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Trustive has released a fascinating worldwide connectivity plan that charges per MB for 3G and per minute for Wi-Fi: I've seen variants of this before, but I believe Trustive has the only service with this scope.
It works this way: you sign up for €99, which includes a €54 credit for service and a Trustive SIM card. If you don't have an unlocked USB 3G modem, Trustive offers one for €150. There's a €15 shipping fee, too. Trustive confirmed that shipping covers international transit.
With that in hand, you can connect to Wi-Fi and 3G network in over 70 countries (Trustive provides a list). All Wi-Fi access is billed at 9 euro cents (€0.09) per minute, with no minimum, regardless of data transferred.
3G use is tiered: Zone A countries, which include the United States, most European nations, India, and China (but not Canada or Mexico), cost €1.50 per MB. Zone B countries are a whopping €15 per MB.
Trustive has some bugs to work out in its explanation, however. The USA, Canada and other countries appear in both Zone A and Zone B lists with no explanation. And there are typos and some confusing information around the site.
The prices are extraordinarily steep, but in the universe of international roaming, may appear perfectly reasonable.
Corporate roaming service provider iPass has added Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet to its premium services: iPass provides access around the world to hotspots, hotel and other Ethernet, and dial-up service to 3,500 corporations, but airspace has evaded it until now. The deal between iPass and Aircell lets iPass resell Gogo service at retail pricing, but provide it on a single bill with the same account login.
This may seem like a small win, but it's another step towards ready mass adoption of inflight Internet service by regular business travelers. Aircell recently announced a fixed monthly subscription--$35 per month for unlimited use across nearly all the planes currently equipped with Gogo.
That monthly pass may seem in conflict with iPass's a la carte pricing, but it's not. Corporations often turn to iPass or its competitors to provide a more regular and accountable price for access without having to have many different monthly recurring accounts that are pooled and managed, or sign up all the frequent travelers for their own plans. On average, individual sessions could be cheaper when centrally billed.
iPass customers typically set up their systems to use a corporate login across iPass locations integrated and authenticated within the enterprise. iPass lets companies set anti-virus, firewall, and VPN policies which are enforced before a login can occur. Centralized electronic billing records allow better expense tracking as well.
Boingo introduces UK plan with unlimited in-empire use: Boingo clearly has a pretty good grasp of costs in North America, where you can get unlimited use for $10 per month, but has always had to keep a firmer grip on international roaming. Its Boingo Global plan costs $59/mo with 2,000 included minutes, a revision back in late 2008 from a previous $39/mo and 3,000 minute offer. But it apparently has enough interest from UK customers to have an entirely new offering there.
The Boingo UK plan is £15/mo for unmetered access to over 5,000 UK hotspots, and £0.09 or £0.13 per minute for access across the rest of Boingo's aggregated hotspot network worldwide.
Boingo now operates service at six major UK airports, with an additional deal at London Gatwick announced today. This gives them the local leverage for roaming with partners to make the finances work, I'm sure. Boingo operates dozens of airport Wi-Fi networks across North America.
The Cloud has a competing, less-expensive offer: £10/mo for multiple devices with one account, or £7/mo for a single device. But The Cloud has about 3,500 locations, all of which are aggregated into Boingo's network.
Devicescape has shipped Easy Wi-Fi 4.1 for iPhone and iPod touch, integrating location with hotspot availability: This version of the app ties in with Devicescape's plans to provide comprehensive mapping of high-quality fee and free hotspots around the world. The free software automates connections to any hotspot networks that you have credentials for, personal hotspots, and free public hotspots. See my earlier article, Devicescape Adds Seamless Wi-Fi Access Service, Mapping (5 October 2009), for more details on the broader strategy.
