RealTime IT News

T-Mobile Expands Roaming Network

As reported this weekend in various outlets, T-Mobile Hotspot today announced expansion of its footprint through several roaming deals, bringing its network up to 22,000+ locations in 17 countries, aiming at 25,000 by the end of this year.

"We survey customers every month and ask what they want," says Mark Bolger, director of brand marketing for T-Mobile Hotspot, "and they've asked for more locations, more airports, more hotels, more international roaming."

Deals have been sealed with WISPs like Concourse Communications and Opti-Fi for roaming at 39 domestic airports — including O'Hare and Midway in Chicago, and JFK and LaGuardia in New York —  bringing the total airport coverage for T-Mobile subscribers to 72 locations, though most of T-Mobile's hotspots are limited to lounges.

For extra hotel coverage, T-Mobile will roam on the network run by iBAHN (formerly STSN) in hotel chains like Marriott, Hilton, Ritz-Carlton, Doubletree, and Renaissance.  iBAHN's network adds 525 hotels.

Overseas, T-Mobile continues to work with the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), which it joined in November of last year. New roaming partners include Orange France, Swisscom Mobile, Portugal Telecom, and ePLDT of the Philippines (though these deals were worked out individually, not through WBA). In total, the WBA has 9,300 hotspots running in Europe and Asia.  

"Frankly, we're at a point where this makes a lot of sense for the industry," says Bolger. "When cell phones evolved, you had to have lots of cell phones... but the providers worked out back-end settlements in billing for roaming. This is where we are now."

T-Mobile also has released its usage numbers for the first time, saying that 450,000 unique customers paid to use a T-Mobile hotspot in just the past 90 days, for example, with 15 million customers accessing the network to date. 40 percent of them are also subscribers to T-Mobile's GSM/GPRS network. Session length of individual connections has also grown, almost tripling from 2003 to May of this year, with a current average of 64 minutes.

Surveys indicate to T-Mobile that at least one third of users are corporate in nature, as IT managers grow more comfortable with the technology. Part of this is the security aspect — T-Mobile is still the only major provider of Wi-Fi hotspot services that also includes 802.1X authentication. However, this authentication is limited to the 5,700 domestic hotspots that T-Mobile has itself installed at Starbucks, Borders, FedEx Kinko's, Hyatt Hotels, Red Roof Inn, and various airport lounges. "We can control our network," says Bolger, indicating that, for now at least, roaming partner locations won't be able to use the 802.1X.

As for services that can do in-bound roaming on T-Mobile's network, such as iPass, chances are the roaming won't extend to the new T-Mobile roaming partners. Services like iPass will have to work out individual deals with those WISPs, if they haven't already.  However, iPass users could authenticate at any iPass roaming partner site, either using 802.1X or iPass's General Interface Specification (GIS).

T-Mobile Hotspot is a division of T-Mobile USA of Bellevue, Wash., which is itself a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG .