Starbucks Wi-Fi service or to detail the company's percentage of revenues from the T-Mobile service, she did say it has boosted store traffic, especially in non-prime-time hours. And, she said, the Wi-Fi service has enhanced customer satisfaction.

Installation of the Wi-Fi equipment, provided by Hewlett Packard, is relatively easy, Saunders said. But training about 50,000 store employees on Wi-Fi technology was more difficult.