Wi-Fi roaming alliance adds U.S., U.K. hot spots

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) signed on some new partners, T-Mobile in the U.S. and U.K. and BT in the U.K., who become the group's first non-Asia Pacific members.

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) signed on some new partners, T-Mobile in the U.S. and U.K. and BT in the U.K., who become the group's first non-Asia Pacific members.

The move follows the announcement in March of the WBA which consists of broadband providers Telstra from Australia, Korea Telecom, China Netcom, Malaysia's Maxis and Singapore's Starhub. The grouping aims to provide subscribers with international roaming access to each other's Wi-Fi hot spots, in the same way that voice roaming occurs.

A pilot roaming trial started began this month involving all countries in the WBA except Korea, and will last until October. Full commercial sale of the roaming plan will begin in early 2004, it was announced. The group plans to consolidate charging so that subscribers will see only one bill, sent to them by their local provider.

In Singapore, StarHub has invited subscribers of its cable modem broadband service to sign up for the roaming trial.

When rolled out, usage will be charged at the rate of the local carrier, with users being informed of the cost before they log on. Part of the current rial involves the testing of a single, consistent log-in screen, user name and password.

The Wi-Fi roaming service--which targets businesspeople needing to remain connected during their travels--is expected to give subscribers Wi-Fi access via more than 26,000 locations across the region by the end of the year, including over 90 airports, 60 convention centers and 600 hotels.

T-Mobile USA and T-Mobile U.K. are providers of wireless voice, messaging and data services and members of the T-Mobile International group, the mobile telecommunications subsidiary of German telco Deutsche Telekom AG. In the U.S., it has hot spots in over 2,200 public locations, including hundreds of Starbucks cafes and Borders bookstores. The company is planning to have 5,000 locations in the U.S. by the end of the year.

T-Mobile USA also provides coverage at either American Airlines gates or in whole terminals at fifteen airports in North America. T-Mobile has also announced agreements with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines to deploy the service in over 100 of the airline's clubs and lounges this year.

The partners bring a total of 6.5 million broadband customers and 42 million wireless customers (including mobile phone customers). A StarHub spokesman said that customers for the hot spot roaming service will be most effectively harvested its own existing broadband and cellular data subscribers, compared with attracting customers off the street.

The launch of the service is "right on time" according to Ted Pretty, Telstra group managing director of consumer and marketing. "The idea that if a technology is available it should be deployed straight away is wrong". Pretty said factors such as reliability, security, ease of use and value for money came into play.

ZDNet Australia's Iain Ferguson and James Pearce reported from Sydney. CNETAsia's John Lui contributed to this article.