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Global access aggregator and end-point security provider iPass punts: Thames Online, which operates Wi-Fi along a 10-mile stretch of that well-known river in London, will allow iPass customers to roam onto their network. The network reaches 250,000 residents, and sees 2,000 daily users who commute along the river or work at locations nearby. iPass resells access from over 50,000 hotspots worldwide to corporations through a single login and unified, electronic billing.
Subscribers of the two networks can roam across networks: T-Mobile has over 700 hotspots in the Netherlands. Royal KPN has about 650. This deal covers just the Dutch locations, despite T-Mobile’s several thousand other European locations and nearly 7,000 in the U.S.
There are a lot of partners to this deal that allows Sprint’s corporate customers to use The Cloud’s 7,000 hotspots in Europe: Sprint has a roaming network of hotspots that it resells. Quiconnect aggregates and manages this network on behalf of Sprint (and for other companies, too), much like iPass, but under Sprint’s name. (At one point, Sprint used iPass’s network and software.)
Quiconnect arranged the roaming agreement for The Cloud’s network via RoamPoint, which is itself a wholesaler of hotspots operated by other parties. These deals have become quite baroque.
In the end, the amount of interconnection, roaming, and bilateral access means that the hotspots available to any user on any network continues to grow. Most of these additions are metered, however: it’s a single login, single bill, but not a flat price, even if there’s an unlimited domestic or home-network rate.
The 2,300 hotspots of these two firms are open to each other’s customers: Telefonica claims 1,500, and TI 800. TI recently also announced roaming with the Portuguese carrier. They have agreements now that bring access to 51 nations and 31,000 hotspots. Both firms are members of the Wireless Broadband Alliance.
The 2,300 hotspots in this deal are covered as part of the work of the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA): Members can more easily negotiate roaming deals under the auspices of this international organization, which emphasizes metered access with a single login to member networks. BT Openzone has 1,500 hotspots; Portugal Telecom, 800. BT OpenZone customers can roam onto 30,000 hotspots (23,000 with WBA members); PT Wi-Fi customers can roam to 14,000 (10,000 WBA).
The new services runs £49 for 4,000 minutes of Wi-Fi, 75 MB of cell data per month: BT Datazone works at 7,800 BT Openzone hotspots and on GPRS and 3G networks. The Register article says the service will work worldwide on 30,000 hotspots. No note about roaming charges, however, if any, and there’s no information on BT Openzone’s site yet about this plan.
Megabeam is extremely happy with usage uptake on its A1 and A4 service area Wi-Fi (in italiano): The service is offered in nearly 20 stops along the A1 (Milano to Bologna) and A4 (Milano to Brescia) highways. The number of connections doubles every month, Megabeam says in this report. Rates are €6.50 for 60 minutes (in one block), €12.90 for 24 hours, or €19.90 for 100 minutes across the entire Linkem network in one-minute usage increments.
ADP Télécom operates several French airports, along with prominent hotesl and business venues: Quiconnect doesn’t provide a count, but this is a very strong addition to their portfolio. Some U.S. telecom operators resell Quiconnect’s portfolio as international Wi-Fi roaming has become increasing important to their best customers.
Skype users can make, receive calls at 6,000 The Cloud hotspots for a fee: Skype Zones puts Skype into hotspots via laptops without allowing other services at a reduced rate compared to Wi-Fi access. Tony Smith at The Register notes that The Cloud already had a Skype Zone via the Boingo deal which encompasses The Cloud and 12,000 other locations.
Unlimited access to the still-in-beta Skype Zones costs €2.50 for two hours or €6.50 per month. Pricing may change, The Register says.
Swiss ISP Monzoon Networks signed up to use Airpath’s InterRoam platform: Airpath’s service makes it easier for hotspot operators to manage their relationships with roaming partners. Like many other companies in the game of assisting hotspot roaming, Airpath aims to make it easy for operators to set up roaming agreements without requiring the operator to reinvent the wheel with each deal.
BT added some new roaming partners: Customers can now use hotspots from NTT in Japan, Orange in France, and Swisscom Mobile in Switzerland. Interestingly, the deal was reportedly brokered by the Wireless Broadband Alliance, a vaguely defined group that aims to generate awareness of Wi-Fi and also help develop roaming agreements. I wasn’t able to find a list of members on the site but the executive committee is made up of random operators including BT, T-Mobile in the U.S., China Telecom, Korea Telecom, NTT, Starhub of Singapore, and Telstra of Australia.
European aggregator Trustive is taking a combined wholesale and retail approach to the market: Trustive is a hotspot aggregator with 12,000 hotspots as part of its network, mainly in Europe. The company sells directly to end users but also sells wholesale access to the hotspots to other operators, such as ISPs or mobile operators. A deal with Mach, a company that specializes in inter-operator deals, can help with billing and other backend services. Tele2, one of the largest telecom resellers in Europe, is a Trustive customer, reselling hotspots under its own brand.
