Wi-Fi Week: Roaming in the dark

In a perfect world, Wi-Fi users would be able to use any provider's hot spots. The reality, however, is far from utopian

Moving from one hot spot to another may seem like a logical way to work -- after all, Wi-Fi is being promoted as the ideal technology for the mobile professional. It's odd, therefore, that the operators have been so reluctant to promote this. Companies such as The Cloud are actively recruiting service providers, but these are early days. You may also find that not all service providers are on all Wi-Fi hot spot maps (although ZDNet's interactive map is as inclusive as possible).

There's not much you can do if you're stuck in a place with a hot spot owned by a non-roam-friendly provider -- hotels seem prone to this -- except to make it clear why you won't use the service. There are no technical reasons why you shouldn't be able to use a service provider's authorisation on any hot spot, merely commercial ones, so users should exert as much commercial pressure as possible by voting with their access.

Roaming outside the UK is even more problematic, and just as in the early days of mobile phones you shouldn't rely on it unless you have an explicit promise from a service provider. It's a safe prediction that universal roaming will eventually happen, but while providers are wedded to excessive prices and user lock-in -- a hangover from old ways of thinking about telecommunication provision -- we shouldn't wait underwater.

Will patience create a Wi-Fi winner?
The founder of ISP Earthlink is setting out to capture the Wi-Fi market, which he sees growing steadily as more portable devices become Web-enabled

McDonald's to serve Wi-Fi with burgers
BT has announced a deal with McDonald's for the fast-food chain to offer wireless Internet access at its restaurants throughout the UK

MCI spreads Wi-Fi roaming with Boingo deal
A partnership with Boingo Wireless will give MCI hot spots in 19 countries

IPass deal extends European Wi-Fi network
The US operator has signed a deal that will see its wireless service rolled out across Europe

Finding Wi-Fi hot spots just got easier
The relaunch of ZDNet UK's Wi-Fi map, built in conjunction with Ordnance Survey, gives you street-level information about hot spots at hotels, coffee shops and stations up and down the land

Is roaming coming to Wi-Fi?
Networking groups are attempting to jump-start international standards for allowing users to jump from one Wi-Fi network to another, but the going is tough