IBN (Inspired Broadcast Networks), a joint venture between wireless service provider Inspired Technology and game machine supplier Leisure Link Holdings, yesterday announced plans to build a nationwide high-speed wireless internet network connecting 3,000 UK pubs by the end of 2003.

In a first step, the network, which is called The Cloud and which IBN claims will be the biggest Wi-Fi network of its kind in Europe, will cover 250 locations by the end of April. IBN will offer free trial services in these locations.

Beginning in July, the company aims to offer a commercial service at 1,000 locations, with 3,000 to go online by the end of the year.

The Wi-Fi network will leverage the national network of broadband connected games terminals operated by Inspired Technology in co-operation with Leisure Link, which manages 90,000 game machines in 30,000 locations in the UK, according to the statement.

"Pubs, especially in the afternoons, tend to be quiet places where many business people come to work or have meetings over lunch," said George Polk, managing director of The Cloud service. "And a lot of these people come with their notebook computers."

For future expansion, IBN will look at other sites with coin-operated entertainment and game machines in the Leisure Link group.

For the most part, IBN intends to sell capacity on its WLAN network to companies offering high-speed wireless internet access to consumers, according to Polk. "Our principal business is wholesale," he said. "We will offer capacity to carriers, systems integrators and other well-branded companies that want to sell high-speed wireless internet access to their customers."

One of IBN's first customers is BT, which aims to expand the coverage of its BT Openzone wireless service through The Cloud network, Polk said, adding that the service will support roaming between hotspots within the IBN network and the networks of its customers.

In addition, IBN plans to sell directly to customers. "The entertainment machines in the pubs are equipped to accept money and print vouchers," Polk said, "so we plan to use these machines to sell service directly to customers on a pay-as-you-go basis."

Polk declined to provide prices, saying only that they would have to be as attractive as offers already available on the market.

Mobile phone maker Ericsson and chipmaker Intel have been selected to supply technology.

On Thursday Ericsson announced a contract to supply IBN with WLAN access points, based on the 802.11b standard, and DSL (digital subscriber line) modems for an additional 2,000 hotspots, the company said in a statement.

"This contract will bump up the number of hotspots in the IBN network to 5,000," said Ericsson spokesman Mats Thorén. "And there could be more; Leisure Link has over 30,000 locations."

IBN has "chosen to use the tried and tested 802.11b standard" but is prepared to upgrade to 802.11a "if the market demands it", Polk said.