In Podcast #16, we talk about hotspot growth, hot zones, and new mobile technology: Anurag Lal handles business development and sales at iPass, and has a background in the international aspects of mobile telephony, with stints at BT and Sprint's worldwide divisions. iPass is a global aggregator and reseller of Internet access, with a focus on enterprises that have lots of mobile employees. This gives him good insight to talk about the future growth of hotspot networks. We also talk quite abit about the multiple kinds of wireless data networks that will spread across cities and regions, the necessity of seamless roaming across networks--types and operators--that doesn't require user intervention, the cost of billing and savings of bundling and unlimited plans, and the developing world bypassing wire and, possibly, fiber, in favor of wireless.
We also talk about the future demise of dial-up, which is a significant portion of current revenue for iPass, AOL, and EarthLink, all companies working on a transition to broadband. iPass has seen a drop year-over-year in second quarter dial-up revenue from $35.3m to $28m, but during the same period increase broadband revenue (hotel wired and Wi-Fi everywhere) from $2.1m to $9.6m. Lal thinks there's still life left in dial-up for the foreseeable future, but we talk about an inflection point at which wireless can outweigh a wired, 56K or worse connection. [38 min., 19 MB, MP3]
Glenn Fleishman: This is Glenn Fleishman, the editor of Wi-Fi Networking News, and welcome to podcast number 16, recorded August 29, 2006. In today's podcast I talk to Anurag Lal, the chief business development and sales officer at iPass. iPass is a firm that resells internet access, mostly to corporations, to their roaming mobile employees who use dial-up service, broadband and Wi-Fi to access the internet and their home intranets from wherever they are in the world. Welcome to the podcast.
Anurag Lal: Thank you, Glenn.
Glenn: I wanted to have you on because I know that iPass--since you acquired GoRemote several months ago--is now the largest company in the world that is working with enterprises on providing mobile access to their mobile workers through whatever means necessary. That's why I mentioned dial-up, because dial-up is obviously still a significant part of worldwide connectivity, but I found over the years that iPass has a lot of insight into what's happening in the Wi-Fi hotspot market, because you're working with so many hundreds of networks worldwide to integrate their offerings into a seamless package that you can provide. And, so I was talking to Kevin McKenzie on a podcast just a couple of weeks ago--Kevin Mckenzie of JiWire, which is a hotspot directory, they're tracking the number of hotspots worldwide--and what Kevin said, or when I was talking to Kevin I asked him this question, he had some insight on this as well, is there a stagnation? Are we seeing a saturation in the number of hotspots that can be built? And I thought that because you're talking to hotspot operators worldwide, you might have an insight into whether we're going to see continued growth in the number of different locations that we get or we're reaching a point at which the most relevant locations, especially for business, are already built out.
Anurag: Now, that's a great question Glenn, and I'm not sure how Kevin responded to it, but from our perspective, as you correctly pointed out, we are directly engaged with providers across the globe and have a good indication of at least the trend with regards to hotspot deployment, and from our perspective, based on first-hand knowledge as we work with providers, as we work with venue owners, as we work with potential metro-zone and municipal Wi-Fi networks, we believe that number continues to grow. Now there is clearly a transition where in the past it was a very hotspot-centric, or a venue-centric deployment and a venue-owner actually controlled a large aspect of how, when and what got deployed. But now with the relevance of Wi-Fi clearly recognized and its destructive nature also clear and visible, as well as the great broadband, untethered broadband experience that Wi-Fi provides, ah we are seeing much much more wider deployments of Wi-Fi, where you encompass more of a zone if you may. And we've seen that in Asia, we've seen that in Europe and we see that here in the United States. So as a result, I would actually say the number of areas covered by Wi-Fi continue to increase, whether it's a hotspot mentality any longer or if that's relevant, that's questionable, but clearly coverage continues to grow.
Glenn: I wonder if we need to switch to a square foot or a square hectare measurement of Wi-Fi coverage instead of the hotspot--are we going to look at more and more zones, and so thinking about a specific restaurant or even a specific hotel may make less sense?
