Sprint Plans Public Wi-Fi Push

Sprint this morning became the latest telecom service provider to embrace public Wi-Fi , promising 800 hotspots by the end of the summer, and 2,100 by the end of the year.

Verizon and SBC recently announced efforts to give users high-speed Internet access outside of their home or office via Wi-Fi enabled laptop, mobile phone or personal digital assistant.

Sprint’s service will work through “Wi-Fi Zones,” access points that meet standards of the nonprofit industry group Wi-Fi Alliance.

Sprint partner Wayport has Wi-Fi locations at airports, convention centers and hotels nationwide. And Sprint will rely on Airpath Wireless, a privately held Ohio firm, for hosted billing services.

Once completed, Sprint expects to cover 90 percent of all planned public roamable locations.

“Business customers have told us that convenient and seamless access to information is critical to increasing productivity of remote employees,” said Phil Bowman, a vice president with Overland, Kan.-based company.

Sprint’s PCS Connection Manager with Wi-Fi software enables customers to travel between disparate Wi-Fi locations, detect Sprint-compatible zones, and access their information.

The application, to be sold in Sprint stores as well as online, will also allow customers to access a directory, kept current via over-the-air updates.

Industry watchers say Sprint’s rollout, and especially its move to provide access and billing for roaming, is important to rapid adoption of Wi-Fi. Such agreements were essential to the growth of cell phone adoption a decade ago.

“The Wi-Fi Alliance is pleased to see that a leading wireless carrier like Sprint is establishing Wi-Fi zone public access services on such a broad basis,” said Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the nonprofit organization.

Initially, customers must subscribe using their credit cards. In late 2003, Sprint expects to integrate charges into the customers’ monthly statement. Pricing has not yet been announced.

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