Five major Asian telecommunications carriers have joined forces to create a group called the Wireless Broadband Alliance which will integrate 8,600 Wi-Fi hotspots in five countries under a single service, the carriers said in a statement Friday.

The five carriers are Korea Telecom Corp., China Netcom Communication Group Corp., Maxis Communications Bhd. of Malaysia, Singapore’s StarHub Pte. Ltd. and Australia’s Telstra Corp. Ltd.

Wi-Fi, also known as wireless LAN, provides broadband wireless connection to the Internet for notebook computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs) through a network of access points, or hotspots, using a data communication specification known as IEEE 802.11b.

The five operators plan to create a single brand for their Wi-Fi service to try and deliver a consistent service aimed at business travellers in the region. The number of hotspots will increase to 20,000 by the end of 2003, including coverage of 17 international airports, the operators said in a statement.

The partners will begin a marketing drive to encourage greater use of Wi-Fi and look to extend their co-operation into other telecommunications areas such as mobile General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and fixed broadband services, according to the statement.

An important aspect of the scheme is to provide seamless Wi-Fi roaming through the five countries. A pilot project to establish inter-operator roaming will be rolled out by the end of July 2003.

The alliance expects to expand beyond the initial five countries soon after the technical and business issues have been settled. It is already in active discussion with other major operators who have expressed interest in the scheme, the group said in the statement.