Anurag: Absolutely, and that's one of the same challenges we at iPass face; as you know, iPass has deployed what we believe is one of the largest Wi-Fi capability. In the past we would report the number of hotspots, because clearly that was relevant, and gave at least our investors shareholders and customers the ability to gauge the relevance of our service and the kind of coverage we were providing, but as you correctly mentioned, with zones being deployed, it's no longer about individual hotspots, and we're actually looking to try to mimic the same kind of coverage that we get from mobile operators, where they provide a coverage map, per se, and I think ultimately that's where you will get the most amount of relevance, where you would be assured of coverage, in the City of London, for instance, knowing that you'd drive into the city and you would have the coverage that you expect. So it will definitely be more of a ubiquitous coverage mentality, with cities and countries defined in the context of coverage and less in regards to hotspots.
Glenn: Will there be a challenge in informing consumers, as you talk about this kind of coverage map, where, let's say, the City of London is a great example, there's the famous Square Mile, where all the business is conducted and I know that The Cloud--their promise is going to be ubiquitous coverage across that entire area for mobility... what if there's dead spots, how do you communicate that, or how does any, an aggregator or the cCoud, communicate that to customers if they expect that sort of ubiquitous coverage, and they walk somewhere and they can't get a signal?
Anurag: No, absolutely. And you know, the cCoud is a good partner with iPass, we worked with them from their early days, and have a really good partnership with them, and I think they're a good example of where you are promising coverage, and clearly it's driven and dependent on the quality of the service provider who's promising that coverage. And clearly we see different kinds of service providers deliver differently on their promise and that's why we insist upon a very strong accelerator when we partner with these providers. But in the start, you know, there will be a couple of dead spots, as was, even in the mobile space, and even still today, you have, in the wireless network space and the cellular space a lot of dead spots. I recently saw an ad on television, where one of the providers was advertising how they had less dropped calls, admitting that they had to drop calls, right, so I believe there will be dead spots but it's really dependent on the provider, how they are focused on quality of service and how they can ensure that they continue to provide a level of coverage. Over a period of time, there will be ubiquity, and those dead spots will definitely go away.
Glenn: I want to switch gears for a second and cycle back to hotspots, too, because I realize that there's an interesting question there, which is even as hot zones grow, you still have all this installed infrastructure, you have an optimization in captive venues such as airports or hotels, where if there's Wi-Fi it's going to be optimized for indoor usage so obviously those will continue to be relevant. What kind of usage do you see since you're aggregating so many users and almost entirely business users? What kind of usage are you seeing in any category venue if there's fewer specific hotspots, or the curve of hotspot installation is slowing, let's say, so they're still being built out, but X percentage of US hotels now have service, and that number is getting close to the number of total hotels in the US. Are you seeing, what has been often called the hockey stick of growth.. I've heard of a number of companies that about a year and a half ago, spring 2005, they started to see a really sharp up tick in the number of sessions. That finally some kind of convergence had happened people carrying Wi-Fi hotspots and people being willing to pay for usage. Have you seen that, where there's a density, an increased frequency of use, even as perhaps the number of locations slows its growth?
Anurag: Absolutely, Glenn. You know we've talked about our growth from before broadband perspective, and that's public knowledge, and that's part of our ongoing quarterly reporting. But outside of that, you know the trend that we see again permanent by our perspective could actually mimic also what the consumer at large would be doing as well because I think the behavior is similar. But clearly what's important from any user perspective is venues that are frequented by individuals on an ongoing basis. Those obviously become extremely relevant, and draw a lot of usage. So for example airports are extremely popular. We see airports at the top of our usage curve and we continue to see strong traction and increases of usage at those venues. Also very interesting and impressive growth that we've seen is around hotels and hospitality centers, where people have down time, and have a need to connect, to be productive, or for other reasons and again, we see, again, strong growth in those kinds of venues too.
