JiWire Splits Hotspot Utility

By Eric Griffith

August 08, 2006

The hotspot directory provider's security software is now a suite with the same (or improved) functions and a better interface.

JiWire's SpotLock is going away, and in its place comes a Hotspot Helper.

The suite of software for Windows 2000/XP includes Wi-Fi Security for hosted virtual private network (VPN) connections, Wi-Fi Mailer which allows users to send SMTP e-mail traffic through a relay even on networks that don't usually allow SMTP traffic (limited to 200 messages per day), and, of course, Wi-Fi Hotspot Finder, a quick interface to JiWire's extensive database of 120,000+ hotspots worldwide (20,000 in the United States), which can be accessed even when offline.

In other words, it's all stuff found in the original SpotLock, with improvements. So what's missing?

"We found that the one thing least important was the connection manager," says David Blumenfeld, vice president of marketing for JiWire. The interface SpotLock provided was nothing more than a pretty face on top of Windows XP's Zero Configuration interface for connecting to Wi-Fi networks. Because of problems with working with XP, 90% of the support calls JiWire got had to do with the connection manager.

"We took a step back, got feedback, drank our own Kool-Aid," Blumenfeld says. "We said, 'Why do a big application? Let XP do its thing, and then we'll do ours.'" The result is the free Hotspot Helper download, which runs more like your firewall or anti-virus software — unobtrusively, in the Windows XP system tray, until you need it.

hotspothelper_interface

What's also different is the price. The Hotspot Finder is always free — and has a more Web-like interface as you look up venues — while previously you had to pay for SpotLock's security and SMTP e-mail features. When it launched, the cost was $50 a year or $5 a day. With Hotspot Helper, JiWire has dropped its price for security and e-mail relay to $25 a year.

Better yet, for light hotspot use, anyone can use the VPN security and SMTP e-mail for free for half an hour per day.

"As light hotspot users, you're barely doing anything — we still want to help you stay protected," says Blumenfeld. "We'll give it to you for free. If you're a full-time user, consider it the price of a latte per month."

JiWire recently launched a nationwide advertising network that it will host for providers who want to make some extra cash by showing ads on hotspot sign-in/splash pages.

Blumenfeld says that's a big difference from what AnchorFree is doing. That company, formerly just a provider of free hotspots and hotzones in the San Francisco Bay area, recently bought MetroFreeFi.com, a directory of free-for-access hotspots -- and then launched a hosted VPN called Hotspot Shield that is always free, no matter what. However, Blumenfeld says AnchorFree's software is advertising-supported. Hotspot Helper will not be.

Google had a similar product for a while, but now only offers it to locals using its Mountain View, California network. Other companies providing hosted VPN services (and they do charge) include WiTopia's personalVPN, HotspotVPN, and PublicVPN.com. The latest is GoTrusted, which trumpets ease of use by requiring only Web site sign-ups and no separate software to download.

If you are one of the current SpotLock users — and Blumenfeld won't say how many there are, only that the utility was downloaded over 100,000 times — and you like having the connection manager, you can still use it for a while. "We'll phase out SpotLock over time," says Blumenfeld. "We won't force a switch on day one. Eventually, there will be a cut off, but that hasn't been decided. We think users will be excited by the new version."

Hotspot Helper will be promoted by Tropos Networks to users of its metropolitan Wi-Fi networks through a new strategic partnership.

The Hotspot Helper FAQ says they're evaluating whether to make Macintosh, Linux or Windows Mobile versions of the software. JiWire never made non-Windows versions of SpotLock.

JiWire also offers free toolbars that integrate with the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers (again, on Windows only for now). They tie into the Hotspot Helper suite. "You still have to download Hotspot Helper separately, but the toolbar is a Wi-Fi 'dashboard,' if you will, and a means of conveniently activating our software or navigating the JiWire site," says Blumenfeld. "If you have Hotspot Helper installed, the toolbar's hotspot search will pull from the offline directory when the user is offline (and the JiWire.com directory when the user is online)."



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