SputnikNet Hosts Tools for WISPs

By Eric Griffith

September 21, 2004

In addition to selling software to wireless ISPs for tracking usage and authenticating users at hotspots, Sputnik will actually run the application for WISPs without servers.

San Francisco-based company Sputnik announced an upgrade to its Control Center software this week. Version 3.0 will include new features to help in monitoring and controlling Sputnik's Linux-based access points deployed for public access, particularly in the area of scalability.

However, instead of putting all the work on wireless ISPs to install the software and run their business, Sputnik is launching a new service to host the controls for WISPs.

Called SputnikNet, the hosted service will include the exact same functionality found in the Control Center 3.0 upgrade. The difference is, WISP administrators can control their clients' hotspots by accessing SputnikNet from any Internet browser.

"It's like SalesForce.com," says Dave LaDuke, co-founder and CEO of Sputnik, making a reference to the online-only service used by many enterprises for customer resource management (CRM). It's ideal for WISPs with little or no technical staff, he says, but it doesn't replace the WISP. "We're not an Internet service provider—we're just running our application for you," he says.

Sputnik's AP-160 hardware access points are shipped to vendors pre-configured to find the SputnikNet service automatically when they hook up to the Internet. Once hooked up, they'll automatically be configured for service, securing, and whatever differentiating factors the WISP or its venue customers want, such as a personalized walled garden, venue branding ("A Hotspot by Joe's Coffee"), or even advertising or coupons.

The AP 160 price is being reduced this week to $99. Sputnik is able to offer the lower price because it's buying the units in volume. The company also has a ruggedized outdoor unit, the AP 200, for $259.

SputnikNet is also available with Control Center 3.0, upon which it's based. LaDuke says the company had three goals for the product. The first was extra scalability, with the ability to manage multiple venue networks—so one WISP could provide networks for multiple venues (say, two different coffee shop chains), each with individualized settings. Second was the flexibility of how it works—it can even by used with a company's own RADIUS authentication servers to avoid creating new authentication settings for users. It will also work with devices that can't use traditional username/password authentication—everything from VoWi-Fi handsets to printers. Finally, ease of use was paramount.

"We want it as easy to use as possible," says LaDuke. "We call it 'unplug-and-play.'"

Part of the ease is in the price—it's a free upgrade to all current Control Center 2.4 users—and part is in the automated upgrade set. Put Control Center 3.0 on a different server than the 2.4 version, click a button, and it will automatically migrate all data over. It will then reach out to every Sputnik AP, do a flash upgrade on that hardware, and when it re-awakes, it will point to the 3.0 version. All the APs communicate back to Control Center over the Internet, using the broadband connection at the hotspot venue.

Pricing for Control Center 3.0 starts at $599 and includes two AP-160s. A ten-AP set is $2599, and goes up from there with a sliding scale.

The SputnikNet hosted service costs $49.95 to set up an account, then $19.95 per month per access point (or $199 per year per AP). There's volume pricing for big WISPs, but no end user or transaction fee. So WISPs have complete control, not only over their own APs, but also over the relationship with the end user—up to deciding whether to charge for the service or not.

"We want to be adamantly clear, we're not going to compete with ISPs," reminds LaDuke. "They do great things in the field. We don't set up wireless networks. We just sell them for others to set up."

Currently, the Sputnik software, whether owned or hosted, only works with Sputnik's APs. However, the company does offer the Sputnik Agent software for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) . The company is working toward getting that software on future third-party access points.

Sputnik recently made headlines by providing discounted hardware and software to the SoCalFreeNet wireless user group of San Diego to help get a free public access Wi-Fi network up and running in the city.



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