Rockstar Goes Mobile

By Gerry Blackwell

August 24, 2004

The developer of ISP system software (now called Aramova) thinks the future for all Internet access -- not just Wi-Fi based -- is with the aggregators.

The ISP system software developer formerly known as Rockstar (now known as Aramova) is betting that the future of Internet access will be all about providers offering aggregated, multi-mode network services -- and that wireless will be king.

"We believe the kind of freedom of access that wireless provides may ultimately revolutionize the Internet -- just as mobile handsets revolutionized the public switched telephone network," Szalay says.

Subscribers to multi-mode services may use fixed line when they're in the home or office, mobile wireless when they're not and Wi-Fi whenever they're in range of a hotspot and need high speed -- anytime, anywhere access.

Retail service providers will offer subscribers aggregated coverage from multiple wholesalers -- as indeed iPass, Boingo Wireless, Trustive in Europe and others are already doing. Both models present service providers with formidable technical and marketing challenges.

Aramova, previously a provider of triple-A software for wireline providers, recently launched a new client-server Intelligent Access Management solution it says will help enable the new-style multi-mode providers and wireless network aggregators.

The company's first sales of the product were to Netherlands-based Trustive. Its other customers, also in the Netherlands, are Picopoint, which runs the GBIA Wi-Fi network aggregation service, and KPN, the former Dutch PTT which operates multiple wireless and fixed-line data access networks. [Updated 8/28 to include Trustive.]

KPN is a prime example of the kind of provider Aramova is targeting. It will use the Intelligent Access Management solution to manage Internet access for subscribers via its UMTS (European 3G mobile), GPRS, fixed line and Wi-Fi access networks.

The Aramova solution can't do automatic, seamless hand-offs between different wireless networks -- yet. It's "working in that direction," Szalay says. It does, however, incorporate network sniffing technology. It can tell a subscriber using a mobile network if he's wandered into a Wi-Fi coverage area and help him reconnect via Wi-Fi without having to log on again.

That's just one of several unique features Szalay says clearly differentiates the Aramova solution in the market. It is mostly competing with products that address the need to manage one or two network access methods at most -- from companies such as Diginext, PCTEL and Alice Systems. The Aramova solution can manage many, he says.

Other key benefits the Intelligent Access Management solution delivers according to Aramova:

  • It helps service providers grow their wireless business by enabling a better experience for subscribers - by automating log-on and online account activation, for example.
  • It also provides dynamic assistance with identifying, locating and logging on to available wireless access points and cells.
  • Its client-resident component provides a consistent unified interface for working with a variety of network applications and access modes.
  • And it offers service providers a messaging tool for "reaching out and touching" subscribers, whether they're logged on or not.

Wi-Fi in particular faces some stiff challenges to achieve mass adoption, Szalay says, one of them being that it's too hard to find hotspots and too hard to log on to them. The Aramova solution will help solve both problems.

Part of it is the automated activation and log-on, but the client software also includes diagnostic and self-care features. If a subscriber is having difficulty logging on, the Aramova client can do basic troubleshooting and automatically adjust network settings if necessary.

It logs activity and automatically pushes information about the client device and the connectivity problems to a service provider Customer Service Representative (CSR) if the user makes a Help Desk call.

In addition to sniffing for networks, the Aramova client software also gives subscribers a MapQuest-like application they can use to search for nearby hotspots and cells.

Some of the location information resides on the server, some on the client. If a subscriber is currently logged on via a particular mobile network cell or hotspot, the service provider can automatically push information to the client about available hotspots in that area and adjacent areas - which will then show up when he does a search for a hotspot.

If the client device can't log on to a site because the access point is down, the Aramova client sends notification back to the server so the provider can initiate a trouble ticket and also update its availability map.

"It's that kind of dynamic interaction between client and server that we think is unique and far more powerful than a lot of static directory services," Szalay says.

Another problem for Wi-Fi: prices now are generally too high. "Ultimately Wi-Fi prices will drop," Szalay says. "There will need to be other ways for service providers to capitalize. They'll be looking at offering additional types of services outside simple Internet access. We provide support for that. I think you'll see some interesting announcements from us along those lines in the next quarter or two."

The "interesting announcements" will likely involve location-based services, Szalay says. With its built-in server-to-client messaging technology, the Intelligent Access Management product can support such services.

The client software also allows service providers to give subscribers a consistent unified user interface for interacting with a variety of value-added applications -- VPN, content filters, data throughput accelerators, location-based services.

"Our architecture allows developers to add plug-in client components," Szalay explains. "This simplifies installs because everything can be delivered through one downloadable or on one CD. It also makes for ease of use and that's really important when you're trying to get mass adoption."

The server software also delivers crucial back office benefits to service providers, the company says.

One problem it solves is handling authentication when dealing with disparate networks and protocols -- RAS for dial-up, WISPr for Wi-Fi roaming, LUF (Lowest Usable high Frequency) or DUF (Daily Usage File) for mobile wireless, "or whatever the next follow-on protocol is."

"Being able to provide resolution of authentication with all these different protocols, without requiring the user to re-input ID and password is going to be important," Szalay says.

The Aramova solution also lets service providers control which aggregated network resources are visible to a user where it has overlapping coverage from two different network operators.

For reasons of cost or quality of service, the provider may want to always use one or the other -- unless the number one choice is unavailable or compromised, in which case the user is automatically logged on to the other. The Aramova product allows service providers to set up business rules to dynamically determine this kind of routing.

"It's why we call it intelligent access management," Szalay says. "You need to be able to manage this dynamically, and if you look at how most people are doing it now, it's very manual."

The Aramova solution isn't just for big multi-mode service providers and aggregators, he says. The company believes there is a compelling case even for hotel chains offering free Wi-Fi access service to use the access management and customer care components.

The Intelligent Access Management software can help hotels manage authentication where they want to provide service free to guests but charge non-guests, Szalay suggests.

He won't say how much the solution costs, other than to say that it's "in line" with competitive offerings.

Is Aramova right about the shape of things to come? Will multi-mode providers like KPN and network aggregators like Picopoint/GBIA dominate not just the Wi-Fi hotspot but also the larger Internet access market? It makes some sense, and clearly these players will face special problems.

If that's the case, it's hard to believe Aramova is the only company to consider this, or that it will remain for very long the only one with a solution.

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