Finally, you know a lot of folks didn't give much credit to the Starbucks of the world and the restaurants of the world, and we are seeing really also continued strong traction at those kinds of venues too, where what is going on is an interesting user behavior change. Where people have gotten familiar with Wi-Fi, they've gotten used to expecting Wi-Fi, and they've actually changed behavior on a daily basis in order to be able to leverage Wi-Fi should that be a productive use of their time throughout the course of the day. So for example, salespeople now, I know a bunch of companies that we serve, their people will pull into the parking lot of a hotspot, connect user-service, move on. Or doing the course of the day, go out their way to get to a restaurant that they know has Wi-Fi capabilities, so that they can not only have lunch and talk to a customer, but also be connected and be that much more productive.
So they've actually changed behavior during the course of the day where they may have left the home a little late, connected at home and then gone. Now they're leaving home a little earlier, swinging by the Starbucks, getting their coffee, getting their Wi-Fi shot and off they go. Having lunch again at a location, maybe at the mall or something where they know for a fact that they have Wi-Fi. Uploading their orders, getting back in their car and going to their next appointment. And that behavior change is actually what's driving what we believe an increased use and session count at these venues.
Glenn: Let me sidebar you into a different area based on what I know your past is. You worked for British Telecom Worldwide and for Sprint International, I can see by your bio. And so let's talk for a moment about Unlicensed Mobile Access, or UMA, the convergence of cellular and Wi-Fi. If you've already got people, especially among your customers who are familiar with going to a hotspot and parking outside or working inside because they've now integrated that into their lifestyle, their working style. Does UMA have a potential impact for that kind of customer where if they're suddenly carrying a cell phone that can do Wi-Fi, and they get perhaps an even clearer voice connection, but they also get a lower cost for minutes, are they going to shift some of their calling to that period of time too, if they can hop onto the Wi-Fi network?
Anurag: Absolutely. And I think that is the recognized trend that not only we see but we also believe carriers are seeing too. And a bunch of them have announced plans, if not services based on UMA. Recognizing the need and also recognizing rather than losing access to that kind of a market, they'd rather get ahead of the game, deliver a product and capability that's relevant, and give the end user tools that they're looking for.
We at iPass definitely believe that's going to happen. We're also going to see a lot of convergence. I think we also believe that SIP [Session Initiation Protocol] will also continue to be relevant. And again we see an integrated use of Wi-Fi and other wireless broadband technologies that are a lot more cost effective than some of the other wide area technologies.
Glenn: Well I've been hearing this a bit too, UMA requires a fair amount of integration. You have to have a seamless handoff from a handset that can talk over two radio standards at the same time to do the handoff, the carrier has to do upgrades on their networks, but there's a lot of advantages to them.
But with the SIP, the kind of voice over IP that people have been using for quite awhile, or for in some ways 20 years, in some form or another to do computer-to-computer connection. SIP doesn't require much at all, right? Because you're sort of switching your phone into SIP mode or you have a SIP only or Skype-only phone. So it seems like that's a simpler, really the issue is authentication of the network. Which you all probably know something about. How to authenticate to many different Wi-Fi networks without having to type in a password into your phone necessarily.
Anurag: No. Absolutely. And it's really different depending on the perspective you bring to the table. You know, the perspective of a provider like iPass or maybe an ISP or someone in that context brings is a very different IP-centric kind of a mentality.
A perspective that a facilities-based provider that has access to the facilities and has the ability to leverage the network, and is sometimes forced to leverage to the network to deliver capability has a slightly different perspective.
So there is a bias to a certain extent and both of those, like you say, deliver pretty much the same user experience but at the end of the day, use slightly different technologies and have slightly different pros and cons with the approach, if you may. That's why you're seeing larger carriers who have the facilities looking to leverage those facilities and going down the UMA route.
