SBC To Field 20,000 Wi-Fi Hot Spots Over Next Three Years - InformationWeek

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SBC To Field 20,000 Wi-Fi Hot Spots Over Next Three Years

The nation's second-largest carrier says it will open access points in 6,000 locations over three years in one of the biggest rollouts yet of the technology.

SBC Communications Inc. said Wednesday that it will deploy more than 20,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in 6,000 public locations over the next three years. Including a roaming agreement with national Wi-Fi provider Waypoint, the move sends the strongest signal yet that the nation's second largest phone company intends to take a leadership position in wireless LAN growth.

"The size of the deployment clearly demonstrates an aggressive commitment to the market," said Roberta Wiggins, director of wireless mobile services at the Yankee Group. "And the roaming agreements are an important part of the program."

The SBC Wi-Fi initiative, to be called FreedomLink, will stretch across the company's 13-state service region and will be aimed at business travelers. Initial access points will be located in hotels, airports, convention centers, and other high-traffic venues. SBC said it will use its existing DSL and T1 lines to transport data from access points where possible.

The roaming agreement with Wayport will offer FreedomLink customers nationwide access via that company's 650-location network. SBC announced additional integration of services with Cingular Wireless, with roaming between Wi-Fi and Cingular's GPRS/EDGE networks to be made available by early 2005. The Cingular relationship was described by SBC as laying a foundation for third-generation wireless services. Additional roaming agreements will be sought, the company said.

SBC's rollout plan aims to field the first 1,000 FreedomLink hot spots in several hundred locations by year's end. By the end of 2004, the company is shooting for 9,000 access points in 2,000 locations. The 20,000-spot rollout was anticipated to be complete by the end of 2006, with further expansion and addition of third-generation services to follow, the nation's second-largest phone company said.

Pricing for the new service will debut be on a transactional basis, SBC said, with unlimited 24-hour access to any SBC hot spot. Soon after the service launches, the company will roll out a subscription plan providing members with unlimited monthly access. Specific fee structures were not announced, although SBC said there would be price incentives for customers bundling FreedomLink services with other SBC products.

The variety of pricing approaches and plans highlights what may be the largest challenge faced by carriers and other players in the Wi-Fi arena: making it pay for itself.

"It's not clear yet what the revenue opportunities are," Wiggins said.

The largest immediate opportunity may belong to Wayport, which will also provide access control and customized SBC splash pages. SBC's announcement came one day after Verizon Wireless said it would collaborate with Wayport to speed up service at hot spots in heavily trafficked locations. Last month, Sprint said it would offer high-speed wireless Internet access by the end of summer through deals with Wayport and other carriers.

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