Hotspot Roaming Fires Up
British Telecommunications plc (BT) (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA), T-Mobile (UK), and T-Mobile USA are set to join the five original members -- KT Corp., China Netcom Corp. Ltd., Maxis, StarHub, and Telstra Corp. -- in an attempt to enable wireless LAN subscribers to roam from one continent to another (see T-Mobile, BT Join WiFi Pact).
Initial projections back in March targeted 20,000 live and interoperable hotspots in the Asia/Pacific region by the end of 2003 (see Asia Opens Up to WLAN). The inclusion of BT and T-Mobile, coupled with strong interest from Japanese carriers, looks set to further boost the global footprint.
“We have 13,000 hotspots included in the alliance at the moment, and the operators involved now want to see 26,000 by the end of the year,” alliance secretary Shrikant Shenwai tells Unstrung.
Shenwai expects to reach this goal by adding further names to the carrier list. “We have been approached by several other operators in Europe, and discussions are in progress right now. We are also confident Japanese operators will join.”
The issue of roaming interoperability has long been regarded as a critical factor in the potential success of public wireless LAN services. Wireless aggregator iPass Inc. has already made waves in this market, recently surpassing the thousand active hotspot mark a year after the launch of its Global Broadband Roaming service (see iPass Has 1000 Hotspots).
“Part of the frustration of wireless LAN is due to the highly fragmented nature of the market,” comments Richard Dineen, research director for wireless at Ovum Ltd.. “The addition of BT and T-Mobile is therefore good news, as these players have the scale and experience to help solve some of these problems.”
Dineen points out the added weight T-Mobile will bring to the alliance, given the carrier’s present total of approximately 2,500 hotspots across the U.S. and Europe, compared to BT’s 700 sites in the U.K. “T-Mobile has the first true transatlantic footprint in wireless LAN,” he comments. “It is certainly a more significant addition to the alliance than BT.”
Meanwhile BT’s attempts to beef up its hotspot numbers have been publicly aired today, following a roaming agreement with U.S. startup Airpath Wireless Inc.. The deal will see the U.K. incumbent offer its customers access to a further 350 hotspots when on American soil (see BT WiFi Roams in US).
— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung