iPass Biz Travelers Can Roam in Pittsburgh

By Eric Griffith

September 13, 2006

The downtown hotzone in the Steel City is finally done, and already has a roaming partner opening it up to visiting corporate road warriors.

After a few delays, the hotzone in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is live.

The network, run by US Wireless Online for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) and the city, uses the popular Tropos Networks MetroMesh equipment to supply access. And unlike a lot of municipal networks, it already has a roaming partner. The million or so users of the iPass Mobile Office service (formerly known as iPass Corporate Access) can access the network using the iPassConnect client software without paying anything outside of what their corporate masters already pay iPass in per-minute access charges.

iPass announced a separate deal today with Tropos (the basis of the Pittsburgh deal, really) whereby the equipment maker will ensure that iPass users can get "secure and reliable access" using Tropos equipment. The MetroMesh hardware has been certified by iPass as interoperable.

"The work we've done with Tropos is similar to work we've done with other gateway providers for years in the hotspot area," says Rick Bilodeau, senior director of corporate marketing at iPass. The Tropos equipment is certified as compatible with the iPass Generic Interface Specification (GIS), which Bilodeau describes as "the more secure way of passing credentials over the air." The certification also means Tropos equipment works out of the box with the various security systems iPass supports for its corporate clients, such as virtual private network (VPN) tunnels back to the home office.

"The whole goal is to make it easy for municipalities to offer network availability to enterprise users," says Bilodeau. "There will be use by citizens, of course, but business travelers... [are] important to get network adoption momentum going."

The deal with Tropos is one thing, but US Wireless Online, as the provider, had to be okay with allowing the extra traffic online. Because the company uses gateway products from Pronto Networks — an existing iPass partner — a three-way arrangement was easy to broker.

As future municipal and citywide networks using Tropos equipment get deployed, iPass will have to form a partnership with the underlying providers of each network. "Most municipalities don't do this themselves -- a number use existing service providers," says Bilodeau. "We'll work with them to provide enterprise roaming agreements."

Without referring to a specific city or provider, Bilodeau says iPass is already at work setting up those partnerships.

Pittsburgh is the first network of this scale that iPass is partnered with in the U.S., but it has existing partnerships with providers overseas doing citywide and hotzone deployments, such as The Cloud in the U.K.

Bilodeau says it's no surprise that the major population centers are where most of the business travel takes place, so look for iPass to try to partner with providers unwiring those cities in the future. He says that, with a customer base in the Fortune 1000, "we want to fully serve where they travel," and that "municipal Wi-Fi will be key to the validation of Wi-Fi as a broad, mainstream technology."

Pittsburgh's city council approved the plan to unwire the downtown area back in May. US Wireless is expected to open the service to use by any provider wishing to resell access. The formal launch is today, September 13, and the city has already signed up 500 users during a football promotion last week. The network is free to anyone with a cap of 512 Kbps, or users can pay $8 a day, $15 a month or $120 a year to get 1 Mbps download speed.

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