AT&T and China Telecom signed an agreement yesterday to share telecommunications infrastructure across the US and China, in a move meant to help their business customers.

Under the agreement, the carriers will take advantage of each other's infrastructure to expand virtual private network (VPN) and cross-country services geared for international companies, said AT&T spokesman Greg Brutus. The agreement also includes sharing Wi-Fi hotspots to offer a roaming service to customers, he added.

AT&T has identified more than 1,700 large multinational companies worldwide, and many of these have a presence in China, according to Brutus. Currently AT&T has about 600 of those companies as its customers, but wants to attract more with better cross-border services.

'Two-way agreement'

"It's very much a two-way agreement," Brutus said. China Telecom will be able to support global Chinese companies that are expanding overseas, particularly in the US, he added.

China Telecom, which has 120 million mobile subscribers, could not be immediately reached for comment. The company already plans to launch a mobile service in the US during the first quarter of next year. The service would work by China Telecom purchasing network capacity from an existing US operator, and will be marketed to Chinese-Americans, and students and tourists that travel between the two countries.

The agreement between AT&T and China Telecom is very basic, said Nicole Peng, a research director for analyst firm Canalys. "But I think in the future, they will have more cooperation in other areas," she said.

Mutual support worldwide

Some of those areas could include jointly offering products in cloud computing and unified communications for business customers, she said.

As part of the agreement, AT&T and China Telecom also plan to explore providing mutual support in other parts of the world. This could involve AT&T helping China Telecom to expand its services in regions such as Latin America, Brutus said. In November, AT&T signed a similar agreement with Latin American telecommunications firm American Movil to jointly explore delivering better communication services to international companies.

Both AT&T and China Telecom are already partners, and started a joint venture in China called Shanghai Symphony Telecommunications in 2000.