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Verizon Wireless Roams with Wayport

Verizon Wireless of Bedminster, N.J., owned in part by both Verizon Communications and Vodafone , today announced its first foray into the Wi-Fi hotspot business.

Verizon Wireless Wi-Fi will not encompass a hotspot network created by Verizon Wireless, nor even the pay-phone-based hotspots launched in New York City by parent Verizon. Instead, it's a roaming agreement with Wayport, the Austin, Texas, based service provider that provides wired and wireless access to customers in 565 hotels and eight major hotels nationwide, as well as in McDonald's restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area.

Verizon Wireless already offers a Wide Area Network for mobile data using CDMA20001xRTT, called Express Network, which has a top speed of 144Kilobits per second (Kbps). The peak speed for Verizon Wireless customers using a laptop at Wayport locations will be 1.544Megabits per second (Mbps).

"If you're a Verizon Wireless data customer, you can travel around the country" and get access, according to Andrea Linskey, spokesperson for Verizon Wireless. " In a hotel or airport, if there's a Wayport hotspot, you can tap in with our client and your 802.11 device, and you're billed as if you're on Verizon's network."

The network will be branded as Verizon Wireless Wi-Fi service to users, though running exclusively over Wayport's connections, for now.

The client software in question is a preliminary version of a product being developed by Smith Micro Software of Aliso Viejo, Calif., that will allow laptops using 1xRTT PC Cards or Wi-Fi PC Cards (or both) to access either type of connection. Eventually, an updated version will seek out and find the nearest appropriate network.

Linskey says Verizon Wireless sells 1xRTT data PC Cards, but not Wi-FI, and doesn't know of any third party products that mix the two, though Verizon Wireless is talking to parties about it.

Verizon Wireless will include Smith Micro's QuickLink Mobile Phonebook software in all of its future Express Network Mobile Office Kits, which let users setup their cellular phone as a modem when connected to a laptop. The client software will be available for free download to any wireless data customer.

The Wi-Fi service will cost $6.99 for 24-hour periods or $34.99 per month for unlimited use. The unlimited use plan on Verizon Wireless's Express Network is $79.99.

While currently there are no announced plans, Linskey says it's "not out of the question" that Verizon might eventually sell phone handsets that incorporate Wi-Fi for voice connections as well