Handheld makers can turn to Devicescape for seamless login, access maps, hotspot aggregation: Devicescape is updating its Easy Wi-Fi system to offer equipment makers an all-in-one deal to consumers. Buy a camera, for instance, and the device comes with lifetime worldwide hotspot access along with no-button seamless login. Capable devices will also gain maps showing available in- and out-of-network hotspots in proximity with an annotation for quality.
This move could change the market for attaching Wi-Fi access to mobile devices if manufacturers hop on board. Selling devices that have permanent, seamless access to hotspot networks would seem to command a premium, and reduce friction in using a device. Less friction means fewer product returns; premiums and fewer returns mean higher margins.
The consumer has the cost of Wi-Fi hidden in the device price, but considers the value of the device as an overall flat rate. It's a "tax," but one that's exposed in the purchase price.
This is a classic multiple-party win. Manufacturers sell more gear at higher prices. Hotspot venues gain more users who, not paying for service, pay for goods; and additional usage produces incremental revenue for hotspot operators. And the consumer wins by having devices that are simpler to use and keep them more connected, something that the success of cell phones and the iPod touch seem to confirm is desirable.
Devicescape has been pursuing its Easy Wi-Fi approach for a few years now, after morphing from a back-end software firm that sold embedded Wi-Fi software for PDAs and other devices. Easy Wi-Fi combines software embedded or installed in a device--typically a portable device--with an account at the firm's Web site that manages which home, office, free, and commercial networks you have credentials for. Logins to known networks are automatic. (The Web account has become increasingly optional, but it's still a great tool when you have credentials for multiple networks.)
This latest transition turns Easy Wi-Fi into a very specific form of hotspot aggregator: only for equipment makers. Unlike Boingo Wireless or iPass, Devicescape won't have a customer-facing access plan. Rather, manufacturers will pay the firm per-device fees that cover unlimited eternal hotspot use by equipment purchasers.
The firm's CEO, Dave Fraser, said, "It's obvious that there's a big attraction for putting Wi-Fi into devices, whether it's netbooks, new types of consumer electronics, like media players or ebook readers," and so on. But device makers have a challenge.
Fraser said companies could "ship the device with service included, which is theoretically a great experience for the consumer, because it just works," but that's "very expensive for them." Nintendo, Kodak, and a few camera makers all included free access for a limited time to hotspot networks (Nintendo partnered with Wayport in the U.S.; Kodak and others with T-Mobile).
Those deals all expired, and new devices haven't been shipped with bundles; the exception is Eye-Fi, which offers yearly rates for Wayport hotspot access, bundling the first year in with some memory cards. Amazon's Kindle includes free Sprint 3G access, but the bookseller clearly pays a fee to Sprint for each book or media item downloaded.
Fraser noted also, that even with bundles, consumers are typically limited to the country in which a device was purchased, which doesn't conform to modern travel plans.
The second option is to "leave it up to the end user" to configure and figure out. Again, Eye-Fi is the only firm that makes mobile equipment that's easy to configure for multiple networks from a desktop computer with a keyboard. Apple gets around this with the iPhone OS 3 software by managing some hotspot connections that require a button to be clicked or a certain kind of login.
I've tested a ton of Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices, and the single most irritating part of using them is navigating admission to a hotspot, even one that you're already paying a monthly fee to use.
As I've long discussed on this site, devices without Web browsers can't connect to most free networks, because most free networks have some kind of usage policy acceptance (a link, checkbox, and/or button), or even an account to use. That means that most of the hotspots people would want to use with a mobile device are off limits. (Fraser said a survey revealed 54 percent of Devicescape's membership base "will only ever use Wi-Fi if it's free.")
Until now, Easy Wi-Fi's proposition was to insert itself at the "leave it up to the end user" phase, offering software for Windows and Mac OS X, as well as smartphones and a few other devices that allow third-party software to be installed.
Boingo Wireless tried to fill this hole in part by offering its software for integration with third parties and manufacturers. Skype is probably the highest-profile partner, with a per-minute hotspot rate (that's astoundingly high at $0.19/min.) available at present only to Mac OS X Skype users.
