Sprint Hits the 'Spot

Wireless carrier Sprint PCS (NYSE: PCS) has become the latest U.S. service provider to announce plans to offer wireless LAN hotspot services, which it says will be in operation later this summer.

The carrier has signed a roaming agreement with Wayport Inc. to offer 800 hotspot locations when the service launches. A spokesperson for Sprint PCS says that the company is currently in negotiations with airports, hotels, and conference centers to build out sites of its own. Sprint plans to have 2,100 hotspots in service by the end of this year.

For its hotspot billing, the company has tapped startup Airpath Wireless Inc., which can verify user password and credit card details and will act as a clearing house for this information.

Initially, Sprint plans to charge all of the users on its hotspot network via credit card. However, the company says it is developing a billing system that will eventually allow it to charge existing subscribers for hotspot usage on their cellular bills. The system will be in place "later this year or early next year," according to the Sprint spokesperson. The operator has not yet made public its pricing plans for the hotspot service.

The company has already created client software that will allow its subscribers to switch between its wide area CDMA2000 1xRTT network and the 802.11 hotspot network -- as long as they have a laptop that can support both wireless LAN and CDMA connectivity. The PCS connections manager will also provide the user with information about nearby hotspots.

In the U.S., wireless rivals AT&T Wireless Services Inc. (NYSE: AWE), T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless now all offer hotspot services to a greater or lesser degree (see Big Blue Makes Elephant Dance, T-Mobile: WLAN Loner, WilTel Ordered to Pay $36M, and Verizon: WLAN, Phone Home). Cingular Wireless and Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL) are the only operators yet to announce hotspot services.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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