T-Mobile to charge Wi-Fi access to phone bills

Not so much the WLAN Holy Grail as the Golden Fleece...

T-Mobile today offered what it claimed was a "simplified" and "standardised" pricing structure for its Wi-Fi hotspots that introduces direct billing for the company's mobile phone subscribers.

It all sounds very attractive. As a T-Mobile customer, you can access the Internet through one of the company's public WLANs for as long as you like, with the cost of the airtime added to your monthly bill. Access codes can be requested by SMS.

It's a good idea, and one that ought to make hotspot usage easier. Alas, it also makes it more expensive.

T-Mobile is now offering two payment schemes: HotSpot Subscription - the phone bill system - and a series of time-limited HotSpot Passes. UK pricing for the company's time-limited passes are now £5, £10 and £16.50 for one, three and 24 hours' access time, respectively. The company said the scheme offers "simple pan-European pricing", but customers in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands all pay different rates. A 24-hour pass, for example, costs €18, €25 and €24 in each of these three territories, respectively.

The HotSpot Subscription package bills access a rate of £1.50 per 15 minutes (€2 in Germany and Austria; €1.50 in the Netherlands).

In the UK at least, the HotSpot Subscription package (for T-Mobile customers) is actually more expensive than the time-limited HotSpot Passes (for non-T-Mobile customers), unless you plan to spend less than an hour online. For example, &pound10; spent on a Pass gives you three hours' access; the same amount of money spend on Subscription access yields just two-and-a-bit hours' online time. Stay on for the full three hours and £18 would be added to your phone bill.

Twenty-four hours' access added to your phone bill would amount to £144 - almost nine times as expensive as buying a single day's Pass. As T-Mobile claims, HotSpot Subscription is certainly a more convenient way to pay, but it's a long way from being the most economical.

This leaves T-Mobile in the odd position of providing a disincentive to billing access time to your mobile phone account - or to switching to T-Mobile in order to get a better Wi-Fi access rate. Hardly a "seamless" solution of the kind the company's chairman, Rene Obermann has been touting of late. ®

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