This is The Doctor: BT is turning the whole planet into a wire-free world

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The Independent Online

Ten UK cities will get blanket Wi-Fi access this year under a scheme unveiled by BT yesterday, a move it says will take the country into the next era of the internet age.

If the plan is a success it will mean that laptop users with Wi-Fi capability will be able to access the internet from anywhere in the cities, a precursor to the eventual coverage of the entire country.

The company is in talks with local authorities and won't yet reveal which cities will be selected. BT claims that pilot schemes in Cardiff and Glasgow are successful.

Transmitters will be placed on buildings and on the tops of phone boxes across the cities to enable comprehensive wireless access to work. It took around 50 transmitters to cover Cardiff.

Wi-Fi works by using electromagnetic waves similar to those that drive microwave ovens, leading some to dub it the "hot chicken frequency".

So far, the World Health Organisation thinks Wi-Fi emissions are safe but research is continuing.

It is not yet clear how much of a money-spinner the deal will be. BT refuses to say how much it cost to Wi-Fi Cardiff, but says its revenues accrue from both local government and the commercial outlets, often cafés, that decide to offer the internet connection to their customers.

The news came as BT announced third-quarter profits of £1.4bn, down slightly on a year ago. Analysts expressed relief that the results were solid after a string of bad tidings from rivals. The WestLB analyst Morten Singleton was encouraged, but said: "It is not yet time to get carried away."

BT, which was privatised in 1984, still has 1.5 million small shareholders.

Investors are concerned that falling prices and continually changing technology will hurt telecom shares for the foreseeable future. And some analysts worry that BT will lose customers as new rivals emerge, though it still has 57 per cent of the home phone market.

One definite area of success has been allowing customers to send text messages that are spoken out loud by the actor Tom Baker, a former Dr Who and the voice of Little Britain. In the first 24 hours, three million people sent a message using Mr Baker's voice. A spokesman claimed that some of the messages were highly flirtatious, making Mr Baker an unusual sex symbol.

Revenue for the last three months was £4.95bn, a rise of 3 per cent from a year ago. So-called "new wave" business such as internet sales was up 42 per cent at £1.6bn.

The next generation internet device is WiMAX, a super fast connection technology that could eventually replace Wi-Fi.

Recent talk that BT will pay around £350m to buy Pipex Communications and acquire its WiMAX spectrum was gently played down yesterday.

BT's chief executive Ben Verwaayen wouldn't comment directly on a possible bid but said: "I don't think you need an acquisition to get into that space."

Suggestions that BT would one day take on Sky by bidding for football rights have circulated the City for some time. BT said yesterday that this was "highly unlikely".

BT's £34bn pension fund was found to have a deficit of £2.9bn, according to the most recent calculation. The company says that the shortfall is not problematic.