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Carrier WiFi

Hotspot Roaming 'Required'

Major U.S. hotspot operators will have to sort out coverage and roaming issues next year in order to have a chance of competing with other up-and-coming data networks, says wireless consultancy firm inCode.

InCode's VP of operations Martin Dunsby says that with faster CDMA Evolution Data Only (EV-DO) now being installed, as well as alternative high-speed technologies from the likes of ArrayComm Inc., Flarion Technologies, and IPWireless Inc. "waiting in the wings," operators have only limited time in which to sort out the issues that he sees holding back the adoption of public wireless LAN services.

"Right now, they're trying to compete with each other, when they should be competing with the other data networks," Dunsby says.

Part of the problem at the moment is that the coverage just isn't there yet. "Maybe six months ago a lot of people believed we'd have two or three large hotspot networks available," says Dunsby. This hasn't happened, and Dunsby believes that, if anything, progress has slowed in the last three months. Instead, he observes, companies like Cometa Networks Inc., T-Mobile USA, and Wayport Inc. are beavering away at network build-out efforts in "enclaves" around the U.S.

The operators, Dunsby opines, need to work together signing roaming agreements and sorting out the technical issues around seamless roaming and billing when a subscriber moves from one operator's network to another.

"Users need to know they can get coverage… and the process of signing on and using the networks needs to be simplified. That's what we're hearing from our enterprise customers." There is some evidence that this is starting to happen. Network aggregator Boingo Wireless Inc. is working with T-Mobile to develop software that allows the operator's customers to roam across its cellular and WLAN networks, but not yet onto other operator's WLAN networks. Meanwhile, Wayport has signed roaming deals with nearly all the major operators -- except T-Mobile.

Dunsby believes that T-Mobile and Wayport should get cracking on signing a roaming agreement. Largely because the operators have "critical mass" in the marketplace, users would be allowed access to a combined network of over 4,000 hotspots in coffee shops, hotels, and airports, if the pair did start a little roaming romance.

Nobody from T-Mobile had returned calls about Dunsby's suggestions by press time.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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