Sputnik announced today an upgraded version of its software and a new hosted offering: Sputnik's software allows service providers to centrally manage and track usage on multiple remote Wi-Fi networks. Version 3.0 can now accommodate for very large networks. "With this, you can have one server that manages lots of independent wireless networks and each can have thousands of access points and each is segregated," said David LaDuke, CEO of Sputnik. A service provider could centrally manage, for example, a chain of hotels, a few universities, and several hospitals. The service provider could then allow a local administrator at each location to access network management tools but each administrator would be restricted to managing their own location.
Version 3.0 was also designed to offer users plenty of flexibility. It now includes support for RADIUS authentication, in addition to prepaid authentication and device based authentication. Users can run all three simultaneously, setting preferences for which type of authentication is presented to users first.
The software also enables flexible network policy management so administrators can set rules that may forbid peer-to-peer connections or block ports or IP addresses. The capability means that providers can set up a walled garden that users can access before they authenticate.
Sputnik also introduced today SputnikNet, which makes Sputnik's software available to service providers or businesses on a hosted basis. Customers buy access points from Sputnik and pay a flat $19.95 fee per access point per month for the service. Customers still have the flexibility of employing the authentication and payment method they prefer and can self-brand the offering.
Other providers have hosted offerings but they don't always enable self-branding. Surf and Sip, for example, has a hosted offering but the business essentially becomes a Surf and Sip location. Airpath, however, offers a hosted service that allows for self-branding.
Sputnik currently has over 300 customers around the globe and its products support hotspots in locations such as Holiday Inns, Comfort Inns, McDonald's, Subway restaurants, Ramada Inns, prominent hospitals, and universities. Existing customers can upgrade to the new software for free. New customers can buy the software and two access points for $599.
LaDuke said that he's noticing a change in the way that service providers leverage the capabilities of software platforms like Sputnik's. Instead of building hotspots merely to offer Internet access to customers, network providers are realizing that they can use the wireless network to build a stronger relationship with customers. "It's something like wireless [customer relationship management]," LaDuke said. "People come into your space. They may be in a waiting room or having a latte or staying overnight but you've got this relationship with them and you want to manage it and brand it," he said. Sputnik's software allows service providers to learn about user habits and offer them services such as linking to a premium customer program or offering a higher level of service to frequent customers. "People are doing very different and creative things that we hadn't even thought of," said LaDuke.