Mobile customers of Canada's four major mobility service providers will have greater freedom in the use of their Wi-Fi-enabled devices after the firms hammered out an interoperability agreement last month.
Bell Mobility, Microcell Solutions, Rogers AT&T and Telus Mobility struck an agreement to make Wi-Fi interoperable in Canada. The four carriers have agreed to co-operate to develop technical standards, which will allow customers transparent access to any of their networks, said Peter Barnes, president and CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA).
"This is a first step, an agreement in principal to make it easier for customers to be able to use their laptop or handheld devices that are equipped with high-speed cards to walk into any [hot spot] location…and not have to worry if it's something provided by carrier A or carrier B," Barnes said.
He added that although smaller Wi-Fi providers are not included in the agreement today, they will not be excluded in the future once the larger telecom carriers work out the kinks.
"The idea here is that the four major wireless carriers felt it important that they work together, agree on a technology standard or standards. Then in the future, there is nothing that precludes further agreements with other firms," Barnes said. "This is…sort of walking before we run and I'm sure it will be successful, but it's obviously difficult to get four different companies to agree on something."
Smaller providers will now have to think about how they will position themselves going forward, according to Warren Chaisatien, senior telecom analyst at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto.
"Going forward, perhaps 12 to 24 months time, the market dynamic for the commercial hot spot will change in that we can expect to see wireless carriers play a much more active and significant role. Smaller wireless ISPs, who are dominant today, will take a backseat role," Chaisatien said. "By that time smaller carriers (will) either have to partner with one of the four big wireless carriers, or they would be acquired."
Chaisatien added that it is the role of the smaller ISP "early birds to the market" to establish footprints and roll out infrastructure, but also to get ready for its new roles.
"As the market matures and technologies allow users to roam between various networks and also between Wi-Fi and cell phone technology, [small ISPs] know their existence will change," Chaisatien said. "And many small ISPs even expect their organizations and their assets, in this case wireless LAN networks, to be purchased, to be acquired by a larger cell phone player."
This Wi-Fi agreement is further proof of the co-opetition that exists between the four Canadian telecom providers, which began with a similar agreement on short messaging service (SMS) in November, 2001, Barnes said. He added that this accord will not stifle competition between the companies.