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« Legoland Tracking in Depth | Main | University Offers Wi-Fi Precertification »

April 28, 2004

RoamPoint, iPass Serve as Roaming Hubs

RoamPoint entered the hotspot resale market in early April in a sea of confusion: Wi-Fi Networking News recently talked to Leon de Beer, director of RoamPoint, as well as iPass, a potential RoamPoint competitor, to straighten out some of the confusion.

RoamPoint was started by de Beer and some colleagues who identified the need for a process that makes it easier for hotspot operators to handle the necessary backend support behind roaming agreements, such as authenticating users across networks and tracking usage across roaming networks. The Cloud, a UK hotspot operator, was thinking along the same lines at the same time.

"What we've done is use some of The Cloud facilities to kick start this project and we’re now in the process of spinning it out of The Cloud," de Beer said. The Cloud is currently the majority shareholder in RoamPoint, but de Beer said both entities are hoping to change that soon. "For us, it's really important to be seen as an independent entity not closely associated with one network," de Beer said.

Intel is involved with RoamPoint in a co-marketing relationship. Plus, RoamPoint customers must be validated through the Intel Centrino verified hotspot network operators program.

RoamPoint hopes to serve as a hub and clearinghouse for hotspot operators and service providers. "We'll deal with the technology and you concentrate on the commercial," de Beer tells potential customers.

The RoamPoint hub offers several services to operators. When a customer accesses a hotspot using their home network's or aggregator's login information, their authentication request passes through the RoamPoint platform. RoamPoint doesn't handle the authentication, but it verifies if the user is authorized to access that hotspot through a roaming agreement the customer's operator has with the hotspot. If the customer is authorized to access the hotspot, RoamPoint passes the authentication request on to the customer’s operator, where the customer is authenticated.

Because RoamPoint will know which method each of its operator customers uses to authenticate users, RoamPoint can also serve as a central point of information for its customers. Before a hotspot operator approaches another operator about a potential roaming agreement, RoamPoint can identify for its customers which other operators in the network can support their authentication method.

RoamPoint also does network monitoring and collects data about all the hotspots of its customers. "We need to make sure that the service provider can tell customers which hotspots should be working. To collect all that data and make sure we hand it to the customer is non-trivial," said de Beer.

RoamPoint does not handle billing or settlement but it collects session records and hands the data on to the billing provider or clearinghouse used by each carrier. Carriers pay a fixed connection charge plus a fee for each authentication request that runs through the RoamPoint platform.

Last summer, iPass introduced a clearinghouse for roaming based on the platform it had already developed for internal use to handle authentication, security, and fee settlement tracking among its hotspot operators. "It's an adjunct business. It's something we were doing anyway in terms of clearing and transaction and settlement. So we created an offering around that and offered it to carriers," said John Sidline, director of corporate communications for iPass. Customers of the service can also self-brand the iPass client.

Most customers of the service are operators that don't have a Wi-Fi footprint who use the service as a go-to-market strategy, he said. Once the operator customer establishes a link to iPass, it can either negotiate roaming agreements individually with operators in the iPass network or buy access to other networks from iPass. For example, Sprint is using the roaming service from iPass. Sprint may be able to negotiate better roaming terms from one of the operators that is part of the iPass network than buying access to that network from iPass. Regardless of the deal the operators make with each other, iPass will facilitate the backend settlement accounting and authentication for Sprint.

The one requirement is that operator customers allow iPass end users to roam onto their hotspots. iPass will facilitate roaming between an operator customer and an operator that may not be part of the iPass network.

While the offerings from iPass and RoamPoint sound similar, neither company seems particularly concerned about the other. "It's a very small piece of our business," said iPass's Sidline. "There's going to be lots of players coming in doing a variety of different things that are already being done but it's a large world and there's plenty of opportunity."

RoamPoint wasn't aware that iPass had a similar offering. "We're not aware that they've actually offered any kind of clearinghouse," said de Beer. He suggested that iPass could become a RoamPoint customer. But Sidline said there'd be no need for that because iPass has already invested several years into streamlining its roaming processes.