In a bid to make wireless LAN hotspots as easy to use as mobile phone networks, three French mobile phone operators will open up their networks of wireless hotspots to one another's customers by the end of this year.

Société Française du Radiotéléphone SA (SFR), Bouygues Telecom SA and France Télécom SA subsidiary Orange France, operators of France's three GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) mobile phone networks, are all launching wireless LAN hotspots. However, they face a common problem: a lack of service standards for access to Wi-Fi networks makes roaming difficult, they said in a joint statement.

The Wi-Fi interoperability specification for wireless LANs, and the IEEE 802.11b standard on which it is built, define the technical aspects of the network but not how subscribers to public network services are identified or authenticated, the operators said. This makes life difficult for users and is hampering development of the market for public-access Wi-Fi services, they said.

To encourage development of Wi-Fi networks in France, the companies plan to open up their wireless LAN hotspots to one another's customers by the end of the year.

The three will also create an industry body, open to all public wireless LAN operators, to standardize systems for accessing wireless hotspots and to give hotspot operators reciprocal, nondiscriminatory access to one another's networks in France.

One of the three operators, SFR, set the goal of giving its customers access to 80 percent of the 6,000 public wireless LAN hotspots it believes will exist in France by 2005. It also announced plans to deploy 200 hotspots in railway stations, airports, business hotels and convention centers by the end of the year.

Both Orange and SFR have also launched bundles for other organizations that want to host wireless hotspots. The bundles include a wireless access point, an ADSL (asynchronous digital subscriber line) connection, Internet access, and remote management of the equipment. In both cases, the host pays a monthly fee and receives a portion of the revenue from sales of airtime and traffic generated.

SFR has already made moves to extend the reach of its network, signing a roaming agreement with Swisscom Eurospot, the Wi-Fi subsidiary of Swisscom AG, and striking a deal with Excilan to simplify payment and sign-up to SFR's Wi-Fi network.