An Ottawa-based public WiFi service provider has created an application to let users of its system send access charges to their cellular phone accounts instead of paying by cash or credit card.

“”This drops a major barrier to paying for use because people don’t want to pay with a credit card

every time they connect to the Internet,”” said Tom Camps, president and CEO of BoldStreet Inc., which announced its Global Roaming Service Platform this week.

His target are the estimated 13 million Canadians with cell phones, who, he hopes, also have 802.11-equipped laptops or PDAs. Making it easier for them to pay for hot spot access is a better way of getting the market to grow than competitors such as FatPort and Spotnik, who concentrate on signing up locations at airports, bars, coffee shops and hotels, Camps argued.

Using hardware and software from partners Canquest Communications Canada Inc. of Ottawa and Nomadix of West Lake, Calif., when users of BoldStreet hot spots log on to the wireless network an interface allows them to enter a cell phone number. Once authenticated, the charges then go onto that account.

“”This way the user can file only one expense account with a telecom bill, not a bunch of separate credit card charges,”” Camps explained. “”So for business users it’s a real advantage.

“”Most important, it allows carriers to hang on to their subscribers and earn extra revenue.””

But while Camps has been talking to cell phone carriers for several months, none have signed up so far.

No one from Bell Mobility or Rogers Communications Inc. could be reached for comment.

However, they and the other two national carriers may be more concerned with completing the agreement they signed earlier this month establishing common standards for roaming and interoperability for hot spots they or other service providers team up on.

Bell, Rogers, Telus Mobility and Microcell Solutions (Fido) plan to make inter-carrier public WiFi roaming available this fall.

The four will share resources to allow subscribers to get the same login screen and let them direct charges to their cell phone accounts, at participating hot spots.

 

Some providers, such as Spotnik and FatPort, charge a daily or monthly fee. But some demo locations run by carriers are temporarily offering free service until they establish a viability plan.

So far, industry analysts say, no one has established a profitable hot spot model in North America. This may be why of the 60 BoldStreet resellers inked to sign up hot spots, only 15 are active: The other 45, said Camps “”are watching to see what the 15 active ones are doing.””

The Canadian carriers’ interoperability plan may be a step to making hot spots profitable.

The four carriers also announced plans to build more than 500 hot spots over the next year, and to allow other WiFi hot spot service providers to join in.

“”We want to provide a common user experience as they roam between hot spots,”” Bryce Mitchell, a wireless data network developer with Burnaby, B.C.-based Telus Mobility, said when the pact was announced.

The agreement “”was built with the expectation that other carriers would want to join us in the future,”” said Shaukat Mulla, Rogers Wireless Inc.’s director of planning and engineering for wireless data.

Mitchell said the carriers will combine several back-end systems,including subscriber information, which will be stored encrypted on RADIUS servers. RADIUS has several advantages, including the ability to detect fraud and access information in real time, Mitchell added.

Camps praised the agreement, but noted his platform is aimed at mobile users who don’t have a service plan.

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