On the retail end, because Trustive doesn’t have a well-know brand, it has started by selling the service in just a few countries and has developed marketing agreements with companies including Nokia, Sony, Dell, and Belkin. Consumers who buy products from such brands will get a deal on Trustive access. “That’s for us an easier route to reach customers because they’re already familiar with that brand,” said Bram Jan Streefland, Trustive co-founder and director of business development.
The fact that Trustive offers both retail and wholesale access is unique, he said. The retail side of the business is valuable because once a new customer signs up for service, Trustive can begin earning revenue straight away. The wholesale deals often take a year or longer to work through before a paying customer actually starts using the network.
However, targeting both the retail and wholesale markets also means that Trustive is competing directly with its wholesale customers. That’s not much of a problem, Steefland says, because Trustive’s wholesale customers are likely to be larger companies with well-established brands that are unlikely to be threatened by the lesser known Trustive brand.
Boingo is potentially the biggest aggregator that competes directly with Trustive. Boingo’s network includes over 6,000 hotspots in Europe . Ultimately the two will race to get the most hotspots in their networks, Steefland said, but each may continue to have an advantage among local customers.
While aggregators like Boingo and Trustive continue to add new hotspots to their networks, the broader environment for hotspot roaming is still quite disjointed. There is no clear leader among the many companies trying to cobble together the biggest network, making it a confusing marketplace for end users. Some operators are going it alone, lining up roaming agreements with individual other operators, such as the deal with Telecom Italia and NTT.
NTT signed roaming deals with BT and Telecom Italia: Customers of NTT’s hotspot service can roam onto BT’s and Telecom Italia’s hotspots. NTT’s network, including roaming partners, now includes 35,000 hotspots in Asia, North America, and Europe.
Boingo officially announced its roaming agreement with Irish hotspot operator Bitbuzz: The deal is the first for Boingo in Ireland. Bitbuzz operates 55 hotspots in Ireland and recently also signed a deal with Vodafone that allows the small percentage of Vodafone postpay cellular subscribers to receive a single bill for Bitbuzz hotspot use and cellular usage.
Vodafone and Boingo are two big names to enter the market in Ireland and their presence might help spur the market a bit by drawing attention to Ireland. Eircom and BT Openzone also operate hotspots here as do some others including Swisscom which just has a few hotels. BT Openzone has about 75 hotspots in Ireland and Eircom operates hotspots in McDonald’s restaurants across the country as well as some hotels and other locations. But this market hasn’t seen a slew of startups chasing the space like in many other countries.
UK hotspot provider Broadreach is using roaming services from T-Systems: T-Systems is a unit of Deutsche Telekom that helps operators support roaming with other operators. After seeming to emerge out of the blue without any sort of big launch, T-Systems is quietly racking up customers. I’ve been a bit skeptical of the operation because the company is mysteriously reluctant to disclose names of its customers. It claims 120 customers but has released only around ten names of customers, most of them quite small.
Vodafone has signed with BitBuzz and BT OpenZone to offer its 530,000 Irish customers Wi-Fi hotspot access: The price is an outrageous €5 for 30 minutes or €10 per hour—outrageous from my U.S. vantage point, but apparently not out of line in Ireland. Vodafone will apparently also allowing roaming across Europe “without roaming fees” as the article puts it—but obviously priced in this same fashion. (Ironically, I’m reporting this from Seattle; our Dublin correspondent, Nancy Gohring, is on holiday.)
The networks covering eight cities in Finland are now open to visitors: The networks were built using equipment from Radionet and they support mobility. It sounds like the eight networks are actually contiguous, truly making up one large hotzone. In trying to read between the lines, it sounds like the news here is that now customers in one city can also use the hotzones in other cities, giving each subscriber access to the entire network. Other people can use the network to, paying with pre-paid vouchers, credit cards, and cell phones. I haven’t been able to find the announcement online but it may appear here eventually.
BT’s Openzone has signed a roaming deal with Broadreach: Curiously, BT is an investor in Broadreach, which operates 350 hotspots. It’s a two-way roaming deal, so Openzone customers can use Broadreach hotspots and Broadreach customers can roam onto Openzone hotspots.
