Sprint pumps up volume on its Wi-Fi network

Sprint is beefing up its Wi-Fi hot-spot coverage in what the company calls an effort to offer users better wireless access support around the world.

The Sprint PCS Wi-Fi Access service now sports 19,000 wireless LAN (WLAN) hot spots, up from 14,000 in March.

Customers of Sprint's Extended Workplace Service can use any of Sprint's hot spots to access their corporate networks. Sprint last month announced the service.

Because Sprint is the only one of the big three interexchange carriers to offer and own a wireless network and services, the carrier intends to exploit that advantage by leading the pack in Wi-Fi support, as well as cellular data. At 19,000, Sprint has more Wi-Fi hot spots than AT&T and MCI combined. AT&T says it has just more than 9,000, and MCI says it has nearly 11,000.

Sprint's goal in building out its Wi-Fi network is to provide its Extended Workplace customers with near-ubiquitous access, says Wes Dittmer, director of WLAN services at the carrier. "We want to make it easy for users to use EV-DO, wireless LANs and dial networks to connect to their corporate networks." Evolution Data Optimized is a 3G wireless network technology that Sprint is deploying to support mobile data speeds of 300K to 500K bit/sec.

The carrier has signed roaming agreements with four ISPs and virtual network providers to expand its Wi-Fi network. The new service providers are Quiconnect, Fiberlink Communications, Opti-Fi, Pronto Networks and Nomadix.

Quiconnect provides access to about 6,000 international locations, but the carrier expects that number to grow throughout the year. Part of that growth will include WLAN access in 30 international airports.

Sprint will use about 3,800 Wi-Fi hot spots from Fiberlink, about 30 Wi-Fi hot spots in airports around the U.S. from Opti-Fi, "hundreds" of hot spots from Pronto and 350 hot spots from Nomadix.

Dittmer says Sprint has come a long way since 2003, when the carrier only had 450 hot spots.

Sprint expects similar growth this year with the goal of having at least 25,000 hot spots available to its customers by year-end. "If we don't exceed 25,000 I will be disappointed," Dittmer says.

Sprint is in talks with several large international carriers that have substantial Wi-Fi networks with the same number of hot spots, including BT and Swisscom.

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