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T-Mobile Unifies Wireless Billing

Wireless operator T-Mobile USA has made a significant move in the development of its wireless LAN hotspot business strategy by offering GSM voice service and hotspot access together in a single package (see T-Mobile Integrates Billing).

T-Mobile's customers can now pay for their voice services and for using the operators 2,300 hotspots on one bill, instead of keeping separate tabs. T-Mobile is offering unlimited use of its hotspots for a flat fee of $19.99 per month.

This was an expected move, and one set to be replicated by other telecom operators that own and manage public WLAN access points, such as Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM) (see Swisscom Buys a Bevy of PWLAN).

"It's about time – this is a department T-Mobile had to upgrade," says no-messin' Yankee Group analyst Sarah Kim. "The existing billing system simply wasn't robust, and the operator was effectively running two separate businesses. The old model wasn't carrier-grade, so this is definitely a step in the right direction. This should increase interest among T-Mobile's consumer customer base and boost the visibility of the hotspot service generally," she adds.

However, Kim says she doesn't think this will lead to a mass migration of new users to T-Mobile from other operators. "It is unlikely people will churn to T-Mobile in the near term just because of the integrated WLAN service, as people are stuck in lengthy contracts that are costly to cancel."

The folk at T-Mobile are not keen to give specific information on the operations support system (OSS) software that underpins the integrated service offering. Even though the service is being offered at a flat rate, the process of combining usage, authentication, and billing information about separate services being managed on separate networks is a tricky one. But T-Mobile, following the adage about magicians and tricks, won't say how this one is done.

"We would actually prefer not to get into the details of the back-office solution," says T-Mobile spokesman Bryan Zidar, keeping the rabbit firmly in his hat. "The net for consumers is that they get this on one bill."

As it stands, there's no shortage of companies offering billing and authentication systems designed (or tweaked, more like) to meet hotspot operators' needs, as service providers desperately try to figure out how to make some money from public access points (see MetaSolv Offers 802.11 OSS, Intec Jumps On 802.11 Wagon, and Nomadix Demos 802.11 Billing for just a few examples).

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor, Boardwatch

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