Back in 1999, experts at pre-merger Lucent's Bell Labs head predicted a communications skin would engulf us, allowing us to seamlessly connect with various networks. Over the years this prediction has come true but we are far from able to seamlessly connect to them all. If anything, connecting to many of these networks is a major barrier when you consider entering credit card and other information can take five minutes or more.
But there are ways you can overcome the barriers which are artificially placed between you and the wireless network you want to use. I am of course referring to user names and passwords and contact information you must enter when you want to use a wireless network. The thought which always crosses my mind when I see WiFi network logon screen is whether I had joined it in the past. If so, what is my user name? Password? Do I need to have my password emailed to me? If so then I am online already so why do I need the paid WiFi to begin with?
There has to be a better way. Now that I have an iPhone, I have found the WiFi radio does not draw that much power when not in use so I leave it on. Subsequently, I often see paid networks such as Boingo pop up. I am not a member of any of these networks as I don't seem to be near them long enough to take advantage of them. In my perfect world, there would be one service provider I could pay to manage all of these networks for me, allowing me to easily connect to various networks as I see fit - and without the horrid nag screens asking me for account information.
Enter iPass, a near $200 million dollar company supplying multinational companies with a broad range of connectivity solutions to disparate wired and wireless networks. As you might imagine, to make such a solution possible -- the company has partnered with a number of carriers such as AT&T, BT, Orange, NTT, T-Mobile, Verizon and Telstra.
IPass has recently launched its iPassConnect Mobility Service for consumers which allows US-based iPhone and iPod Touch users to have access to WiFi around the world. This new service complements its other offerings which work with laptops and allow travelers to take advantage of various 3G and WiFi networks worldwide.
When you realize 3G is not available everywhere and is also expensive, you understand the arbitrage opportunity the company takes advantage of. It allows you to have access to fast wireless broadband networks which could be faster than 3G and at a potentially lower price.
So assuming you use the iPhone as a data only device you pay about $1,200/year. Instead, you could get an iPod Touch and save this $1,200 in exchange for being able to use the device where WiFi is available. Of course this whole concept only works if you are in areas where there is near-ubiquitous WiFi and subsequently you need to think this through before making the decision on which solution makes sense for you. If you are a light WiFi user, you could use this strategy to save $1,100/year!
When you consider that there are applications such as VoIP and iTunes which are blocked on the 3G network, you understand why having access to WiFi on the go is important. In addition, streaming media does not always work well on 3G networks and Joost doesn't even try. Finally there are the roaming charges associated with 3G. Not to mention of course the productivity issues associated with a device which doesn't multitask with the exception of a few internal applications.
I have had to wait five minutes at a time to download an attachment on my phone in areas where the 3G network was MIA. As you know, that means I have no ability to work unless I take out another device. You all know I usually have three devices with me at all times but please indulge me for now.
The iPass offering is 100,000 WiFi hotspots in 78 countries with 48,000 of these in Europe, 27,000 in Asia Pac and 25,000 in North America. For travelers, you should be happy as you have coverage in 450 airports, 22,000 hotels and of course coverage in McDonalds, Starbucks and Borders.
I have to say the pricing is interesting... Not great and not terrible. It is low for what you get but not if you are a mega-consumer of content. Occasional users can pay $9.95 for access while annual subscribers pay $6.95/month. So far this is amazingly low right?
After 20 hours or 1,200 minutes per month you start paying by the minute at 20 cents per 60 seconds or $12 per hour. In my conversation today with Rick Bilodeau VP of Corporate and Channel Marketing, he told me the company may have to adjust these plans if needed but he thinks the iPhone is generally not used for large amounts of time but more for immediate needs or as a "transactional device." He could be right.
To try the application for yourself you can download it at the company's website or the iTunes App Store. As you might have guessed, the goal here is to get consumers to try the service and then get them to push management into purchasing a corporate account. I really like the iPass model a great deal and now have an account myself. Expect me to talk about the service going forward and I will certainly let you know how it performs.
One other point worth making is that I also use another program called Easy Wi-Fi from Devicescape which is similar. The difference is Easy Wi-Fi remembers your user names and passwords but does not aggregate multiple WiFi accounts. Bilodeau calls them complementary and since I haven't had a chance to compare the two I have no reason to disagree.