iPass opens door to Wi-Fi roaming

The company ropes in Sprint PCS for its roaming service, which it says will help wireless carriers to quickly enter the hot-spot market and to increase the reach of their networks.

Richard Shim Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Richard Shim
writes about gadgets big and small.
Richard Shim
2 min read
iPass is offering a new Wi-Fi roaming service, designed for wireless carriers and service providers that want to quickly enter the hot spot market and increase the reach of their networks.

On Monday, the network software and service developer launched its Wi-Fi Roaming Service, which essentially allows business travelers to gain access to several Wi-Fi hot spots using a single account.

The service targets wireless carriers and service providers looking to add Wi-Fi access to their portfolio of services. Sprint PCS, which last week announced initial availability of its Wi-Fi service, is one of the first wireless carriers to sign up. The company said it expects to offer hot spot wireless access in more than 2,100 locations by early 2004.

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Wi-Fi technology allows individuals to wirelessly access a network and share resources on that network. Hot spots are public areas where Internet access is available via a Wi-Fi connection, and roaming allows individuals to get access from one hot spot to another through a single billing account.

One major challenge for carriers is working out a way to make it easy for subscribers to access and pay for the service as they move from network to network. At the end of last year, there were 4,200 hot-spot locations in the United States, according to research firm IDC, which expects that figure to jump to 55,000 by 2007.

"There aren't enough hot spots available to use these services effectively," said Chris Richards, director of product marketing at iPass. "So while carriers add to their footprint, this will allow them to tap into what is already available and grow out as soon as possible."

The iPass network includes more than 2,500 hot spots in 24 countries. The new service authenticates subscribers and keeps track of transactions and billing across multiple networks. The Redwood Shores, Calif.-based company has developed products to connect business travelers to virtual private networks since 1996. Its Wi-Fi service was the next step in offering such access, but now the company is going after a larger market by teaming with carriers, according to John Yunker, an analyst at research firm Pyramid Research.

"This allows them to service the general consumer through carriers," Yunker said. "It's opening them up to a larger market than their traditional business traveler...Carriers increasingly want to outsource their network management services, and iPass is trying to answer that call."

With 2,500 hot spots, it brings iPass on par with competitor Boingo Wireless in terms of the number of public locations with Wi-Fi access.

U.S. Carriers such as Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless and SBC Communications have recently launched efforts to enter into the hot spot service market.