Wireless hot spots have been popping up in cities, towns and even rural pubs over the last couple of years. But in their rush to secure prime sites for their networks, operators have been slack in addressing interoperability between their different systems.
As a result, potential users have been faced with a patchwork of competing services in which a subscription for one network is no use for accessing another.
Two announcements this week, from T-Systems and iPass, suggest that the situation may be improving.
T-Systems, a division of Deutsche Telekom, is pushing forward an ambitious plan to unite half the world's Wi-Fi hot spots under its banner.
Under this plan, T-Systems will buy network time from each Wi-Fi operator. It will then resell this capacity to other companies. This is likely to include mobile phone operators -- whose 3G network plans may be threatened by the rise of Wi-Fi. T-Systems has already got several thousand hot spots through deals with network operators.
Wireless ISPs are also likely to be interested in using T-Systems as a way of widening their network without having to build additional hot spots.
Individual users won't be able to buy a package directly from T-Systems, but could still see benefits. If the T-Systems wholesale package is a commercial success, then mobile workers should find that they can roam on many Wi-Fi networks through a single subscription.
Several other companies are ahead of T-Systems in the race to aggregate the world's Wi-Fi market.
IPass, one of the market leaders, said on Tuesday that its global network now included over 11,000 hot spots. IPass has now aggregated over 100 Wi-Fi networks, and says it is focusing on adding venues that will be frequented by business travellers who would like an Internet connection.
"Now, any convenient location that offers Wi-Fi can be business-oriented," said Anurag Lal, iPass vice president of business development.