Glenn: Well it's interesting. If you look at the European market, such as the UK where I've seen you can get free broadband, free high-speed DSL from several carriers as long as you sign up for a voice plan and a mobile plan or a satellite TV plan, because the DSL part is incredibly cheap for them. What they really want is your voice dollars and that lets a mobile carrier or a satellite TV provider to get in where they wouldn't have a landline service, it seems like.
Anurag: We've seen that they're definitely trying to lock the customer down and deliver free DSL. I think Sky is one company that's offering you to sign up to a bundle package of satellite TV, as well as voice service, you get the free DSL connector.
And again, the whole connection at this point in time is a level of convergence at the provider level where we are seeing the traditional telecoms really looking for diversification, to continue to own the subscriber--since they continue to be threatened and pushed and pulled by alternative technologies that give the user the same user experience but in a much more cost effective manner.
So they have a sense of urgency to be a single-stop shop for the consumer and make sure that they have the ability to plug all services into that home. Where in the past, I think they were happy providing that one service because there was a level of dependency to that provider. But since that's gone away, you're seeing these providers trying to get buying share, if you may. And that's leading to convergence not only at the end-user perspective, but convergence and technology perspective.
Glenn: That's very interesting. The other thing about bundling that I've heard too, is that the convergence has a very simple benefit is that the fewer bills you have, I would say iPass is extremely well positioned to understand this. Because I know that one of the selling points for your service is this kind of single bill, single point of data entry for tracking all this usage, so that you don't have to have many different plans and so forth.
And I know that if you talk to companies that do retail sales like cable, multiple system cable operators or anyone presenting a bill to the customer, bill presentment costs something like on the order of almost $20 per month - when you factor in collection and billing, mailing it, check processing.
So every time you take a bill out of the mail stream, that's money that the carrier or the operator gets back most of because they already have their accounting system in place. And they can pass some of that on to the consumers so they can make a higher margin and the consumer pays a lower price. And it seems like fake free money but it's really coming out of these high cost of collection.
Anurag: Absolutely right. I couldn't agree with you more, Glenn. And also, at the end of the day again, based on my experience, I believe that billing is clearly the field of the large carriers. Invariably, legacy technologies have been deployed years ago, and it takes major retrofits each time a carrier needs to make a change.
One of the things that held iPass in good stead, as you also pointed out, is the ability to be able to single bill an enterprise customer for usage services capabilities on a global basis. And our method billing is very different where we have much more of the robust and modular approach to billing that we control, managed and developed.
But at the end of the day, the cost for not only changing billing, evolving billing and then ultimately billing the end customer is huge. A single bill and a single package that's simplistic and not usage based - where they just send out the bill, a one hundred bucks, all you can eat sort of thing, everything, cable TV, wireless as well as have your broadband connection - it's a very simplistic thing for them.
And that allows them to save cost. And even from a consumer perspective it gives them a sense a value that they don't have to pay multiple bills, they just pay one bill and that takes care of everything.
Glenn: Well that's a fascinating idea too is that if you don't have to actually meter in and track service, if you don't have to present that then you're saving money.
The use of the famous example at Dartmouth College, a few years ago. They looked at what they were paying to bill long-distance calls--what it actually cost them to collect the money and to bill it and to run the system. And it cost them much more to collect money and bill long-distance calling on campus than to actually offer it for free. So they switched to free. They actually saved, I think, $100,000 a year by switching. And that was before there were even, actually I'm sure they're doing better international rates and everything else now.
But that kind of savings is always seen to be slightly strange because it's confusing to the consumer. You don't get a charge on your bill from Verizon Wireless that says, 'Billing Charge - It cost us $15 to get this bill to you'. But of course, that's built in there somewhere.
Anurag: Yeah. And you know, the same thing is true from an enterprise perspective too, Glenn. We've seen over the years a similar demand from the enterprise to where they would like to get an enterprise flat rate for a range of capabilities, and we've delivered that. And you know we tied together with our software at the front-end and we deliver that today on a per-user per month basis and they love that. Again because of the predictable nature of that and the ability that it gives them to budget the costs.
