For years, virtual network operator and Wi-Fi hotspot aggregator iPass Inc. has been selling its services to enterprises, usually with multi-user, long-term contracts.
The core service is mobile highspeed Internet access using connectivity provided by iPass’s several service partners, which include operators of thousands of Wi-Fi hotspot and hotel Ethernet locations as well as 3G cellular data networks.
Now iPass is making a move down market, hoping to appeal to small business users and even consumers.
The company’s iPassConnect Mobility Service, launched yesterday, offers flat-rate, all-you-can-eat high-speed Internet access at any of over 24,000 Wi-Fi and hotel Ethernet locations in North America for $29.95 a month, with no long-term contract required.
A Global Wi-Fi option, at $44.95 monthly, gives access to 95,000 highspeed connections in 86 countries, including the North American locations.
And either plan can be combined with North American 3G connectivity, which requires a one-year contract. Total price with the North American Wi-Fi plan is $69.95, with the Global Wi-Fi plan, $84.95. iPass provides a Sprint EVDO (CDMA) laptop modem card. It only works in North America.
“Our enterprise customers have battle-tested the connectivity for years so we’re excited now to be able to offer business-class mobility to consumers and individual business users,” says Piero DePaoli, director of global product marketing at iPass.
“The idea is that we’re offering them complete coverage at a predictable price and at a lower price than they could get this service on their own.”
The company is also announcing availability of a browser-based hotspot finder service— its own hotspots, that is—that works on mobile browsers. And 24/7 technical support for iPassConnect subscribers.
The Wi-Fi/Ethernet connectivity comes with no download or time caps. “The sky’s the limit,” DePaoli says. The 3G service has a download cap of 5 gigabytes a month and a prohibition on video streaming.
So at least in the case of the Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity, iPass puts no barriers in the way of subscribers using it for VoIP services such as Skype or Gizmo—although individual service partners can make it difficult to use VoIP softphones.
iPass has built an elaborate business case for the new service, which may or may not hold water, depending on the type of user you are.
The company contends that the only comparable connectivity alternative for its target market—the sweet spot is fairly mobile small business and individual enterprise users—would be to buy multiple day passes to Wi-Fi hotspots or hotel services, or multiple monthly passes.
According to DePaoli, typical airport Wi-Fi day passes in North America go for between $8 and $10, and high-speed connectivity in hotels cost from $14 to $18 daily.
In Europe, Wi-Fi and Ethernet services are more expensive. Some London hotels charge as much as £20 a day for Wi-Fi, he says, which at current exchange rates works out to about $40.
So purely on the basis of dollars saved, a traveler planning to use day passes even three days in a month could justify the cost of a one-month subscription to iPassConnect.
And then iPass offers the added advantage of a much wider selection of locations for highspeed access through its service partners—the most Wi-Fi and Ethernet locations in total of any provider, it claims, as well as the most airport, hotel, and café/retail locations.
How big an advantage is this?
iPass analysed usage patterns among its enterprise customers—who have access to all the same locations—and found that more than half use connections provided by two or more of the company’s service provider partners in any given month. Thirty percent use three or more partners and 10% use five or more in a month.
iPass has calculated that to even approach the same breadth of coverage—by buying multiple Wi-Fi hotspot service provider subscriptions and unlimited 3G data connectivity—a customer would have to spend between $107 and $127 a month. And that’s just for high-speed access in North America.
But hang on a minute.
First of all, if you buy a cell phone company unlimited data package, do you really need Wi-Fi access as well?
You might if you frequently travel outside large metropolitan areas, where service falls off to 2.5G throughput levels similar to dial-up connection speeds, or if you find coverage erratic indoors, or if you want to stream video. And if you travel outside North America, 3G roaming fees become very prohibitive.
But there are other Wi-Fi aggregator services that cater to individual small business and consumer customers, most notably Boingo.
Boingo claims to have over 100,000 Wi-Fi hotspots globally. It offers no-contract, all-you-can-eat monthly subscription packages at $21.95 for North America, $39 international.
And it offers AsYouGo accounts that provide the same coverage but charge subscribers per “connect day,” or per 24-hour period starting with a first connection: $7.95 in North America, $9.95 internationally.
iPass does offer additional services that Boingo does not, including hotel Ethernet, and dial-up as a fall-back in parts of the world where high-speed is simply not available.
And its enterprise heritage will be reassuring to many customers. iPass is a $192-million publicly-traded company with 3,500 corporate customers, including 417 of the Forbes Global 2000, and one million individual users. That may translate to higher service reliability and easier-to-use software.
Of course, if you really want mobile Wi-Fi access on the cheap, you can always find it.
Web sites such as the JiWire and WiFiFreeSpot provide hotspot locators, similar to the one iPass offers with iPassConnect. They let you select country, state, city, and type of hotspot. Both list thousands of free hotspots.
Gerry Blackwell is a frequent contributor to Wi-FiPlanet.
This article was first published on WiFiPlanet.com.