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In an unprecedented move that may help Wi-Fi roaming become a reality, four Canadian wireless firms signed an “inter-carrier agreement” to use common standards for the interoperability of their public Wi-Fi networks. By simplifying access, the Canadian firms hope they’ve found the hot spot for hot spots.

According the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications industry association, the four companies involved include two large carriers, Bell Canada and Rogers Wireless Communications, as well as two smaller wireless firms, Microcell Solutions Inc. and Telus Mobility.

The four companies plan to roll out Wi-Fi spots that use a common brand identifier for hot spots in Canada. In addition, they hope to include other commercial hot spot operators who agree to meet the minimum requirements and to join the roaming alliance. By offering such consistency, businesses may be more comfortable using Wi-Fi networks on the road. The group said customers accessing compatible hot spots will be presented with a common, browser-based login area designed to provide a simple, consistent and secure service. It will also be designed to simplify billing, including adding charges to users’ existing phone bills.

“Increasing the number of locations and providing consistency of service will eliminate two of the biggest barriers to Wi-Fi gaining mainstream popularity,” said Peter Barnes, president and CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, in a statement.

Expected to be up and running this fall, the Canadian firms plan to build at least 500 hot spots over the next year. Could such an agreement be in the offing south of the 49th parallel? Unlikely, say analysts, citing the increasing competition in the U.S. market.

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