All that work should be finished within about nine months, said Dan Warren, senior director of technology at the GSMA. Once it's done, it may take service providers three to six months to implement the technology and the roaming agreements, he said. Even then, adoption is likely to be gradual. Warren expects most service providers to rally around Wi-Fi roaming at some point but wouldn't predict when.
Consumers should look forward to roaming agreements between large carriers and major operators of Wi-Fi hotspots, plus aggregators of hotspots operated by smaller businesses, Warren said. Individual hotspots, such as a free Wi-Fi network at an independent coffee shop, probably won't have an incentive to strike roaming agreements with big cellular carriers, nor vice versa, he said. However, they may sign on with an aggregator such as Boingo Wireless, he added.
Mobile operators and equipment providers have already begun to demonstrate interoperability between cellular and Wi-Fi networks based on Hotspot 2.0, a Wi-Fi Alliance specification that forms a technical foundation for the GSMA and WBA's work. In advance of last month's Mobile World Congress, the WBA announced trials of its Next-Generation Hotspot technology, which is based on Hotspot 2.0, that involved AT&T, BT, China Mobile and other mobile operators from around the world. At the conference, Cisco Systems announced a Next-Generation Hotspot architecture approved by the WBA.