iPass Passes Five-Figures

By Eric Griffith

July 06, 2004

The aggregator of wireless networks says it has hit a major milestone in the number of locations it provides customers in a discussion on how they measure.

You want the most coverage for your buck when it comes to roaming about from hotspot to hotspot? Then iPass is probably the service you want.

According to the company, as of today they are officially offering service at 11,179 Wi-Fi hotspots in 150 countries. That's up from about 1,000 hotspots around this time last year.

The major hotspot aggregators include iPass and GoRemote (formerly GRIC), which both offer services mainly to enterprises, and Boingo Wireless, which provides access for consumers. Boingo has wireless listings only; the other two offer a mix of wireless, wired, and dial-up services, which can all be accessed using their client software.

"We're blazing a trail for our customers... we have 20% of all the known hotspots," says John Sidline, director of corporate communications for iPass. He bases the 20% number on the total listing of hotpots found at online directory JiWire.

"Of the top 50 U.S. cities, we have 20 hotspots in 47 of them," says Sidline. The other three cities, he adds, do have some iPass locations as well. "People should land and be able to find access."

Sidline says his company has another 12,000 hotspots ready to join the iPass virtual network.

When iPass says 11,179 hotspots, that only includes the wireless locations -- it has an additional 1,500 that use Ethernet, and many of those locations, particularly hotels, overlap with the hotspots.

The numbers thrown about by the aggregators have long been suspect. In a report last month, Glenn Fleishman of Wi-Fi Networking News tried to make a manual count of the actual number of hotspots locations offered by iPass, GoRemote, and Boingo by using the companies' own software or online directories. His findings at the time showed that -- after eliminating airport listings -- iPass had an overlap rate in its listings in the U.S. of less than 3%.

"We don't list multiples in a venue just because of the different providers," says Sidline, "we'd list the different locations for lounges in an airport as different locations, even if all are from T-Mobile. We don't want customers to believe they can go into an airport and get access at any terminal and at any gate. It's a marketing decision based on the information we want to provide to customers."

He says hotels are different -- if you can only get Ethernet in your room, coming down to the lobby where there's Wi-Fi isn't as big a hardship as crossing multiple terminals in a large airport. Thus a hotel with both Wi-Fi in the common area and Wi-Fi access in the room might get only one listing. There are 2,900 hotels listed among the 11,179 hotspots -- all the hotels offer Wi-Fi. Those with Ethernet access will be listed again among the service's 1,500 wired venues.

iPass and the other aggregators don't run their own networks, they piggy-back on others. Right now, T-Mobile has the largest operating hotspot network in the US, but is looking at substantial competition in the future from Wayport, which is rolling out a "flat-rate" network called Wi-Fi World at around 8,000 McDonald's restaurants, designed specifically to get providers -- like iPass -- to sign on for roaming. When asked about roaming on Wi-Fi World, Sidline declined to comment. He did say the flat-rate pricing wasn't as important to iPass, since the company deals with "multiple billing modes already." Wayport was one of iPass's first partners when it started the virtual hotspot network in March 2002.

Overall, the growth for iPass since it started to focus on Wi-Fi 27 months ago has been incredible, as has the change in attitude from corporations. "At the time we started, CIOs were saying they wouldn't promote Wi-Fi to end users," says Sidline. "Too vulnerable, too expensive. But now they all ask about Wi-Fi strategies and capabilities."

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