McDonald's is to serve up the internet alongside its normal fare of burgers and chips after signing a deal with BT Group to bring the world wide web into its fast food restaurants.
The US burger giant is to install mobile internet technology into 561 UK sites, mainly its "Drive Thru" restaurants popular with business travellers.
It already has 400 burger joints hooked up to the internet in the US and this deal will bring high speed, wireless internet access much greater exposure in the UK, which BT hopes will be an important area of growth in coming years. However, although the McDonald's deal is a high-profile joint venture, BT believes the real growth in so-called "Wi-Fi" internet access will be in people's homes and businesses.
David Hughes, the chief executive of BT Wireless Broadband, said: "The thing that really excites us is how pervasive Wi-Fi is going to become in homes and businesses. As a fixed-line operator looking at mobile technologies this is a no brainer to hook up public places to Wi-Fi so it joins up with people's private use of the technology."
Wi-Fi allows people with laptops and personal digital assistants (PDAs) to access the internet while out and about, avoiding the need to get to an office before connecting by wire or cable to the world wide web. The technology works by BT installing a Wi-Fi hub into each restaurant that is connected to BT's telecoms network. The hub, or hot spots, allows people to log on to the internet and enjoy high speed, broadband connections from anywhere within a 100-metre radius.
The system is connected to BT's billing centre with prices for the service starting at £10-a-month for 120 minutes. Occasional users will be offered a pay-as-you-go option at 20p per minute or £6 per hour.
BT plans to install 4,000 public hot spots by the summer.