Roaming Bedevils Wi-Fi Value-Add Services

By Carol Ellison  |  Print this article Print


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Service providers must come together on roaming agreements to create a future for value-add Wi-Fi hotspot services, experts agree.

San Jose, CA--The future of value-add services in the Wi-Fi space can be summed up in one word: Roaming.

Without roaming agreements to simplify the billing and log-on procedures that now complicate the use of Wi-Fi hotspots, user adoption cannot achieve the kind of critical mass needed to make Wi-Fi value-added services truly profitable.

That was the message sent by key players attending the Wi-Fi Planet conference here this week. The conference features a series of panels to identify partnering and value-add opportunities in the Wi-Fi publlic access (better know as hotspot) space. Across the board, participants agreed that opportunites in the United States were stalled behind the roaming issue. Until universal roaming agreements are in place, most agreed, only the most technically attuned mobile professionals would make serious use of hotspots.

Outside of the United States, in countries that have embraced the GSM mobile standard which more easily facilitates universal billing, the scenario is somewhat different.

Jan Eldenmalm, CEO of Amazingports AB, a public network service operator in Sweden, offered a vision of what the future could hold in the US when—and if—the roaming issue is resolved and critical mass is achieved. In Sweden, he noted, users use Internet phones, PDAs, laptops and other mobile devices to access entertainment, as well as voice and data offerings, via public wireless networks.

Ken Helleburst, vice president of marketing for Cometa Networks, the wholesale wireless carrier founded by AT&T, Intel and IBM, said that "Intel's enormous Centrino push" may soon change the US scenario. Intel has begun a program to certify Wi-Fi hotspots that interoperate with Centrino-based devices and has invested heavily in a campaign to make American users more Centrino-savvy.

Moves to facilitate roaming, however, were underway even before Intel's "push."

Aggregators of Wi-Fi services, including organizations such as Boingo and iPass, work as clearing houses among wireless service providers to support single-bill roaming. They have been instrumental in forging relationships with multiple competing wireless service providers to offer consumers a single plan through which they can access the Internet through the participating providers' networks.

"There are a lot of aggregators that are helping in this," said Joel Short, CTO and senior vice-president of Nomadix, a manufacturer of intelligent gateways that enable service providers to deploy revenue-generating services using their current infrastructure.

Standardizing business models and business relationships, said Short, who also serves as co-chair of the public access committee for the Wi-Fi Alliance, should also help facilitate roaming relationships.

Some niche players have already begun marketing value-added Wi-Fi services. Chief among them is Zinio, which supplies the reader formatted much like a print magazine.

Carol Ellison is editor of eWEEK.com's Mobile & Wireless Topic Center. She has authored whitepapers on wireless computing (two on network security–,Securing Wi-Fi Wireless Networks with Today's Technologies, Wi-Fi Protected Access: Strong, Standards-based Interoperable Security for Today's Wi-Fi Networks, and Wi-Fi Public Access: Enabling the future with public wireless networks.

Ms. Ellison served in senior and executive editorial positions for Ziff Davis Media and CMP Media. As an executive editor at Ziff Davis Media, she launched the networking track of The IT Insider Series, a newsletter/conference/Web site offering targeted to chief information officers and corporate directors of information technology. As senior editor at CMP Media's VARBusiness, she launched the Web site, VARBusiness University, an online professional resource center for value-added resellers of information technology.

Ms. Ellison has chaired numerous industry panels and has been quoted as a networking and educational technology expert in The New York Times, Newsday, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio's All Things Considered, CNN Headline News, WNBC and CNN/FN, as well as local and regional Comcast and Cablevision reports. Her articles have appeared in most major hi-tech publications and numerous newspapers and magazines, including The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor.

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