How Canada’s WiFi carriers learned to share

TORONTO — Canada’s four major cellular service providers had to allow subscribers to use wireless 802.11 hotspots operated by several carriers or it would have fragmented the market to the point it wasn’t useful to customers, David Robinson, vice-president of business development at Rogers AT&T Wireless, said Tuesday at Toronto’s WiFi Power conference.

Telus Mobility, Microcell Solutions, Bell Mobility and Rogers AT&T Wireless are creating common standards for roaming and interoperability of the public WiFi hotspots they operate.

The agreement is intended to make it easier for other carriers and networks to connect with Canada and will impact how the market evolves within the country and outside its borders, explained Almis Ledas, vice-president of corporate development at Bell Mobility.

“”The whole intent of the roaming alliance is to really move WiFi forward in Canada,”” said Marc Choma, director of communications at the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association in Ottawa. He said this WiFi announcement is the first in North America and is one of the first in the world. “”It’s such a useful technology that a limited number of people have had access to prior to this.””

Choma compared the recent announcement to a similar inter-carrier text-messaging agreement made almost two years ago. “”We’ve gone from 10 million text messages in Canada before the inter-carrier agreement, and I believe the latest figures we had for December of this year were 37 million,”” he said.

“”When you remove barriers between wireless carriers, it really does open up the market. It also opens up the applications to be used more frequently by the consumers.””

Under the alliance, customers now gain access to an identical, browser-based log-in when they enter an area branded as part of the roaming alliance, Robinson said.

WiFi hot spots, which have been set up in many public places such as airports, coffee shops and hotels, shop allow users with laptops or other client devices with 802.11 cards to log on to the Internet, often for a daily fee.

Pierre Bonin, executive vice-president of Microcell Solutions in Montreal, said “”the book hasn’t yet been written on revenue models of WiFi,”” so everyone will have to see how the industry evolves.

As it stands, Infonetics Research of San Jose, Calif., reported 2002 WiFi revenues of US$42 billion with a compounded annual growth rate of 30 per cent projected through to 2006.

The roaming system will be available later in the fall. The four carriers also announced they plan to build more than 500 public hotspots over the next year, and to allow other WiFi hot spot service providers to join their alliance.

Despite WiFi’s advances it faces a few challenges, noted Michael Binder, assistant deputy minister, spectrum, information technologies and telecommunications at Industry Canada . The wireless sector needs to deal with continuing security problems around war driving, hijacking of someone’s WiFi connection or using a hijacked connection for illegal activities like viewing child pornography, he said.


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