Cingular Goes Wide with Wi-Fi

By Eric Griffith

March 14, 2005

Cingular will allow subscribers to get wireless access to data via both 3G EDGE and Wi-Fi hotspots, utilizing partners like Wayport and Concourse Communications.

Cingular Wireless said today at the CTIA Wireless 2005 expo in New Orleans that it's offering customers wireless data access via both 3G EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for Global [or GSM] Evolution) networks and 4,000 Wi-Fi-based hotspots.

The hotspot access is via partnerships with big name wireless Internet Service Providers (WIPSs) including StayOnline (in hotels), Concourse Communications (in airports), SBC FreedomLink (various locations) and Wayport (hotels and airports). The roaming agreements in place cover 4,000 hotspots in the U.S.

The deal with Wayport does not currently include roaming at Wayport's McDonald's locations—that has to be negotiated separately.

The EDGE network is still growing, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. Cingular says the data speed for EDGE downloads is 125Kbps with bursts up to 200. The Wi-Fi hotspot roaming is meant to complement the EDGE service.

"The beauty is that they can connect anywhere," says Dan Lowden, vice president of marketing for Wayport. "When in a hotspot, you get the faster connection and the better cost. When not in a hotspot, you have the option to use EDGE."

Cingular will supply end-users with client software for laptops that will support both EDGE and Wi-Fi connections, defaulting to Wi-Fi if present. Subscribers don't always have to have the software—they can connect via Web-based welcome pages at, for example, Wayport hotspots where Cingular is listed in a menu of roaming partners. Users would need a username/password to log on.

The price for unlimited EDGE/Wi-Fi service is $100 a month, or $80 for just EDGE or $20 for just Wi-Fi. Purchasing a two-year contract gets the user a free EDGE PC Card.

This isn't Cingular's first Wi-Fi offering. The company installed the Wi-Fi service that's available throughout the Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Last year, Cingular absorbed competitor AT&T Wireless, which also offered service at international airports in Boston, Seattle-Tacoma, Denver, Kansas City, Louisville, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and San Francisco. Wi-Fi is also installed at stations on the Amtrak Northeast corridor. All of these locations are now under the Cingular umbrella. Cost at these venues was $10 for 24 hours for non-subscribers. All will be included under the EDGE/Wi-Fi monthly pricing plan.

Cingular Wireless is a joint venture of regional Bell companies SBC Communications and BellSouth . The company has 49 million mobile phone subscribers.

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