Independent Wi-Fi operators will have to wait a little bit longer before they can interconnect to the big three wireless operators’ hotspots. Rogers Wireless Inc., Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility are taking their time to make sure that inter-carrier Wi-Fi roaming works on their respective networks before opening them up to the smaller hotspot operators.  Almis Ledas, VP of corporate development at Bell Mobility, tells Report on Wireless that allowing independent players’ subscribers to roam onto the integrated carrier network has always been part of the plan for the framework on inter-carrier roaming, but there are other higher priorities. "The whole network is built on the belief that they will become members and that they would be able to participate in the inter-carrier roaming activity. The standards for that have been developed, but it’s just the bandwidth that the carriers have has not allowed us to devote any resources to that yet.  We’ve got to get our own hotspots up and running and as soon as that’s done then we’ll be quite happy to start working on the interconnection with the independent carriers," he explains. Several elements have yet to be put in place before consideration of opening up the combined network can begin, Ledas says. Much of the heavy lifting is already complete, but there’s still work to be done on interconnecting each carriers’ hotspots and to ensure the billing aspect is in place. Both interconnection and billing will be dealt with by the summer, he adds.  "I would say they’re not extremely complicated, but these are not trivial exercises and given the overall margin opportunity here and what other activities exist in each carriers’ work slate. It’s kind of being done whenever we can squeeze it in. This is not really an urgent activity, but we’d rather do it at the lowest cost possible rather than the fastest schedule possible," he tells RoW.  Originally announced in August 2003 and then further enunciated in March 2004, the Canadian inter-carrier roaming agreement (CIRA) set out a common method of stitching the carrier hotspots together with a unified brand to identify participating locations (RoW, Aug. 26/03; March 10/04). The problem of connecting hotspots together was explained by Rogers Wireless VP of business development David Robinson at the Wi-Fi Power 2004 Conference in Toronto.  "We have to get our systems to recognize and be able to integrate with our existing billing, provisioning systems and interconnect them and then add a clearinghouse to the interoperating umbrella so that we can add virtually any independent operator, any aggregators, and operators international or otherwise into the network," he said at the time.  Initial hopes were to have the system up and running by the end of the summer in 2004. In March 2004, there was also talk that this type of agreement could span the Canada-United States border and Ledas told RoW at the time that it was reasonable to suggest a 12-month timeframe. Neither deadline has been hit.  Inter-carrier roaming in the not-so-distant future But the initial stages of inter-carrier roaming are already in place in at least some of the country’s hotspot locations. Tucked into the fourth paragraph of the announcement that Mail Boxes Etc. had turned on its national Wi-Fi network in partnership with Bell Canada and Ottawa-based BOLDstreet Wireless Internet was a mention that subscribers of all carriers could use Mail Boxes Etc. "Internet access is available to all wireless subscribers, independent of carriers, and billing charges will appear on the user’s monthly wireless statements. Alternatively, users can also use a credit card to purchase pre-paid time," reads the May 9 news release. Initially hotspots in 260 locations will be lit up with an additional 15 to round out the entire national franchise in the near future. There are also approximately 1,100 hotspots across Canada.  The ability for other wireless operators’ subscribers to roam onto Mail Boxes Etc. hotspots and have the charges billed to their cell phone account by BOLDstreet. "We operate that entire network from end-to-end…We look after the electronic commerce, we look after all the authentication, we look after the install, we look after network management, we look after everything across the entire value chain," BOLDstreet president and CEO Tom Camps explains. "When a carrier subscriber wants to use their carrier subscription, we will hand off that authentication to Bell Canada or ultimately CIRA."  He says this deal will provide significant credibility for the company going forward. Further opportunities should arise from the relationship because Mail Boxes Etc. isn’t just any Canadian company. "Bell as a customer – I’m not sure you can get a better implication than that," Camps adds. BOLDstreet, a one-time branded hotspot operator, has made the shift from building out hotspots and providing simple access to becoming a provider of value-added services to Wi-Fi network operators. The agreement with Bell and Mail Boxes Etc. demonstrates that exact fact, Ledas explains. "The application here is people do come to Mail Boxes Etc. with printing applications and software that Mail Boxes Etc. does processing, printing and reproduction of. So rather than move disks back and forth, this will enable the wireless connection between (customers’) laptops and the services (Mail Boxes Etc.) provides." Camps has previously told RoW that there is no money or at least very little money to be made in providing access and that people will only pay for compelling applications. Expanding into the operations and applications space allows BOLDstreet to make money selling its expertise and applications.  The company has also expanded its roster of partners, teaming up with Concourse Communications Inc. last year to submit a bid for a Wi-Fi deployment at Ottawa’s MacDonald-Cartier International Airport. The two companies were awarded the contract and commercial Wi-Fi service was announced earlier this year (RoW, Jan. 26/05).  Camps said at the time that there a number of business and entertainment applications that make sense in an airport environment and that people would be willing to pay for on a pay-per-use basis. "If I’m traveling with my kids and my flight has been delayed by three hours, how much would I pay to let them be entertained for 3 hours? A lot. If I’ve got a long flight and I’ve seen the movie already on Air Canada, would I pay to download a movie onto my laptop so I have my own entertainment on the flight? The answer is absolutely yes," he noted.