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Major telcos tout Wi-Fi roaming pact

Overseas WLAN access at no extra charge - for now

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Wi-Fi hotspot owners BT Openzone, Singapore's StarHub, Malaysia's maxis, Japan's NTT Com, T-Mobile, Australia's Telstra and Telecom Italia have entered into a broad roaming agreement to allow each company's customers to access the others' networks.

The deal follows the development of a roaming platform by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), of which the roaming partners are all members.

The platform puts in the place the technology needed to administer cross-network logins and, crucially, billing. While the partner companies said that roaming will not attract any extra charge beyond the fees punters have already paid their local provider until the end of 2004 - which is only a month-and-a-half away, let's not forget - come 2005, WBA members will be able to charge roaming fees.

What those fees will be has yet to be determined.

The deal is also likely to favour only those users who have taken out access packages - customers using vouchers or passes will still have to buy new ones whenever they travel, as we found when we attempted to use a T-Mobile UK pass to access a T-Mobile Germany hotspot this week.

The WBA - which operates what's perhaps the world's noisiest website - was formed in March 2003 to devise systems to allow members to enable roaming. Its first trials were conducted in July 2003. By December its member tally had risen to 17 telcos around the world. ®

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