WIK notes that mobile network providers in Germany already own "a large pool of customers and cover all segments of the value chain including roaming and billing services." Its report foretells that the winners will be those who can master the convergence of public WLAN with UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System)/GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) mobile-phone service, by offering customers bundled mobile services that embrace hot-spot and mobile-phone service alike. The enabler for the feat, WIK predicts, will be the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module), already used in GSM phones in Europe to resolve billing as users roam from one mobile network to another.SIMs have been put to work in Europe to solve the triple-A dilemmaauthentication, authorization and accountingthat clouds the expansion and public acceptance of hot-spot service on this side of the pond. AAA is the means through which users are authenticatedusing passwords, biometrics or, in the case of SIMs, digital signaturesand authorized to use a mobile network. The accounting portion resolves the way in which billing is reconciled so that customers receive a single bill for all charges across networks. The WIK report gives a good picture of what is happening in Europe. But unfortunately, AAA is still an issue on this side of the Atlantic, partly because of our slow embrace of GSM technology and its SIM-based identity mechanism. Thats where WIKs conclusions for Germany and Europe begin to depart from realities here. The report goes on to cite other key stakeholders in the hot-spot space, including resellers and venue owners. It suggests that "resellers pursuing complementary business models ... will presumably only be successful at those hot spots which will be profitable due to strong demand." But Im not ready to throw the reseller out with the dishwater. WIKs conclusions are based on an assumption of a one-to-one relationship between the reseller and the venue thats tied to hot-spot service alone. But theres really a network of relationships at play. Next page: The iPass experience.
It would certainly simplify matters if the same phenomenon could be duplicated here in the United States. But were not as far along the convergence path as our European friends.