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SBC plans 20,000-hotspot WLAN plan

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US telco SBC today pledged to roll out 20,00 Wi-Fi hot-spots by the end of 2006 to fill the Internet connectivity gap between the home and the office.

It also intends to expand that coverage with the provision of cellular mobile data services, the company said today.

SBC's plan, dubbed FreedomLink, calls for a broad implementation strategy through some 6000 airport, hotel, convention centres and other venues in the 13 US states in which the company - either in its own right or via affiliate organisations - has a presence.

SBC also said it is partnering with Waypoint to enable roaming in other states and territories. Indeed, the way SBC describes the arrangement, it seems that Waypoint will be providing the subscription and access technology that will power SBC's own network.

In a bid to keep roll-out costs down, SBC intends to use existing telecoms infrastructure to connect each access point to the network. It expects to have 1000 hot-spots in place by the end of the year, followed by 8000 more in 2004 and the remaining 11,000 in 2005 and 2006. More will come after that, but SBC isn't saying how many there will be or when they'll appear.

SBC intends to develop a monthly subscription model providing unlimited access, though in the initial phase customers will be able to make one-off payments for a single day's usage. Like cable companies, SBC will offer Wi-Fi subscription discounts to punters who take on other SBC services, such as domestic DSL and long-distance phone call packages.

SBC affiliates today provide some 2.8 million subscribers with broadband Net access, so its no wonder that it's going to pitch the Wi-Fi service at them, not to mention the "frequent business travelers" usually targeted by Wi-Fi hot-spot hopefuls.

That puts SBC in a stronger position than most of its fellow hot-spot providers, since it has a potential customer base it knows very well, and it can view the Wi-Fi business as incremental to what it's doing already. It also has a brand that's more closely associated with high-speed Internet access than, say, T-Mobile's is.

SBC is also offering Wi-Fi as an extension of its business-oriented DSL offerings. Instead of simply providing a modem and connection package, it will tout access points, client-side adaptors and network installation. Again, that provides a base of subscribers to whom discounted hot-spot access packages can be sold. Even if they're not interested in hot-spots, it encourages business to invest in wireless rather than wired infrastructure, and SBC hopes that will lead them to the hot-spot product further down the line. That will bring it network support and VPN solution business, it hopes.

Some business customers will become public hot-spot providers in their own right, allowing SBC to build its network further and even more cheaply.

When they're out of range of a hot-spot, SBC's FreedomLink customers will eventually be able to access the Net across Cingular's enhanced GPRS 2.5G data network, which will provide up to 170Kbps access speeds, SBC claims. SBC owns 60 per cent of Cingular. It plans to allow seamless roaming between home, office, hot-spot and Cingular wireless networks, but it doesn't expect this challenge to be met until late 2004 or early 2005. That gives Cingular time to deploy its 2.5G network, and for SBC to get sufficient hot-spots in place to cater for users who demand the high access speeds Wi-Fi can offer but cellular can't. ®

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