SBC to turn up hot spots

SBC this week said it will deploy more than 20,000 wireless LAN (Wi-Fi) hot spots in 6,000 venues over the next three years.

The carrier also said it is creating an integrated Wi-Fi and third-generation (3G) wireless service to deliver broadband wireless services to homes, businesses and remote users.

The new Wi-Fi service, to be called FreedomLink, will be available by the end of 2006 in more than 6,000 hotels, airports, convention centers and other venues throughout SBC’s 13-state region, the carrier says.

SBC plans to deploy more than 1,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in several hundred venues by year-end, more than 9,000 hot spots in 2,000 venues by the end of 2004, and more than 20,000 hot spots in 6,000 venues by the end of 2006. The company says it will continue deploying hot spots after 2006.

The integrated Wi-Fi/3G service is expected to be available in late 2004 or early 2005.

In addition to establishing hot spots at primary venues, SBC said it also plans to provide a turnkey product that enables small businesses to become hot spots and offer Wi-Fi access to their customers.

Wi-Fi, or wireless fidelity, refers to any wireless LAN product that's based on the IEEE 802.11 WLAN standard with theoretical data rates ranging from 11M bit/sec to 54M bit/sec.

To augment its Wi-Fi plan, SBC has reached a roaming agreement with Wayport, a leading Wi-Fi service provider. The roaming agreement will give SBC customers access to Wayport services in more than 650 locations nationwide, including 565 hotels, eight airports and 75 restaurants.

To give subscribers access to additional hot spots, SBC says it will also pursue roaming agreements with other Wi-Fi service providers.

Wayport is becoming the Wi-Fi roaming partner of choice for the RBOCs. Earlier this week, Verizon Wireless said it is teaming with Wayport to offer customers up to 650 Wi-Fi access points at hotels, convention centers and airports across the U.S.

Verizon plans to turn up 1,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in Manhattan by the end of the year. BellSouth offers a home networking service that utilizes Wi-Fi but has not announced a hot spot coverage plan yet. Qwest, which this week announced an agreement to resell Sprint's PCS wireless service, also has not divulged a Wi-Fi plan.

For its effort, SBC said it will use existing assets, where possible, to deploy the hot spots. The carrier plans to use its public telephone infrastructure to establish access points and use SBC DSL or T-1 service to transport data from the access point to the network.

SBC will use its relationship with wireless operator Cingular to bring an integrated Wi-Fi/3G service to market. The service will allow subscribers to move between their home or office SBC broadband service, SBC FreedomLink Wi-Fi hot spots and Cingular’s network, the carrier says.

SBC and Cingular are currently working on a way to allow roaming among home and office LANs, Wi-Fi hot spots and the Cingular network. This will enable subscribers to receive broadband Internet access regardless of where they are, SBC says.

Users could experience speeds between 2M and 5M bit/sec between access points and their Wi-Fi-enabled devices on the SBC FreedomLink network, and up to 170K bit/sec on Cingular’s network, the carrier says.

The FreedomLink service will initially be offered to customers on a transactional basis with a one-time fee for daily sessions. Shortly after the initial service launch, SBC plans to introduce a subscription service to offer subscribers unlimited access for a monthly fee, with discounted pricing for customers who combine FreedomLink with other SBC services and packages, including SBC Yahoo DSL and SBC Total Connections, which includes local, wireless, DSL and long distance service.

Final pricing will be announced when the service becomes available.

SBC said it is also creating a "potential bundle solution" that allows Wi-Fi public hot spots to serve as an extension of a corporate wireless LAN. The offering will include Wi-Fi access and consulting and network support services, including VPN services for security.

Verizon Wireless this week also launched its first wireless LAN service, which enables customers to connect to the Internet at up to 1.544M bit/sec.

The initial target market for the FreedomLink service is frequent business travelers and the embedded base of SBC broadband customers.  The plan is an extension of SBC's current wireless offerings, in which the carrier provides wireless LANs to businesses and colleges, and home Wi-Fi gateways to SBC Yahoo DSL customers.

SBC says it is selling 2,000 Wi-Fi gateways a day.

Senior Editors John Cox and Denise Pappalardo contributed to this story.

This story, "SBC to turn up hot spots" was originally published by The Edge.

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