More and more we're seeing stories hit the mainstream press about phone calls being made over WiFi.
For the record, T-Mobile and Earthlink both have initiatives in that are here in the USA but carriers like Verizon Wireless and AT&T have both done their best to slow the migration in that direction down, while in the UK Vodafone and Orange, both of whose actions have been well documented here and elsewhere, have also played the game of doing silly things to keep it have eroding their minutes consumption.
Let's look first at what Verizon Wireless (which is partially owned by Vodafone)..killed off their WiFi efforts. Back in 2003 Verizon Wireless launched a WiFi network with Wayport. But now the network is not there, and the link takes you simply to the landing page for their Broadband Access product.
Now there's AT&T, whose wholesale division is working to "help" cities build Muni-Wireless networks has a Me Too network offering that was formerly SBC's Freedom Link and some WiFi hotspots that AT&T had created. Much of their network of hotspots is really built on Wayport's infrastructure and the information on the AT&T WiFi web sites is dated (Netscape Navigator???), plus the lack of any current Macintosh or Linux browser info, and hardly anything demonstrating any PDA centric knowledge makes it hard to consider this really a whole hearted effort on their part.
Then there's Sprint. While having a handful of airports and one shopping mall, Sprint's WiFi efforts are as lackluster as AT&T's. Their other hotspots are a patchwork of roaming agreements and access to third party networks. Of course they're more interested in WiMax, but that could end up being IONized like we've seen before..
Only really T-Mobile, the company that lacks 3G spectrum here in the USA, has thought of WiFi in any intelligent manner with their hotspots that are at almost every Starbucks and many hotels and airports, but sadly, they have not gone any farther than that in any big manner.
The stupidity, not ignorance, that reigns here from Verizon Wireless, Sprint and AT&T is they all own enormous amounts of broadband. The three, along with Level3, are the biggest movers of data in the USA, and have more connectivity than anyone else. Their interconnections agreements and peering relationships are first rate, and by not embracing WiFi they have kept traffic off their networks, not encouraged the development of services that increase the consumption of IP bandwidth, but instead have chosen to drive as much traffic over legacy circuit switched cellular and PSTN networks. The lack of a single corporate strategy that combines all the communications assets and delivers to the end user a ubiquitous best available service offering is the dream (see the AT&T billboards and ads) but in reality not one carrier is working within their own company to really fulfill it. For example, when offered the Nokia E61 Cingular had Nokia produce a WiFi less version called the E62. The Blackberry Curve was supposed to have WiFi but reports out of Canada are that the WiFi has been removed again at Cingular/AT&T's request. Verizon, in 2003, had the vision of using their telephone booths in New York City as Hotspots, but that died too, reportedly from the Verizon Wireless side of the house with Verizon saying between the lines that would hurt sales of 3G services that Verizon Wireless planned to deploy.
And then there was Cometa, perhaps the most dyslexic of all plays by any national carrier (AT&T), a few VC's and IBM on the surface, but ended up looking more like smoke and mirrors when the dust settled. On the surface the idea Cometa had was right. Make WiFi a retail and business product offering. Push it everywhere. The founder got early buy in at some levels of key companies, including Intel, which would have backed just about anything that said Centrino welcome here, but quickly Cometa ran afoul of other internal forces at the carrier levels.
The bottom line is not one USA carrier (other than T-Mobile) with so much to gain, and really nothing to lose, has taken an "embrace the future" approach about WiFi, and instead, through their actions continued to move us all back to 1984 and the pre-divestiture era of monopoly. This has been good news for Wayport and Boingo, both of whom have seen growth over the period where the carriers have done their best to move things along low and slow. The cable MSO's are the ideal WiFi partners, yet for whatever the reason, they have not Pivot-ed in that direction instead buying into the mobile world of foreplay (um quadplay) In doing so the cable guys have now basically defined by sheer mass numbers what our mobile Internet experience is like. And that is not the Internet. It's a mobile circuit switch grade walled garden that is not much different than what has existed for years, while WiFi has been the unlimited experience tether to the real Internet. So while the likes of Verizon and AT&T with FIOS and Uverse keep saying the cable company is their looming threat to the FCC, the MSO's behave more like the telcos of old. Just like open skies treaties are helping to revive and provide competition in the international airlines game, its time for a real "open air" approach to WiFi to propagate between our incumbents, mobile and cable broadband providers, or for the FCC here in the USA and others around the globe to let some fresh "air" get into what in the end still remains a very much wired "ground" game.