At the end of last year, industry analysts and service providers were touting how wireless broadband Internet access service in hotel rooms and other “hot spots” ? like airports and convention centers ? would be the difference between attracting business travelers and losing them to competitors. Yet, recent writings on the subject differ with original projections.
In our opinion, wireless broadband Internet is still a growing, viable market with a solid future. The carriers and service providers who are committed to this market will succeed in the long run. ISPs first recognized this trend as they started to build out their wireless networks for hotspots, and the demand continues to grow today.
Case in point. The Travel Industry Association of America noted a 200 percent increase in Internet use by business travelers between 1996 and 2000. By 2005, more than 50 percent of business IT access will be conducted outside the office, according to Cahners In-Stat. Moreover, the Strategis Group projected last February that mobile data would reach 60 percent penetration in the U. S. by 2007, as mobile subscriptions reach 172 million? up from 5 million last year. Broadband has become so prevalent in the lives of people everyday, that employers and their mobile professionals are beginning to expect this same service to be available on the road from any device, anywhere at anytime.
As the market has started to grow beyond the embryonic stage, carriers and service providers are looking for partners to complement their offerings, and help increase the adoption rate of remote wireless broadband access by enterprises and mobile professionals. A challenge for many business travelers today is dealing with multiple carriers, multiple invoices and varying levels of service, since no single service provider covers every hotel worldwide. Security and VPN integration environments also change from provider to provider, adding to the frustration experienced by the jet-setting work force, and the anxiety of its corporate IT departments. In the end, the burden to the customer becomes a significant obstacle. Mobile professionals don’t have the time to
sort through all these parameters every time they check into a hotel room, attend a trade show or land at an airport.
Wireless broadband Internet access providers can obtain new customers faster by partnering with an aggregated service, following the process that saw the accelerated acceptance of dial-up remote access in the mid-1990’s. Providers that integrate various wireless broadband points of presence (Pops) from carriers and ISPs to form a global, high-speed, Internet network will give business travelers the footprint they demand. This model also incorporates a single billing structure, cross-network authentication and security functions, and a simple interface, providing mobile professionals the case of use they need. Corporations are also able to take advantage of their buying power with one global service provider and provide a common experience for their users. Users will be able to obtain access more easily wherever they go without worrying about varying standards. The aggregator, in this scenario, is a neutral, third party that ties all the otherwise fragmented services together seamlessly.
To be effective in this environment, the aggregator must develop software that is interoperable and customizable with leading VPN, firewall and authentication solutions to meet the unique security policies of each corporation. Given the variation of wireless broadband connectivity in the global corporate environment, the aggregator needs to support multiple platforms for various devices, such as laptops, desktops, PDA handhelds, and any other peripherals the future might hold_ Redundancy and reliable quality of service needs to be an important facet of the software as well. Initially, the software needs to be based on 802.11 standards, the prevailing technology for wireless data communications.
This scenario is a “win-win” situation for hotels and their service providers, Carriers and ISPs can deliver wireless broadband access outside their service areas, resulting in new revenue streams, differentiation from competitors, customer acquisition and retention. Likewise, hotels, convention centers and other hot spots will also see an increase in the overall uptake and usage from business users, and therefore, will improve revenues.
To those who believe the global wireless broadband Internet access in hot spots is not an attractive market, we respectfully disagree. We saw this same conflict with dial-up networks five years ago. Since then, we’ve made it our business to complement carriers, service providers and enterprises. And it’s working. About the author:
Michael Mansouri is chairman and CEO of iPass, Inc., a Redwood Shores, Calif., global Internet access provider. iPass delivers a total integrated solution for corporations (or IT departments) facing the complex task of implementing and supporting secure, cost-effective global remote access for its mobile employees. Using its patent-pending settlement and authentication technologies, iPass aggregates multiple providers throughout the world, creating a fully-redundant and highly-scalable global network. Fully interoperable with leading authentication, VPN and firewall solutions, the iPass service can be seamlessly integrated into all types of enterprise security infrastructures. With data rates ranging from dial-up to broadband, iPass offers the world’s largest remote access network with 12,000 unique points of presence (POPs) in 150 countries. For additional information, visit the iPass Web site at http://www.ipass.com
Michael Mansouri, chairman and CEO of Wass, Inc