Sputnik sends version 2 into orbit: Small and medium size hot spot operators have a new network management tool with Sputnik's platform, which became commercially available yesterday.
With Sputnik's server software and access points (APs) that include Sputnik edge software, operators get centralized network management functions with usage analysis, security, AP provisioning, and an end user interface.
The software, known as Central Control 2.2, doesn't yet support 802.1X but it does offer classic AAA security. It authenticates and authorizes users who want to get on the network. Also, every 30 seconds, it logs packets sent over the network so an administrator can analyze network use at the AP level.
Central Control also includes hooks for functions like billing or an existing AAA security mechanism. For example, if a hotspot provider is also an ISP, it can use an existing billing or authentication platform. Operators that are new to the game can also link to any merchant billing site for credit card processing.
The platform also includes some AP management tools, such as auto provisioning, the ability to remotely turn the AP on and remote firmware upgrades. Users can also set up basic firewall rules on an AP by AP basis which could be used to prevent users from accessing a private network.
Sputnik also touts an easy-to-use interface that lets hotspot customers customize the splash page that end users see, letting the administrator easily add or change messages on the page.
For now, customers must use APs from Sputnik, which are made by Actiontec. Sputnik's AP software is available at no cost to other AP vendors that may want to build it into their products at the firmware level. The server software costs $895 and can control up to 20 APs.
Surf and Sip and Airpath Wireless have similar types of platforms that they offer as hosted services, realizing a percentage of the profits from paying customers. But Sputnik found that some operators didn't want to share those profits. "Our beta customers, they said they don’t like anyone taking a cut our of their revenue," said Dave LaDuke, CEO of Sputnik.
In addition, LaDuke said Sputnik wanted to make the product flexible to accommodate for the fact that Wi-Fi is a new market and users are experimenting with business models. "Instead of implying that you'll charge the end user, we've designed for flexibility," he said. A Sputnik customer may start out offering a free service but can migrate to a fee-based offering and use an existing billing platform.
Surf and Sip and Airpath also offer a management platform for sites that don’t charge for Wi-Fi access, charging operators around $50 a month. Sputnik is consdering offering its platform on a hosted basis for smaller operators or inedpenant venues that may have just one or two APs. "We'd charge far below $50, maybe $5," LaDuke said. But a Sputnik-hosted offering would be more hands-on then those from Surf and Sip and Airpath for the operator, which would still be responsible for most network administration duties.
Currently, Sputnik has nearly 100 beta users of the platform, including Softmatrix, a software consulting firm. Softmatrix sets up hot spots for venues, using Sputnik APs and server software to manage all the hot spots centrally. Currently, Softmatrix has built hotspots for three venues including two car dealerships and has deals for a total of 15 locations. The splash pages viewed by customers in those dealerships can be found here and here.
"It would have been really difficult without Sputnik because there's not really a solution that lets you manage multiple hot spots with one server," said Craig Fine, director of sales for Softmatrix. Using the Central Control software, Fine can check how many users are on any of the networks to send reports to the venues.
Fine is content with the security mechanisms Sputnik offers. The firewall is the most important component for him because it can allow workers at a venue to use the network to access corporate data but will deny the public from accessing that data.
Fine hopes for two changes in Sputnik's offering in the future. He'd like to be able to limit the amount of bandwidth users can access so that no one becomes a hog. In addition, he's looking forward to Sputnik making more deals with hardware vendors so he can have a choice of APs.