And iPass, as you pointed out, had the flexibility on a back-end basis to be able to manage that and make sure that we are covered from a cost perspective. And the providers are seeing that advantage as well. So that's why, like you said, the European providers are I think a couple of steps ahead maybe than the US providers just because the way that they've evolved. But we are seeing some of those plans out there, even today.
Glenn: Well this is a perfect segue into the next subject too, which we've hit upon already which is this issue of the coverage zones, where entire cities, maybe entire countries, or states will be covered. The thing that is interesting to me, is after the last, let's say, last month has been a series of big announcements; June and July and into August, where, perhaps last year, when Wi-Fi as a municipal or metropolitan scale product started to become de rigueur, that people are asking for it, cities want it, EarthLink is building up Metro, you've got multiple companies in the US, other companies world-wide, offering Wi-Fi, and people thought, "Well, you've already got some cell coverage, there's this and that, there's broadband."
Well, today we've got- Wi-Fi is going to be available practically everywhere at some level or quality of service, but that's a whole other discussion. But Wi-Fi will be there, let's say, as a ubiquitous mobile technology in most cities; you're going to have mobile WiMax, perhaps with two competing providers in some markets of the US and certainly now in overseas we'll certainly see WiMax as a competitive product. Then you'll also have not just EVDO and HSDPA from the cellular operators but Verizon Wireless and Cingular have now committed to IMS, in a fourth generation rewiring of their networks. So, this seems to be a very interesting point, where you could have competitive offerings within one technology platform like IMS or global WiMax, then five or six high speed mobile data networks overlaying a city. Does this transform how mobile business is conducted, how all the people out in the field, who form the majority of your customers, how they work if they're going to have this many competitive, high-speed offerings wherever they go?
Anurag: I think the important thing to note over there, Glenn, is that the evolution that you point out is absolutely going to happen. But there are a couple of other things that need to happen, you know, iPass is really focused on making sure we deliver on those couple of other things. Firstly, most end-users don't have a clue of the differences between EVDO, XSDPA, UMPS, mobile WiMax, Wi-Fi, this, that, and the other.
Anurag: The end users, at the end of the day, don't care. What they are looking for is simple, seamless, secure, and ubiquitous capability that gives them the coverage and the service and availability they need in a cost-effective manner. And that's really the challenge for the industry, and we believe, at iPass, we're delivering a lot of that even today, through our interface, but you know there are three aspects of how that's going to happen. Firstly there's going to be software. That software is the means for the user to interface with their device and the network. Then it's going to be the device, and the device will need to be a multimode device, and we are convinced at iPass that that's the path the industry is going to head in, sooner rather than later. We already hear talks about certain companies that already are testing, piloting, and ready to go to market with multimode devices that have the means to support multiple cellular technologies, as well as some of the new emerging technologies like mobile WiMax.
And then the third piece is really the network layer. And now, if you have the multimode device and the intelligence in the software to, you know, give the user a simplistic experience, then it's really software interfacing with the device and making sure they leverage the most relevant network at that point in time. And that could be done based on certain profile elements that could be put in either by the customer, the enterprise, or even the consumer based on the plan they're using, whether that be least cost, or highest throughput, or highest throughput-highest cost, and multiple different factors that you could then build in. But again, user doesn't care, and you know sometimes we do all get bogged down in the industry with all these terms. I keep reminding everybody that it's not about the terms, it's about providing that seamless, simplistic, and secure connectivity experience to the end user.
Glenn: This is very interesting, because I think this ties partly into the value of what the UMA as a voice offering has brought, is that it's seamless, ostensibly, when it's released, and it works, and all the bugs are worked out, it's seamless; I'm walking down the street and I'm holding my cell phone that does Wi-Fi and GDSM, or CDMA, and as I'm talking, the phone says "Hey, I've found a better, cheaper, connection, " or whatever the parameter is, and it switches over, and so you're talking about software and a set of policies, I guess is probably accurate within the context you're talking about where a company, or an individual, might be able to say, here are the parameters that I want for connectivity: I want to always have connectivity, I want to always have a megabit per second upload, or whatever they are.
