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T-Mobile bundles Wi-Fi, cellular services

Customers can now consolidate charges for the company's Wi-Fi service on their monthly cell phone service bills--a feat wireless carrier have maintained is technically difficult.

T-Mobile USA on Thursday took a preliminary step toward simplifying the mobile worker's life.

The Bellevue, Wash.-based wireless phone company announced that customers can now consolidate charges for its HotSpot Wi-Fi service on their monthly cellular phone service bills. The company will do the same for subscribers using its new General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) cell phone network in the next few months, it announced.

T-Mobile said customers can add a monthly $19.99 unlimited access Wi-Fi service to their monthly wireless bill. The charge is at a 50 percent discount over the company's regular HotSpot rate plans. The service also will continue as a stand-alone offering by subscription or on a pay-for-use basis.

Wi-Fi networking technology is used to create Internet access through the air within a radius of about 300 feet from a device. U.S. cell phone service providers, trying to find new sources of revenue, began selling wireless Internet access inside airport executive lounges, hotels and coffee shops about two years ago.

T-Mobile said the announcement marks an important step in its Wi-Fi strategy of offering a variety of services--such as high-speed wireless Internet access and voice and data services--under one umbrella. Other telecommunications companies such as Verizon Communications and SBC Communications have been bundling digital subscriber line (DSL) Internet access, local, long distance and cellular services into all-encompassing service plans.

Most people--including customers of the Wi-Fi services sold by Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless--still subscribe to Wi-Fi and cellular calling plans separately. While billing for bundled services seems a mere administrative issue, wireless carriers have maintained that the feat is technically demanding. That difficulty has stood in the way of other real national rollouts of such bundled services.

T-Mobile USA is part of T-Mobile International, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom. T-Mobile USA, with more than 2,300 "hot spots," or public places that give people wireless access, is one of the leading providers of hot-spot service. The company is planning to have 5,000 locations by the end of the year.