European operators are using different mechanisms to build robust, secure Wi-Fi networks than their U.S. counterparts: Because all cell phones in Europe use SIM cards, operators there are also starting to employ SIM cards to secure, authenticate, and bill customers on Wi-Fi networks. Vimpelcom in Russia is testing a SIM card offering from Gemplus that would use its existing roaming, billing, and authentication infrastructure for its Wi-Fi network. Mobilkom Austria yesterday said it was converging the backend of its cellular and Wi-Fi networks and will also use SIM cards as one of many ways that customers can access the Wi-Fi networks and get billed for use.
At the CTIA Wireless I.T. conference a few months ago I met with a handful of vendors pushing SIM card authentication solutions for Wi-Fi networks. While it's a good idea, I think they'll have a much harder time pushing the idea here because people aren't used to using SIM cards. I also spoke with a couple companies offering platforms that would let mobile operators leverage existing billing, authentication, and customer care systems for the Wi-Fi networks, but I haven't heard of any operators deploying anything like it yet. Converged systems make sense for cellular operators who are in the Wi-Fi game so they don't have to reinvent the wheel.