Boingo, T-Mobile Plan Integrated Wi-Fi, GPRS Solution

Plans call for the the dual connection to be offered using one piece of Boingo's wireless service provider software on one account, said Sky Dayton, president and CEO of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Boingo. The software would show users all of the hot spots and Wi-Fi networks--as well as GPRS signals--available from a user's location, Dayton said.

"I think [this service] really serves as a model for the industry for what we're going to see in the future," said Dayton. "These two technologies really belong together. They have different strengths and are complementary in delivering a better user experience and the idea of always-on broadband connectivity."

Dayton didn't specify when the service would be available, how billing would work and how much the service would cost.

John Stanton, chairman of wireless carrier T-Mobile USA, said he believes his company must embrace Wi-Fi to survive in the market. "A year ago, we talked about the notion that Wi-Fi was either a threat or an opportunity. And I certainly think it is both," said Stanton. "From a carrier point of view, Wi-Fi represents an opportunity for us to leverage areas that are an enormous challenge."

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For instance, the wireless sector previously had been grappling with such issues as spectrum space and pressures on hardware vendors to develop products at a cost that's attractive to customers, according to Stanton. "Then here comes Wi-Fi, with no spectrum costs, low-cost bandwidth ubiquitously available, open-standard architecture and subscriber equipment," he said. "So at this point, we've really embraced it."

Since Bellevue, Wash.-based T-Mobile isn't an expert in Wi-Fi, Stanton said it decided to partner with Boingo, which he characterized as the strongest company in the Wi-Fi space.

Still, not all carriers at the CTIA show were jumping on the Wi-Fi business model--at least not yet. Timothy Donahue, president and CEO of Nextel, Reston, Va., said that although Wi-Fi is complementary and Nextel supports 802.11, he believes the industry's rush to set up hot spots is "a bit like herding cats."

"There are real costs involved that need to be picked up," Donahue said. "I am not yet convinced there's a network there and that there's a quality [level] for the network that has to be there in order to satisfy customers. There really aren't any roaming agreements, you know?"

Donahue gave credit to Boingo's Dayton for "trying to pull it together" but said he believes it's still early in the game. So, for the moment, Nextel will continue to provide its own services in terms of on-campus and local-area building wireless access, Donahue said.