Wi-Fi Roaming Agreement Announced by Hotspot Owners

Wi-Fi hotspot owners BT Openzone, Singapore’s StarHub, Malaysia’s maxis, Japan’s NTT Com, T-Mobile, Australia’s Telstra and Telecom Italia have entered into a broad roaming agreement to allow each others customers to access the others’ networks through a single wireless broadband account, according to The Register. Many would assume that the benefit of this would be that customers would not have to take out expensive roaming contracts or worry about single network coverage. Or will they?

The deal follows the development of a roaming platform by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), of which the roaming partners are all members. Customers of participating operators will now be able to use their Wi-Fi subscription at home and roam in other participating WBA carrier member countries to experience ‘world-class’ (their words) wireless broadband. More than 11,500 hotspots are already in play across the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Italy, Czech Republic, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and the United States.

“This announcement redefines the way that international travellers will stay connected while travelling internationally,” said Kyong Yu, chairman of the WBA. “For the first time ever, the customers of our participating carriers will be able to roam across broader international wireless broadband networks with one account. These roaming arrangements set the standard for a uniform and consistent approach to international roaming that should help drive widespread adoption of wireless broadband.”

The platform puts in the place the technology needed to administer cross-network log-ins and billing. However, a less than clear point is that while the partner companies have said that roaming will not attract any extra charges until the end of 2004 – come next year, WBA members may charge roaming fees. The deal is also likely to favour only those users who have taken out more expensive access packages.

The pact will also likely spur on the development of roaming client software, which lets users roam between Wi-Fi, WCDMA, and PHS (Personal Handyphone Service) networks, all with the same interface.