T-Mobile, iPass team to offer Wi-Fi roaming

Wireless network provider T-Mobile USA Inc. has signed an agreement allowing corporate users of virtual network operator iPass Inc. to access its public Wi-Fi network in the U.S.

The deal will significantly expand iPass customers’ wireless network access, reaching beyond business-oriented locations currently served by iPass, such as hotels and conference centers, to include bookstores, coffeehouses and retail shops, the companies said Tuesday.

Redwood Shores, Calif., iPass offers enterprise customers secure wireless access through a software-enabled virtual network. The company’s iPass Global Broadband Roaming service has some 3,000 Wi-Fi hotspots and 1,200 Ethernet-enabled venues worldwide.

By offering iPass virtual network customers access to the T-Mobile hotspot network in the U.S., the service providers hope to ramp up corporate Wi-Fi use, they said.

T-Mobile USA offers public wireless access at some 3,900 locations across the U.S., providing Wi-Fi in Starbucks coffee houses, Kinko’s copy shops, airport lounges and other locations. The agreement with iPass is its first inbound wireless roaming agreement and marks an increased effort by the carrier to cater to business users.

T-Mobile is keen to woo corporate users, who already account for 88 per cent of its hotspot usage, the Bellevue, Wash. carrier said.

The deal represents a trend among wireless network operators to lease extra capacity rather than take on the cost of extending their own networks, said Paolo Pescatore, a senior wireless mobile communication analyst at IDC.

But while the partnerships are convenient for the carriers, the advantage of extended roaming only comes for customers if the billing between carriers is transparent and the access is seamless, Pescatore said. However, Pescatore expects more agreements like this one to be made, especially given that many fixed-line incumbents have sold off their wireless subsidiaries and will be looking to partner with wireless players.

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