And as they're walking around with their laptop or whenever they flip open their laptop; they're in their hotel, they're out in the street, they're at a conference, whatever the appropriate network that there's a plan in place on the backend that they don't necessarily have to separately negotiate, that's going to be the plan, that's going to be the service that they get; not necessarily the fastest or the best, but it might be the cheapest if that's what they want; it's going to be according to whatever setup parameters they establish as a policy, whether a corporation or an individual.
Anurag: And I totally agree. And, you know, really, the companies that are going to win out are the ones that are going to take the complexities out of the network, and deliver the simplistic service to the end user, because I also believe that one of the other reasons Wi-Fi has not taken off, or at least has not delivered to the height that everybody's talking about, is that we've made it difficult for people to use the service. Now, that's outside of iPass; one of the things we spend a lot of time is making a two-click connect experience anywhere in the globe. As you do go across the globe, every network has their own unique way of authenticating and initiating a retail session for the end user. And I use those services a lot, just to learn and see what they're doing wrong and what we could improve upon on our side.
But one of the reasons we have seen growth is because we do it simplistically, and people don't want to worry about it, you know, we've laid down the policy mechanism, and given the end user the ability to set an auto connect parameter, so that, at certain times, depending on policy, they can turn their machine on and off they go. Again, that's the reason that cellular phones are successful, right? We've taken the complexity of the network out of the phone. The interface assumes connectivity. The only thing the user looks for is the bars. If they see a bar, they now know they can dial.
Glenn: That's right, the early GSM in the US, like when I was a Cingular customer a few years ago, and I was traveling, and I actually, in Oregon, I had to manually select to get on T-Mobile's network, which was a free roaming arrangement, but I couldn't get my phone to do it automatically, then the next year I drove, with a new phone on the same network, I didn't care; I'm on the train, I'm going along, and it connects without a complaint.
Anurag: Yep, exactly. And that's really where we need to, where the industry will have to deliver from a data perspective too. I think, again I don't want to keep talking about iPass, but I definitely believe that iPass is delivering that today. But, that is a challenge and that's why certain technologies and certain capabilities will do better than the others, but let's never forget there will always be a need for end users to be untethered; they've gotten used to it and they can't live without it. There will always be computing devices, with the laptop clearly being one of the most relevant and important, and more smart phones and PDAs and multimode devices coming out, those continue to be relevant; and the untethered broadband experience from the device continues to be relevant. So, I think there's a good evolution where you are seeing an evolution of connectivity technologies, Wi-Fi, WiMax, etc.., from a mobile perspective; not just HSDPA, EVDO, and others; that path will continue to grow. I believe they will converge, those paths will converge, and I believe the providers will be challenged to deliver to the end user a simplistic experience, where they don't worry about what technology they use, and all they worry about is being able to connect.
Glenn: Well, let's back up into the past for just a second, because we're talking about the future and multiple methods of seamless connectivity, I want to talk about dialup for just a minute because I think there's going to be a point at which somebody... I wrote an article in 1994, it was called "The Experiment is Over, " and it was about the end of the National Science Foundation network (NSFNet), and it was switching over to full commercial operation and they were pulling the plug on the old machines, and I feel like at some point, in somewhere maybe five to seven years from now for most of the developed world, we're going to be writing the article "The Dialup Experiment is Over" and wired line providers like Verizon or a number of companies worldwide are going to be ecstatic because they're going to be able to kill a lot of their copper line investment, that stuff that's so expensive to run underground.
