updated 8/27/2004 2:30:18 PM ET 2004-08-27T18:30:18

Customers of Sprint Corp. and SBC Communications Inc. will be able to use both companies' wireless Internet connections with less hassle under a reciprocal deal announced Friday.

The agreement allows SBC customers to use Sprint's Wi-Fi "hot spots" and Sprint customers to use SBC's hot spots -- without setting up new accounts.

Wi-Fi, short for wireless fidelity, radiates an Internet connection to users within 300 feet. Communications companies have installed hot spots at places like airports, coffee shops and hotels, where many people congregate.

Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint said the deal -- one of several in the industry -- makes it easier for consumers to use Wi-Fi.

Instead of having several different accounts, users can freely roam on other hot spots covered through the reciprocal arrangements, and carriers handle the billing.

"As the end user, you don't want have to manage five or six different user name and password accounts," said Wes Dittmer, general manager of Sprint's Wi-Fi services. "It's impeded progress up to this point, and to some extent it still is."

He anticipates Wi-Fi use to grow as more agreements are signed. Already, the use of Sprint's Wi-Fi network is growing by 25 percent to 35 percent each month.

"Certainly, we believe it will continue to accelerate," he said. "We are hearing loud and clear from our corporate customers that they want thousands of hot spots they can use across the country."

Sprint has about 3,000 Wi-Fi hot spots available, chiefly through roaming agreements, including a reciprocal agreement with AT&T Wireless. The arrangement with SBC adds 2,300 more Wi-Fi hot spots, and the company plans close to 5,000 more by year's end.

Meanwhile, San Antonio-based SBC has set a goal of having more than 20,000 hot spots available by the end of 2006.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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