This is where Devicescape is attempting to step in. Added to the connection part, Devicescape will provide features to find hotspots, and a global access plan.
Fraser said, "We're offering this package at an economics that a device manufacturer should easily be able to ship lifetime access products."
He noted that Devicescape currently manages 400,000 session connections per day across all users and platforms, and this has allowed them to capture a massive amount of data about hotspots available around the world--2m access points of all kinds, which the company categorizes.
Fraser said the company scores a hotspot based on connection quality, signal strength (which obviously varies enormously), bandwidth, and the number of people who connect over time. Weighted into that are values from the most recent connections, too.
The hotspot's score is represented on a map as a blue pin with no signal waves up to three signal waves (3 on each side). The no-wave pins are from locations about which not enough information has yet been collected.
Fraser said the firm sweeps in any open access point, as well as commercial networks (which are marked with red pins). The company then attempts to figure out whether a location is intended to be accessible or not. Secured base stations aren't listed, and the firm tends to remove those in what it analyzes are residential neighborhoods. (Fraser said it's quite obvious in analyzing density what's a residential neighborhood and what's not.)
"We have an innocent-until-proven-guilty model: if we see an open access point, or a free network, we assume that it's meant to be shared until we're told otherwise," Fraser said. The company will remove any location on request. In years past, I'd have disagreed with this policy, but it's clear from my travels in the last year that a vanishingly small number of access points available from a public street or in trafficked areas that have no protection are intended to be private.
Fraser also notes--and I agree--that there's no definitive database of networks that are intended to be free and open; JiWire has a large database, but (despite a multi-year effort) it's not exhaustive since it's network-operator reported, and it doesn't show excluded access points.
Fraser said that of 2m scanned access points so far worldwide, only 100,000 meet Devicescape's criteria for reliable quality that they would offer to its customers.
As with Skyhook Wireless's method of capturing data from end users who employ its Wi-Fi positioning system to supplement wardriving, Devicescape will rely nearly solely on automatically provided data from users. "Every user ends up reinforcing and allowing us to grow the network," Fraser said.
The mapping software will be available on smartphones and other devices with the ability to display and navigate a map; the company's Web site will offer the map directly starting 20-Oct-2009.
Fraser wouldn't disclose which for-fee networks are partners, only noting that the firm had worked out terms that allow it to offer eternal access per device.
Because the software will keep the previous features, those with access to AT&T or T-Mobile or any other commercial network will be able to overlay that access into their account as well.
"We don't want to ever charge for premium access, but we do see ourselves as being an onramp," Fraser said.
It's an interesting mash-up: Qwest is no threat to AT&T, occupying no overlapping territory both being former Baby Bells, and Qwest has no wireless cellular division. This lack of conflict probably makes it an ideal customer to buy access from AT&T to 17,000 U.S. hotspots and offer those at no cost to its broadband subscribers. With Boingo now down to $10 per month, one could say this value is about $6 worth, since Boingo is a superset of all AT&T locations with many thousands of others on top.
With Verizon perhaps nearing a deal to offer regional or national access to Boingo's network; AT&T with its extensive system in place; T-Mobile with a network of home and roaming partners available cheaply; and Qwest now part of the gang--Sprint Nextel appears rather the odd one out.
Of course, Qwest, Verizon, and AT&T are focused on their wired broadband customers, and AT&T is the only carrier to also offer free Wi-Fi to some of its mobile subscribers. Sprint has no wired broadband any more, and Verizon is entirely 3G oriented for mobile broadband. Cablevision is the only multiple systems operator (MSO) that's offering free Wi-Fi, and in its case that's the network it's building out in its home area at great expense.