I was looking at iPass's second quarter results; they're a publicly held company so the results are available at iPass.com, and I know that for years the goal has been to increase broadband revenue because dialup will eventually start fade away. You can see a significant year over year decline in dialup revenue as... there's a four and a half fold increase from second quarter of 2005 to second quarter of 2006 for broadband revenue from $2.1 million to $9.7 million; in the same period, a decline in dialup revenue from $35 million to $28 million. The thing that I've wondered about that pattern is we know EarthLink is losing hundreds of thousands of subscribers per quarter at this point for dialup service and trying to transition them into broadband. AOL just went free, and they're going to charge for dialup usage a fairly nominal fee, but if you can get a broadband connection you can use all the AOL services for free. When does dialup stop being important? Is it a developing vs. developed world issue? Is it... Will wireless be able to replace... I mean, if we're talking if the low mark is 56K, will we be able to replace all dialup at some point with even low speed wireless in some areas, even something like a little better than GPRS, like edge. Would that be the end of dialup, or is it going to be here, are we going to be still be making modem calls in ten years?
Anurag: That's a great question, Glenn, and from our perspective as you pointed out, we are evolving our business and extremely excited about the prospects of the business as we move forward. Having said, there is the recognition that dialup as a technology and a connector to technology, and that recognition is not unique to iPass; clearly there's that recognition across the industry that dialup as a connectivity technology is less relevant in these parts of the world where there are alternate, broadband technologies available. The initial evolution away from dialup was clearly driven by broadband. Mostly wired line broadband, that was delivered to homes through Cable and DSL, and that was the same in other parts of the globe, too. Now, overlaying on top of that, you have wireless broadband technologies that are becoming more affordable. Will dial go away totally? Well, maybe yes, at one point of time that will be completely irrelevant, but when that's going to happen is difficult to say.
We continue to see large corporations that are customers of iPass who continue to use dial in different parts of the globe where other alternative means aren't that freely available. But how that convergence takes place, where dial becomes totally irrelevant and it's taken over by some other wired or wireless, more wireless broadband technologies is really driven by service availability, which is becoming more and more prevalent, and at the end of the day cost. And that's why we come back full circle to why Wi-Fi continues to be relevant. Because it has the means to deliver, in a cost effective manner, a wireless broadband usage experience to the end user, in a fairly cost effective manner, because the entrance cost and the spectrum cost really aren't at the same levels as some incurred by mobile operators out there. As mobile WiMax becomes available too, that has some of the same advantages as well. So, to answer your question in a long sort of manner, is it going a way any time soon? It's definitely planned to spin away. Is other wireless technologies going to take over? It's really dependent on how we can manage those costs and deliver the service to the end users in the place that they want them in a more cost effective manner.
Glenn: Let's talk about your native country of India. It's a great example, I think, too; I've been reading, and there's so much news coming out about wireless mobility, wireless connectivity from India, because you've got the most remote possible villages, who have almost no connection beyond roadways, sometimes in very bad shape, and you have these urban cities, the most dense cities in the world, and I've heard great stories about people doing great things in India, Om Malik writes gigaom.com; he just launched his own company there, covering the wireless industry and other industries. Om was visiting home for the first time in years a couple years ago, and he was doing things from a moving bus in the middle of the city that he couldn't do in the US. He was accessing, getting a call over Vonage, using VoIP, using UTMS or what have you, and at the same time I'm reading things about small villages where there are small projects to bring in telemedicine through unlicensed wireless links.
So when you look at that part of the world, which I realize is not necessarily under iPass's purview exactly, you look at large parts of Asia, more rural parts of Asia, you look at a big chunk of Africa outside the cities. Is there going to be, and I realize this is not your specialty, but I think you have great insight into it, watching especially the dialup segment as ISPs start up in those countries and transition, is there going to be a wholesale transition in markets like that? There's been this prediction for a long time that, because laying wire is so expensive, because bringing in fiber is so expensive especially over long distances, that those countries, the rural areas are going to have this tremendous leap, that they're going to go forward into an entirely wireless environment using the latest technology because there'll be international funding, or grants, or even just the finances to make it work. Is that something that you can see happening?
