Carrier WiFi

Hotspots Get Bizzy

Enterprise-oriented public wireless LAN access provider iPass Inc. (Nasdaq: IPAS) has inked a deal with T-Mobile USA to allow its users to roam onto the carrier's hotspot network in what looks to be one the largest roaming deals yet (see iPass Roams T-Mobile USA).

Jon Russo, the marketing VP at iPass, says the deal means his corporate customers now have access to "just over 10,000 hotspots" worldwide when the service launches in the first quarter of next year. The plebs using T-Mobile's network aren't going to be allowed to roam onto iPass's network in return. "Not yet anyway," says Russo.

The key to iPass's aggregated hotspot network is the client software it supplies users that allows them to sniff out suitable hotspots and easily connect to them (see Intel & iPass Connect). The firm has also regularly added new security features to its client (see IPass Blocks 'Rogue' WLANs and iPass Hunts Worms).

Russo thinks the deal will appeal because corporations want to get billed by just one service provider -- rather than many -- for monthly access charges. However, he says that it is "too early" to give details on how iPass and T-Mobile will work their backend billing magic.

Hot on the heels of this deal, MCI (Nasdaq: WCOEQ, MCWEQ) has boosted its hotspot footprint through a roaming deal with WLAN aggregator Boingo Wireless Inc., which adds another 2,000 APs worldwide to the 600 that MCI has already installed in the U.S. The operator formerly known as WorldCom says it plans to roll out another 3,000 hotspots in 2004 (see MCI Goes Roaming With Boingo).

Meanwhile, Canadian wireless ISP FatPort Corp. wants to combine this year's great white hype, public access hotspots, with the supposed next big thing of 2004 -– VOIP, with a spin-off called mobitus [ed note: bleurgh], which has software that allows its customers to make calls while wirelessly connected over 802.11 (see FatPort Unveils Mobile VOIP).

The firm says subscribers will just need a headset and its software to make calls. "The interface looks and acts like a telephone; customers can dial it using their mouse or the keyboard," says FatPort's marketing man, Malcolm McDonald. "There is no software on any access point -- it can work on any Internet connection anywhere -- including a 56 kbit/s dialup."

Mobitus/FatPort is charging 16.95CDN (something like $1,000 U.S. at today's exchange rates) a month for calls between its customers and has posted the rates for calls that roam onto the regular telephone network on its site.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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