updated 6/13/2005 9:02:46 AM ET 2005-06-13T13:02:46

T-Mobile USA disclosed user statistics from its Wi-Fi business for the first time Monday, reporting that 450,000 customers have paid to access the wireless Internet service in the past three months.

The cell phone company declined to provide a year-ago customer tally for comparison, but did release figures showing a sharp increase in usage for the service, which provides high-speed Internet access for laptops at locations such as Starbucks coffee shops, airports and hotels.

For example, T-Mobile Hotspot users are staying online an average of 64 minutes per login in 2005, up from 45 minutes last year and 23 minutes in 2003.  The total number of log-ins has totaled 3 million in the past three months, vs. about 8 million in all of 2004.

The Wi-Fi service is a key business for T-Mobile, which unlike many of its mobile phone rivals is not upgrading its cellular network to deliver high-speed Internet access in addition to phone service.

The company, a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG of Germany, does not own the rights to use as large a swath of the airwaves as the competition.  It needs to reserve enough of that network capacity for voice service to ensure that its 18.3 million mobile phone subscribers can make and receive calls.

A Wi-Fi connection can be 25 to 100 times faster than a cellular-based Internet service, but the signal can't reach much farther than a few hundred feet from a hotspot.  Users of T-Mobile Hotspot can pay by the month, per week or per day.

T-Mobile disclosed the user statistics as it announced an expansion in the number of locations where customers can access the service in the United States and overseas.

The new locations include roaming access throughout 39 more airports in North America for a total of 72, as well as guest rooms at 525 more hotels in the Marriott, Hilton, Ritz-Carlton, Doubletree and Renaissance chains.  Previously, the service was only available at Hyatt and Red Roof Inn hotels.

Combined, there will now be 5,700 U.S. locations and 6,500 in Europe.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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