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Carrier WiFi

Asia Opens Up to WLAN

Five of Asia’s biggest carriers have given the public Wireless LAN market a hefty boost by announcing what they modestly claim is the world’s first and largest wireless broadband alliance.

Korea Telecom, China Netcom Corp. Ltd., Maxis (Malaysia), StarHub (Singapore), and Telstra Corp.(Australia) have agreed to open up their networks to allow wireless LAN users to roam from one country to another. Tests begin in July, although no specific launch date has been set.

The alliance aims to give users access to 8,600 hotspots, with a further target of 20,000 planned for rollout by the end of this year. The companies have so far invested more than $100,000 in the deal, excluding investments in the pilot roaming service.

Analysts have welcomed the move as a positive development for the nascent market. Evelien Wiggers, senior research analyst at IDC, expects this to be the beginning of a large-scale industry trend, following recent incumbent action elsewhere (see France Tele Hits Hotel Hotspots ). “We will begin to see similar agreements in Europe very shortly,” she predicts. “Mobile carriers will build up their own network first and then work together with other operators. The more roaming agreements that are in place, the greater a success Wireless LAN can be.”

However, concerns remain over the billing and revenue sharing issues that will need to be put in place to enable successful roaming among the five networks. Richard McBride, director of strategic futures at interconnect vendor Intec Telecom Systems plc (London: ITL), told Unstrung that the potential challenges the five carriers may face should not be underestimated. “I think it could be pretty tight to sort this by July, because there are so many commercial pressures pulling in all directions,” he remarks. ”You cannot downplay the technical aspects required if they are looking for full interoperability between the networks.”

While the hype around the potential for public Wireless LAN services continues to grow (see Hotspots: Getting Hotter? ), Unstrung has witnessed a number of vendors pushing specific solutions to carriers. Intec, Am-Beo, and Nomadix Inc. are among the first off the starting blocks (see Intec Jumps On 802.11 Wagon and Nomadix Demos 802.11 Billing).

Unstrung will be taking an in-depth look at the latest vendor offerings in its "Billing for Wireless Data Services" Webinar on March 26 (click here for more details).

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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