Boingo's unlimited North American hotspot access plan is now $10/mo: The hotspot aggregator has long offered access for $22/mo, often with 1 month free or $10/mo for three months promotion. Now, the price is simply $10/mo (a nickel shy to be precise, but I prefer round numbers). That number undercuts my long-standing argument that hotspot service would either be free or cost $20 per month. AT&T fulfilled the free part; Boingo and others were roughly around $20 per month.
Boingo has a huge advantage in cost containment on this $10/mo rate. After acquiring the Washington State Ferry system Wi-Fi operations from Parsons six months ago and then the Opti-Fi airports late last year, the company keeps costs in house for nearly every airport in North America with Wi-Fi (SFO and a few others excepted), as well as what I expect is relatively heavy use on the ferries, which carry many thousands of business commuters every day. (The WSF runs half the passenger ferry trips in the U.S., and a smaller but large number of car trips.) Airport sessions are likely the majority of Boingo usage, although I have nothing but intuition to back that up.
Because Boingo runs Wi-Fi at dozens of airports, this certainly gives them roaming network negotiation advantages with AT&T and others that want their home network users to have airport access. Of course, Boingo has to pay some session fee for the 10,000s of other N.A. hotspots included in this deal, but it would have to be pennies per use for it to work out on its balance sheet. (Boingo's global plan has a 2,000-minute limit at $59/mo.)
My argument for free or $20/mo was that once hotspot service was essentially ubiquitous--in nearly all hotels, cafes, airports, and so on--that networks would be vitally interested in having a large number of users to offset operational expenses.
In some cases, venues have chosen to go free. They decided that the process of extracting any money reduced the interest and excitement of a visitor or customer, and removing the friction produced a better relationship that meant more repeat business and/or higher per-person revenue. If a Best Western location can charge $79 per night instead of $69, or sells an extra room or two every few nights as a result of free Internet service, there's no real incremental cost.
Many second-tier airports--referring to traffic, not quality--such as Sacramento, Phoenix, and Las Vegas have gone for free, and some hotel chains are either all-free (mid-range, typically), or free to members of their usually free affinity clubs. Denver bucked the big-airport trend and has an ad deal with a firm that offers free, filtered Wi-Fi and downloadable movies.
Denver isn't competing for travelers, I wouldn't think--trains and driving aren't that appealing to the majority of cities someone might fly to from Denver. But second-tier airports are looking to stress their convenience and extra features, like cheaper parking, less congestion, free Internet, to get people to drive to them instead of a super-giant airport.
On the flip side, with a relatively low rate like $20–30/mo, business travelers (whether individuals or larger firms) can justify the expense in lieu of a 3G plan or as a complement to one depending on how much time a given person or employee spends on the road. Someone who bills $50 to $500 an hour can eat $20 or $30 for a month's access.
This pairs best with business venues that have opted to continue charging, and where walk-up rates are $4 to $12 per day. Many higher-end hotels are part of Boingo's aggregated footprint and charge significant fees each night.
Boingo's move to $10/mo certainly lowers the bar to ordinary consumers subscribing. While many free venues offer perfectly fine or superior service, and AT&T's free access to classes of subscribers is top-notch, I hear endless stories from people who find the up/down/no-one-around free Wi-Fi in a lot of establishments as too frustrating to use.
Myself, rather pecuniary, I finally succumbed and subscribed to Boingo several months ago when I realized I was spending more time trying to get connected in hotspots and making it work than getting work done. I also found myself passing through airports much more frequently than in the last several years--I've had four flights in the last year, which doesn't seem like a lot, but that's about 10 sessions in airports where having a connection I was already paying a fixed amount for made it easier to handle the trip.
Hey, Cablevision made Verizon blink: The Wall Street Journal reports that Verizon will offers its broadband customers free Wi-Fi hotspot access, partnering with Boingo Wireless to do so. The Journal notes the deal isn't set, and Verizon could offer just regional access instead of national hotspot service. The service could launch by summer.
Boingo typically charges $22/mo for unlimited North American access with a 3-month introductory price of $10/mo. Update: Boingo has changed its unlimited North American price to a $10/mo on an ongoing basis; it's no longer just a promotional price.
