First European WLAN cross-border roaming service launched

Telia Mobile and the Italian unit of Megabeam Networks have signed what both companies claim to be Europe's first cross-border...

Telia Mobile and the Italian unit of Megabeam Networks have signed what both companies claim to be Europe's first cross-border roaming agreement for wireless LAN (WLAN) services, as several groups position themselves to offer Europe-wide roaming for the increasingly popular high-speed data service.

Telia Mobile in Stockholm and Megabeam in London announced an agreement to allow corporate customers to roam on WLAN hotspots already operating in Sweden and Italy.

During a test phase, customers can roam for free. "After the trial, we will introduce a prepaid tariff for the roaming service," said Ryan Jarvis, chief executive officer of Megabeam.

Jarvis declined to provide pricing details, saying only that the tariff for the Telia-Megabeam roaming service will be "significantly lower than roaming fees for GPRS".

Telia Mobile's wireless LAN service, called HomeRun, is available at 450 locations in the Nordic region and at several airports outside the region. The operator intends to build additional hot spots in select location around Europe, according to Hakan Strom, a spokesman for Telia Mobile.

Megabeam presently operates WLANs in Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and the UK, in addition to Italy. The company plans to build and operate networks - mostly in key airports, train stations and hotels - in all major European markets, except for the Nordic region, where it will co-operate with Telia, according to Jarvis.

Both Telia Mobile and Megabeam offer WLAN service based on the 802.11b standard, established by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

WLAN technology, depending on protocol, can provide speeds from 5Mbps up to 11Mbps, under ideal conditions.

By comparison, the average GSM handset offers a speed of 9.6Kbps. New GPRS handsets are an improvement, with speeds between 192Kbps and 384Kbps. When 3G phones enter the market in Europe, they are supposed to operate at speeds between 384Kbps and 2Mbps.

Megabeam plans to offer both roaming and resale services to other operators seeking a broader WLAN footprint. "We expect to announce a number of deals with incumbent European telcos and one US company shortly," Jarvis said.

"Operators will need to share hot spots if they want to achieve real critical mass," said Ross Pow, managing director of market research at Analysys. "Roaming will facilitate this."

Corporate users, according to Pow, will initially be the biggest users of WLAN services. "Since these people spend much of their time in hotels and airports, it makes sense for companies to offer international roaming services," he said.

Several groups are entering the young market for roaming services. Excilan in Luxembourg, for instance, hopes to cash in on its years of experience in offering GSM roaming services.

In May, several WLAN service providers and hardware vendors established an industry association, called Pass-One, to facilitate WLAN roaming.

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