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Telstra Joins Asian Wi-Fi Broadband Alliance

Telstra is becoming part of an Asian wireless broadband alliance, which now includes five major telcos in Asia.

The members of the wireless broadband alliance, include Korea Telecom, China Netcom, Malaysia's Maxis Communications Berhad and Singapore's StarHub.

The Wi-Fi alliance will provide "hotspot" connections at international airports, hotels and business hubs, where business travelers can wirelessly connect to the Internet through ports throughout Asia.

The partners are said to be working on a pilot project to test interoperability of Wi-Fi roaming throughout Asia. Telstra expects the number of hotspots to grow from over 8,000 to 20,000 locations by the end of 2003. Wi-Fi customers are expected to have access to hotspots in seventeen international airports, food franchises throughout the region, and other branded establishments.

The partners in the venture are expected to create an alliance brand for Wi-Fi wireless broadband in Asia, following trials and product development. It is still unclear when there will be a product launch, and the financial arrangements between the five Asia telcos.

The alliance partners say they are trying to simplify roaming and billing for business travelers in Asia. The partners said they will try to utilize much of existing roaming phone bill infrastructure currently in operation for mobile phones. The billing structure of the Wi-Fi service in Asia is expected to include flat fee for access, and then different local rates, depending on which country they are in, and then only one bill will go the customer.

There are questions whether the Wi-Fi service will be complimentary or competitive with the development of third generation (3G) mobile phone services. Many 3G vendors are expected to market wireless Internet service accessed by phones, rather than laptops or PDAs.

It is still unclear whether each telco will have its own subscription service, or if it will be possible to pay by credit card for time spent online at a roaming location.

Korea Telecom already has close to 1.8 million wireless Internet users and 8,300 hotspots throughout South Korea. It expects to have 18,400 hotspots in South Korea before the end of 2003.