T-Systems, the Deutsche Telekom unit that offers a hotspot roaming platform, has two new hotspot operators in Spain as customers: WiFiEuro and Alo Communicaciones will offer roaming services to their end users via the T-Systems platform. T-Systems has made several other announcements recently about new customers for the platform but has been curiously tight-lipped about other customers. The company claims to have 120 Wi-Fi partners around the globe, but is only willing to name about ten of them. The customers it names are all quite small. A T-Systems spokesperson says that the company doesn’t release the full list of customers, who brand the service under their own names. Customers can choose which hotspots they will allow end users to roam onto. There are a number of other roaming platforms available to hotspot operators and they all are quite open about which hotspot operators use their offerings so I’m not clear about exactly why T-Systems is so secretive about its customer list.
Connexion by Boeing continues to rack up the roaming deals: This time, PicoPoint, a WLAN aggregator, has linked the Connexion service to its roaming offering. PicoPoint offers operators and ISP’s a roaming platform that allows end users to roam onto hotspots around the world. End users use their existing service provider’s account but can access the Connexion service on available flights.
BT Infonet said that its MobileXpress customers can now access the Internet onboard airplanes that support the Connexion by Boeing Internet access service: MobileXpress customers are typically mobile business people who use the service to connect to the Internet, over a wired or Wi-Fi network, when they’re away from the office.
Boeing is steadily making more deals with hotspot operators and services like MobileXpress that target mobile business people. The Connexion service is still only available on a handful of flights operated by four airlines so it’s a really limited offering. But perhaps Connexion hopes that by signing up as many partners as possible it will drive traffic onboard. If it can offer evidence of real traffic on the existing service, it may have more luck selling the service to other airlines.
T-Systems has added Nocable, an Italian hotspot operator, to its Wi-Fi roaming system: T-Systems seems to be positioning itself as an aggregator of sorts. As part of this deal, customers who subscribe to an operator that uses T-Systems roaming system can roam onto Nocable’s 50 hotspots.
I’ve just sent in a query to T-Systems in search of a list of customers for the roaming system. I found a page on their Website that says they have 120 partners but it only lists a few small operators. T-Systems is also providing a hotspot covering CeBit. [the link to the press release is broken. we’ll drop it in later assuming it gets fixed.]
TeliaSonera customers can roam onto 500 NTT DoCoMo hotspots: As with the many, many other TeliaSonera HomeRun roaming relationships, this is one-account, one-bill, but isn’t a free roam. Swedish and Norwegian TeliaSonera customers can roam in February; Finnish starting in March. They are NTT DoCoMo’s first non-Japanese roaming partner.
Boingo formed a roaming agreement with Monzoon Networks: The deal offers Boingo customers access to 266 hotspots in Switzerland. Locations include the Zurich airport, the Swiss International Airlines lounge in Geneva, conference centers, shops, restaurants, and all McDonald’s restaurants in Switzerland. Boingo now has almost 7,000 hotspots in Europe as part of its network.
Orange France hotspot customers will be able to access hotspots that are part of the WeRoam footprint starting February 1: Customers will be billed for the use of WeRoam hotspots around the world on their Orange France bills. Orange France is also adding its hotspots to the WeRoom network.
I have talked to the folks at WeRoam before but I have to admit that sometimes I have a hard time understanding their total business. The company firstly seems to be one that allows GSM operators to offer their customers secure sign-on and billing for hotspot usage. But WeRoam also seems to be an aggregator of sorts, enabling new partners, like Orange France, to roam onto the networks of other WeRoam customers.
That puts WeRoam into a category with the likes of Boingo and iPass, although I’m not sure that WeRoam takes on individual end-users like Boingo does. This aggregator space will be interesting to watch as the Wi-Fi market matures. As hotspots consolidate under a handful of companies, it may become increasingly difficult for the aggregators to differentiate their services.
T-Systems, a Deutsche Telekom unit, is providing roaming to customers of hotspot operators that use T-Systems’ roaming solution at CeBit: CeBit is one of the largest trade shows in the world. Customers of T-Systems customers can log on using their regular login and be charged on their home account. Anyone can access the network by purchasing time online or buying a pre-paid card.
The hotspot apparently is huge and last year was used by 4,300 people. I’m not sure how helpful this will be to how many people because it’s hard to find a complete list of T-Systems’ roaming solution customers. T-Systems says it has 120 international partners but the few it lists are relatively small, such as Connexion by Boeing and Portugal Telecom.
While this announcement is a good thing and will certainly prove useful to a subset of users, it highlights how fragmented the hotspot market is. At least in the GSM world, most European customers would turn their phones on at a convention like CeBit and assume that they could use whatever network is available via a roaming deal their operator made. But the hotspot world is still so fragmented that you’re the exception rather than the rule if you happen to be able to access a hotspot through a roaming deal.
IPass customers can now access BT Openzone’s 1,500 hotspots in the UK: This is a nice deal for iPass because it gives it a significant presence in the UK. IPass now has over 14,200 hotspots as part of its network.