RealTime IT News

T-Mobile Inks Wi-Fi Roaming Pacts

T-Mobile has struck a deal with six international wireless operators to simplify roaming and billing for travelers using Wi-Fi abroad, the company said Wednesday.

The Bellevue, Wash.-based company said it will work with Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) companies like British Telecom, Telecom Italia, Maxis out of Malaysia, Japan's NTT Com, Singapore-based StarHub, and Telstra from Australia to let its customers roam across broader international Wi-Fi networks with one Wi-Fi account.

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.

T-Mobile said its U.S. customers will be able to use their hotspot services at no additional charge through the remainder of 2004. Prices for international roaming in 2005 and beyond will be determined at a later time, the company said.

The partnership is timely, as roving bands of Wi-Fi users are growing in numbers. According to the Travel Industry Association of America, more than 45 million people travel for business each year. These "road warriors" and "windshield warriors" increasingly demand broadband wireless access along their journeys - from hotels to airports to everywhere in between, T-Mobile said.

"Our customers, on average, make more than three international trips per year," Joe Sims, vice president and general manager of T-Mobile HotSpot, said at an event today in San Francisco. "These historic roaming arrangements allow our subscribers to stay connected internationally using their familiar T-Mobile HotSpot accounts. Additionally, Wi-Fi users from participating WBA carriers can now roam into our world-class network of more than 5,000 T-Mobile HotSpot locations in the U.S."

The pact is also good for PCTEL's Roaming Client software, which is the same software that powers the latest generation of T-Mobile Hotspot's Connection Manager software. PCTEL said this week that the software will be used by Japan's NTT DoCoMo to let users roam between Wi-Fi, WCDMA, and PHS (Personal Handyphone Service) networks, all with the same interface. The software supports multiple languages and full 802.1X secure authentication.

But T-Mobile's band of partners is not alone in the Wi-Fi roaming world. Wi-Fi hotspot interconnection developer Nomadix said its new roaming program gives it the world's largest public access footprint. Dubbed NIS Roaming, the service aggregates more than 4,000 venues operated by carriers, wireless ISPs and service providers.

Hotspot provider Wayport has also signed a roaming agreement with Europe's WeRoam. Customers of the service can gain access to the 3,800 hotspot locations operated by Wayport.

Likewise, Boingo Wireless has a new roaming partner in France. The partnership with Paris-based METEOR Networks will put 400 new hotspot locations in the aggregator's footprint, including hotels, cafes and bus stations (the usual suspects). METEOR has said it expects to have 750 hotspots by the end of 2004. Boingo claims 5,600 locations throughout Europe.

And in the air, Connexion by Boeing, the Wi-Fi Internet service on planes, has another roaming partner. Users of the Mzone service provided by NTT DoCoMo can use their existing usernames and passwords to access the service. Customers' usage appears on their NTT bills.

In T-Mobile's case, the international partnership is an extension of its U.S. contract with hotspot aggregator iPass.

T-Mobile said it expects more international carriers in Europe, and Asia will join its cause in the near future, but declined to comment on which ones it's approached.