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iPass still waiting for a BT connection

A deal with BT's Openzone would make iPass a lot more attractive to UK mobile workers, but so far the two companies have yet to make a deal

Wireless hot spot aggregator iPass would like to land a deal with BT to give itself a larger stake in the UK's growing Wi-Fi market -- but it's still waiting.

iPass gives its subscribers access to a large number of separate telecommunications networks worldwide through one account. The aim is to guarantee a user that they'll be able to get online via an iPass partner virtually anywhere, whether over Wi-Fi, DSL or dial-up.

The company appears to be light on deals with UK Wi-Fi providers, beyond an agreement with Swisscom Eurospot and one with Broadreach. This makes iPass less useful to UK mobile workers than it would be if it had BT onside.

While The Cloud has the largest number of UK hot spots, BT Openzone has secured plenty of high-value sites such as the Hilton and Ramada Jarvis hotel chains, British Airways lounges and several mainline railway stations.

iPass says it is keen to sign a deal with Openzone, and that BT was to blame for the lack of agreement.

"We want to buy access [to Openzone], but they have got to want to sell," said an iPass spokesperson last week.

Because iPass provides access to multiple Wi-Fi networks, it effectively competes with these Wi-Fi operators. However, BT has denied there is any ulterior motive behind its failure to form a partnership with iPass.

Chris Clark, chief executive, BT Wireless Broadband, said on Friday that talks between BT and iPass are ongoing.

"I met with their chief executive on Tuesday," Clark said, suggesting that a deal could be close.

Clark pointed out that BT has already signed deals giving Vodafone, O2, Orange and T-Mobile access to Openzone -- evidence, Clark said, that BT is playing fair by the Wi-Fi sector.

"BT is keen to grow the wireless market both on a wholesale and a retail level," he aid.

Clark claimed that BT hadn't got round to a deal with iPass yet because it had been concentrating on more important partners, pointing out that Vodafone was splashing its cash pushing its mobile office service, which includes access to Openzone.

But as iPass pointed out last week, there are around 500,000 mobile workers using its service -- including employees at 300 firms in the UK -- which could bring valuable extra traffic and revenue to Openzone.

Clark was speaking the day after the Wireless Broadband Alliance announced that its members -- BT, StarHub, T-Mobile, Telstra and Telecom Italia -- had agreed roaming deals that would give their customers access to a total of 20,000 hot spots worldwide.