US public WLAN operators are beginning to lose their fear of co-operation, and strike roaming agreements with rivals. Sprint and SBC Wi-Fi users will be able to access hotspots from either network, although Sprint only has twelve of these nationwide, and SBC around 1,800.
Roaming is essential if public WLAN is to move beyond the "bubble" phase and gain wider acceptance, and fulfil its potential for carrying voice as well as data traffic. Few of the Wi-Fi operators have roaming agreements, which leaves the mobile punter potentially hundreds of dollars out of pocket. As it is, road warriors tend to subscribe to no more than one or two hotspot providers.
Motorola and Nokia are building WLAN capabilities into their high-end open smartphones, although this is envisaged as an auxiliary to the devices' data capabilities, rather than the primary backbone for voice communications.
Hutchison's Rabbit network, based on hotspots, beat 2G to market but failed once the GSM networks, with their ubiquitous coverage, were built out. GSM never had the disadvantage of obliging the user to handle dozens of bills, either. ®
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