Anurag: I absolutely do, Glenn, and even from an iPass perspective, countries that are developing, my native country India included, have the advantages of picking the best technology at that point in time. The way I describe how that evolution takes place is these countries actually skip a step of evolution. They leapfrog ahead, because at a certain point of time in their development a decision is made to get to the next level, in the time that goes by between those decisions, the other parts of the globe have evolved over a multiple step process. Here in the US, we go through a step-by-step process of technology evolution. In countries like India and others, they actually leapfrog; they're at a point in time, they make a decision that they need to get to the next point, and they've missed five steps so they leapfrog ahead, because they've picked the next best technology out there. And that's why that, coupled with the cost of laying infrastructure, and clearly one of the challenges India faces is it's infrastructure; it is a rapidly developing economy, and it has to support a large population, as well as investments that are coming into the enterprise sector over there.
The government is challenged to enhance the infrastructure to support that growth. They clearly recognize, and I think China faced some of that a few years ago, too. They recognize that if they do not upgrade that infrastructure far enough or fast enough, they're not going to be able to sustain that growth. So that's the reason they are going to leapfrog ahead, pick the best technology available that gives them the means to deliver a service to the end user; in the context of our discussion, they're not going to lay copper, they may not even lay fiber optic and they may just go straight to WiMax with Wi-Fi at the edge to light up the relevant areas outside of the city centers where they need to have coverage. And now, they didn't go down the fiber route, they didn't go down the copper route, but now it's all wireless, and because it's cost effective and it delivers on the promise, and they need it today they're going to leapfrog ahead, and that's generally the trend that we will see, and are seeing today across the globe, and that's why to quite a large extent and the long answer to your question, Glenn, to quite a large extent we see the Asian economies more aggressive in deploying some of these wireless technologies than some of these other economies out there.
Glenn: Well, if they haven't spent the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars to dig up the earth or to run poles, then that's money that they've conserved at some level that they can now avoid spending and put a smaller amount in the next generation equipment that actually delivers on what the first generation had once promised.
Glenn: That's fascinating. This is, of course, the United States; we all feel challenged here about outsourcing, and global competition, and will China eat our lunch, and so forth, and yet it seems like the revolution in telecommunications hasn't completely happened in where the population centers are, where there could be, where these economic superpowers are already growing could become the most telecommunicationally sophisticated countries in the world and outpace our ability here with our lack of broadband penetration and so forth. That's the part I'm curious about.
Anurag: Yeah, and because they're not even tied down with legacy technology that they have to leverage or utilize, they have the means to make the best decision and move on from there.
Glenn: If you don't have to trash a roomful of DSL equipment, it's a little cheaper to buy WiMax modems, perhaps.
Anurag: Exactly! I mean, you don't have all this dead, unlit fiber that's running through your streets, so you don't have to use it and don't have to justify why you put it in the first place, you can use the best technology out there to get these out there.
Glenn: But unused fiber is finally serving a purpose, which is to drive Wi-Fi networks, as far as I can tell, I keep reading Boston's recent task force, they used an analysis firm that tracks fiber optic placements and other telecommunications assets, and they were able to find that they can put in a 50 mile ring of fiber using dark fiber around Boston with only a couple miles needing to actually be installed. It's funny how fiber may feed the ability to deliver WiMax or Wi-Fi because it'll be an endpoint technology for those... all the dark fiber will serve as an endpoint delivery mechanism.
Anurag: Well, I'm glad, there's a lot of dark fibers hidden out there, and I'm glad we're putting it to good use finally.
Glenn: Well, thank you for this wide-ranging conversation. I was glad we could talk about... boy, you start locally and then you go globally. That's the whole point of wireless technology, I think at this point. So I've been speaking with Anurag, from iPass, Anurag is, in fact, the, let me see... your title is Chief Business Development and Sales Officer at iPass, a global connectivity aggregator of dialup, broadband, and hotspots. Thank you for talking to me today.
Anurag: Thank you, Glenn, I certainly appreciate the opportunity.
Glenn: This has been Podcast number 16 in a never-ending series. It was recorded on August 29, 2006. This has been podcast number 16, and I'm Glenn, the editor of Wi-Fi Networking News.