Yahoo mulls offering Wi-Fi access to IM users

Yahoo is considering giving users of Yahoo Messenger free access to tens of thousands of Wi-Fi hot spots worldwide so they can engage in instant messaging, including voice communications, while unplugged from their regular home or office Internet connection.

Yahoo recently polled users about this possible new service, which the Sunnyvale, Calif. company calls Yahoo Messenger On-the-Road, but it has no “imminent plans” to provide this service, a Yahoo spokeswoman said Wednesday via e-mail.

A screen shot of a survey page was posted on Tuesday by the TechCrunch technology news blog, which covers companies and products in the Web 2.0 space.

The Wi-Fi access would also have a fee-based option for users who want to do more than instant messaging, such as browsing the Web, for US$7.95 per month or $2.95 for a two-hour connection, according to that survey page.

That Yahoo is mulling providing such a service isn’t surprising, since Web portals are beginning to see Wi-Fi availability as an important promoter of Internet usage and thus of their services.

For example, this is a key reason for Google’s entry into the Wi-Fi provision market. Larry Page, Google’s cofounder and president of products, said late last year about the company’s Wi-Fi initiatives: “We’re excited about expanding Internet access in general. We think that’s really good for our business: As people have better access to the Internet, they do more searches and they use our services more.”

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