iPass releases version 3 of their aggregation/VPN software for worldwide roaming, iPassConnect: iPass briefed me last week on their new software, which improves the interface, clarifies choosing among different kinds of connections (dial-up, a cell sub-type, broadband wired, and Wi-Fi), and adds more corporate protection features.
iPass has partnerships with hundreds of ISPs in 150 countries, including 16,000 POPs (dial-in numbers) and 2,000 broadband wired and wireless locations. iPass sells their service directly to corporations, or through value-added resellers to smaller groups and even individuals. The iPassConnect client allows access to dial-up, wired, and wireless ISPs while traveling the globe at fixed hourly rates depending on the region and type of connectivity. Hourly rates are capped at a maximum day rate for certain types of services, like Wi-Fi. iPass builds no infrastructure.
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The iPass software is appealing to corporations because it allows a massive number of people to have controlled access to the Internet while traveling without maintaining many relationships and accounts. It allows a single point of entry, as it were, to retrieving billing records by accounts. Corporations can integrate their own directory services with iPass through software iPass provides so that on the road authentication happens through the enterprise system, not through separately maintained iPass records, removing one more level of system responsibilities.
iPass also offers its ISP partners a free software package (along with their share of the revenue from customers that use the ISP) that allows them to handle these special authentication cases, and to track quality of service data.
iPass began on the dial-up front, and you can imagine what a breath of fresh air it would be to be able to have dial-up in Asia, Europe, the US, South America, and so forth through one company back in the early 90s. They added wired access in September 2001, and wireless in March 2002. Most of the delay in broadband had to do with synchronizing their authentication systems with partners. They now stand firmly behind the wISPr (wireless ISP roaming) document from The Wi-Fi Alliance as a way to reduce complexity and cost of adding partners. Although this might make it easier for competitors to also add more partners, Piero DePaoli, product marketing manager, said that this "helps the whole roaming industry."
iPass supports dial-up, ISDN (still popular in Asia), wired broadband (as in hotels), Wi-Fi, and something called PSH, which is supported by two phone companies in Japan for cordless calling at home and cellular while roaming.
I asked DePaoli about iPass's general policy of charging per minute, while the industry has a number of fixed monthly plans. He pointed out that with a lack of roaming as it currently stands, in order to benefit from those fixed monthly plans a single employee would have to have access to several of them, and would often be paying on months they weren't using the service that much because of minimum plan commitments. iPass has found that when you average travel across a country, many travelers aren't on the road every month, but might have extensive travel from time to time.
iPass did adapt their rates in places where a maximum rate is charged for a day's access, as in hotels. They charge per minute up to a maximum rate, and then not again during the period of midnight to midnight (most venues) or noon to noon (hotels). DePaoli said as the market changes, however, the model for charging could change overall.
The new iPassConnect 3 software includes three major changes. (Also, it works only under Windows XP, 2000, Me, NT 4 (service pack 6 or later), and 98 Second Edition.) First, instead of lumping all services together, it segregates out the medium (dial-up, Wi-Fi, etc.) for easier access.
Second, it now does Wi-Fi sniffing with appropriate (most) Wi-Fi cards to allow easy recognition of iPass partner networks. In fact, they also can lock out non-partner networks if this is a corporate policy for their clients. Users can hand configure one special network (like a home network). iPass now has 1,500 hot spots in their aggregated partner network.
Third, the software now has policy enforcement tools. It always could check for a VPN before allowing communication, and terminating a connection that doesn't have a VPN enabled. It now also can enforce anti-virus and personal firewall software being turned on. This works with a few major packages, including Zone Labs and BlackICE (now renamed); and Norton and McAfee.
Finally, iPass added a technique that allows end-to-end password encryption and one-time username obscuring so that there's no part of the transaction from client software to iPass's software running in an enterprise that can replayed or sniffed. All of iPass's hot spot partners must install a digital certificate at a reachable location that iPassConnect can use to verify before allowing a hot spot connection. This prevents rogue AP interceptions, too.