JiWire: Directs, Connects, Secures
May 04, 2005
The hotspot directory is offering software to facilitate easy access with an integrated for-fee VPN and SMTP service, all to keep you secure and communicating while at a public hotspot.
Despite having 63,000+ hotspots worldwide to show in its online directory, JiWire is ready to provide even more for those who use public access Wi-Fi all the time.
JiWire is offering for download a beta software utility called SpotLock that provides a simple graphical interface to connect users to hotspots (or home or corporate networks, for that matter). What's more, the software—currently only for Windows 2000 and XP— will offer VPN secured connections.
SpotLock started as JiWire's attempt at a more user-friendly connection manager than the one found in XP. "As we looked at the market, we saw a hole," says vice president of marketing David Blumenfeld. "Especially with Wi-Fi security at public hotspots for individuals, or even small business users—those without a corporate VPN."The software features four tabs. The Connect tab brings up icons representing every Wi-Fi network the computer can see -- double-click on a network icon to start the connection to that WLAN instantly (if no other credentials are needed). A hop to the Management tab will let you set up profiles for use on any network encountered, including the WEP/WPA settings needed—it will even accept info for other VPN services you might be running concurrently. If you can't find a network, go to the Search tab to mine the JiWire directory. The data is stored locally with SpotLock, so you don't need to be online to use it. Just download any updates before you leave the house on the big trip.
The most interesting part of SpotLock is the Secure tab, where you can activate security on your connection. Once activated, an IPsec-based virtual private network (VPN) tunnel is established, which terminates at a proxy server on the other end. This tunnel effectively encrypts your data while you sit at any hotspot.
SpotLock also builds in an SMTP gateway for sending e-mail messages. Anyone using the VPN tunnel can send up to 200 e-mail messages per day, even if the hotspot ISP you're using throttles or prevents outgoing e-mail. No configuration is needed. Any note you try to send will go through over the SpotLock SMTP relay. Future versions may allow use of different SMTPs.
Anyone wanting to try the SpotLock VPN can trial it with ten secure connections for free. Signing up for the service costs $5 a month or $50 a year.
This VPN service puts JiWire in direct competition with services like HotSpotVPN and WiTopia's personalVPN. Both use different kinds of VPN tunnels (SSL and PPTP, for example), and cost more ($8.88 or more per month for HotSpotVPN; $79 per user, one time, for personalVPN). The current HotspotVPN2 version, however, supports multiple operating systems, including those on PDAs.
The connection manager part of JiWire SpotLock, including the local copy of the JiWire directory, is free to anyone -- even if you don't care about the VPN. Check JiWire.com for a list of the compatible Wi-Fi cards.
JiWire has crafted a business model based on partnerships, providing its directory for use by such Web sites as Intel, the New York Times, and many others as their official hotspot directory provider. The same is likely to be true for SpotLock, Blumenfeld says. "As opportunities come up... we could go with the 'Powered by JiWire' route," he says. "We're taking a wait-and-see approach. For now, we'll brand it JiWire."