Due to an agreement made by Canada’s four major mobility service providers on Thursday, mobile device users will no longer have to worry about where they can use Wi-Fi-enabled products.
Bell Mobility, Microcell Solutions, Rogers AT&T and Telus Mobility have struck an agreement under the supervision of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) 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 CWAT.
“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, it will work,” Barnes said.
He added that although the 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, [to] get the technology up.”
This Wi-Fi agreement is further proof of the co-opetition that exists between the four Canadian telecom providers, which began when standards were being set with short messaging service (SMS), Barnes said adding that this agreement will not stifle competition between the companies.
“On the short messaging service we have had the same kind of experience where the four companies basically agree that it’s good for the marketplace to establish a common base, a common technology base on which they can all compete,” Barnes said. “The challenge, of course, is to hold back the competitive juices when you are working on the technology agreement, get it in place, and then the competition begins.”
Mark Langton, spokesperson for Telus Mobility in Toronto said that an agreement like the one announced Thursday won’t drive competitiveness out of the Wi-Fi arena and, in fact, he said he would be “hard pressed to think of any business in this country that’s more competitive than wireless.”
Langton noted that although with this agreement in place it is the ultimate goal of the telecom providers to co-operate to find ways to make wireless services easier, Telus still has competition on the brain.
“If a client or a potential client walks by we will fight tooth and nail to win that client, certainly.”
He added that Telus believes that in order to make users really embrace Wi-Fi technology, it has to be made easy. One key way to do that would be to create interoperability between the carriers, the idea that produced the agreement.
“Clients in the real world don’t want to worry about finding a hot spot that is particularly connected to their carrier. With an agreement like this I will be able to use my Wi-Fi device much more easily, much more freely…I may be a Telus mobility client but I will be able to use my Wi-Fi device at any hot spots operated by other carriers or their partners,” Langton said.
Because of their partnership with Telus Mobility, Toronto-based Spotnik Mobile Inc. is in a slightly different position than other independent Wi-Fi operators, according to Mark Wolinsky, co-CEO at Spotnik Mobile.
“We are going to be heavily involved in working with Telus and setting the standards that move [Wi-Fi] forward,” Wolinsky said. “So we are excited by that.”
The Wi-Fi providers in the Canadian market that currently don’t have affiliations with larger telecom providers won’t be left behind, Wolinsky said adding that everyone is going to benefit from the agreement in the long run.
Wolinsky added that this agreement will not only keep current Wi-Fi users happy but will also bring new users to the technology.
“I think with the carriers getting behind a common standard, now the comfort level has been raised [allowing providers] to go out and market at a much larger scale to their customer base which will ultimately drive traffic to all hot spot venues.”
From the customer’s perspective, this agreement will prove to be a big benefit because the onus will now be on the providers to compete on things like service quality, billing, packaging and pricing, Barnes said.
“The customer basically has a wider range of options or a wider range of locations in which they will be able to use the service and their choice among carriers will be independent of their favourite coffee shop.”