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T-Mobile equips US uni with guest Wi-Fi access

Virtual network bypasses host's secure private WLAN

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T-Mobile has equipped Washington, DC-based American University with a cross-campus Wi-Fi network for visitors to the institution.

The US WISP today said that hotspots have been activated in some ten locations around AU's campus.

Of course, the hotspots are of little use to students and staff since AU already operates an extensive private WLAN across at least 42 buildings on University premises.

Instead, the T-Mobile network is pitched at visitors. The T-Mobile system uses the same infrastructure as the AU WLAN - the ten locations have been set up to broadcast multiple SSIDs, a University spokesman told The Register. Users logging on to the T-Mobile virtual SSID are then routed across the AU WLAN to a separate, T-Mobile owned broadband Internet link.

Guest access is provided free of charge. AU gives legitimate visitors a username and password which T-Mobile's billing system recognises as a University-sponsored user. Anyone else who finds themselves on campus with a Wi-Fi enabled notebook can also use the T-Mobile hotspots but only if they cough up the appropriate access fee.

AU said that the deal with T-Mobile Hotspot arose out of its existing partnership with the mobile telco to promote mobile phone usage among the student body by offering discounted airtime and handsets. It has a similar deal with Cingular, but the WLAN arrangement in an exclusive one.

As part of the deal with T-Mobile, students and staff get a 25 per cent discount off T-Mobile's joint WLAN-mobile phone subscription tariff when they use off-campus hotspots affiliated to the WISP.

The University said it has no plans to expand the number of T-Mobile hotspots beyond ten, but its network capacity is sufficient to do so should the level of demand warrant adding the virtual SSIDs to other access points. The ten sites selected are those buildings visitors are most likely to enter, the spokesman said.

The T-Mobile/American University roll-out is the first of what a number of players in the Wi-Fi business hope will be many such installations - public hotspots on private sites. Usually pitched at corporates, the strategy centres on allowing organisations to offer Internet access via a WLAN to visitors without the need to open up their main networks.

"Enterprise IT managers tell us they want public Wi-Fi at their facilities for visitors," said Joe Sims, T-Mobile HotSpot US' VP and general manager. "But instead of opening the enterprise WLAN, they want a separately operated Wi-Fi network."

In the UK, local WISP The Cloud is pursuing a similar strategy as it seeks to build a customer base that extends beyond individual notebook and PDA users. Other WISPs have been talking up the concept rather a lot of late, too. And Broadreach Networks has already launched a 'white box' WLAN Internet access package pitched at corporates and other service providers who want to use virtual SSID technology. ®

Related stories

T-Mobile spearheads university WLAN project
T-Mobile to offer seamless 3G, Wi-Fi data service
Broadreach to bring major mobile telcos to Wi-Fi market
The Cloud enables SIM-based hotspot access
Wi-Fi biz gears up for roaming offensive

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