A Boingo spokesperson declined to comment on the Wall Street Journal's account, but noted that the company works with many networks to grow its aggregated footprint, and, in turn, provides access to its footprint to some of those networks.
It's not just Cablevision pushing on Wi-Fi, of course, as Cablevision and Verizon overlap just in a (lucrative) part of Verizon's market in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. Cablevision has been receiving high marks for its $300m project to put outdoor Wi-Fi all over its subscriber area, with exclusive and free access to its cable broadband customers. The company just flipped the switch on its connection promise from 1.5 Mbps to 3 Mbps.
No, it's also AT&T, which doesn't overlap Verizon at all for landline and broadband service as former reconstituted Baby Bells with discrete installed wire bases. Rather, AT&T's free Wi-Fi for iPhone and BlackBerry users may be more competition for Verizon Wireless: get an iPhone and you have the still-coolest phone coupled with free Wi-Fi. Buy the best Verizon smartphone, and you're still hunting for third-party, for-fee Wi-Fi service. (AT&T also offers pretty much all its broadband subscribers free Wi-Fi, too, from those subscribing to the cheapest DSL package up to the fastest U-Verse fiber-backed option, as well as its 3G LaptopConnect customers. For 3G customers, Wi-Fi has no limits where 3G is 5 GB/mo, so it's a good pairing.)
And Cablevision put some pressure on Verizon's broadband pricing by offering 101 Mbps/15 Mbps cable broadband for a hair under $100 per month, where Verizon charges $140/mo for half that speed. Verizon said that Cablevision's high data rate is a "parlor trick," and claims that a single 101 Mbps DOCSIS 3.0 customer would suck performance out of all other subscribers in the same neighborhood. Om Malik does a nice job analyzing the truth and fiction of Cablevision's offer and Verizon's slap.
Nonetheless, Verizon now seems to be behind the times, even if the company's fiber-to-the-home architecture should allow speeds far greater than cable's without any slowdown among service in the same neighborhood. (DOCSIS 3.0 allows multi-channel bonding, and there will certainly be issues about how many channels are available in a given cluster of broadband users in a neighborhood. Fiber to the home's issue is entirely about how much backhaul is available, which should be a non-issue with the GPON architecture back to the network core.)
And Cablevision puts pricing pressure on Verizon for the early adopters/high bandwidth eaters in the market. Verizon's next tier down from 50 Mpbs/20 Mbps at $150 per month is $65/month for 20 Mbps/20 Mbps. Cablevision's pricing for cheaper tiers is hard to figure out--the company offers promotional prices and bundles that disguise the price after the first 12 months. It appears to be $30 per month for 12 months for up to 20 Mbps.
More than a year after Starbucks swapped out T-Mobile for AT&T as its Wi-Fi provider at U.S. locations, the coffee retailer opts for BT in the UK and Ireland: BT will fold about 650 hotspots into its OpenZone footprint, but, even better, it will also fold those locations into its roaming deals with aggregators like iPass and Boingo. All BT broadband customers will gain access as will O2 cell subscribers with iPhones.
Skype has released a beta test version of its Mac OS X that offers per-minute hotspot access: The 2.8 beta, released today, works with Boingo Wireless's worldwide aggregated hotspot footprint to allow metered access with no setup fee or monthly commitment.
Skype told me that they're charging 19 U.S. cents or 14 euro cents per minute. That's quite steep, except that they're pitching this to people who need a few minutes at a time. Boingo likely hopes to sell a lot of subscriptions to people who find access addictive, and don't want to pay over $10 per hour on a minute-by-minute basis.
Startup VoIP provider DeFi makes big claims, but delivers worldwide calling from a smartphone for $40 or $50 per month: DeFi has a very stripped down business model designed to appeal to a specific, but large class of traveler. They make software that's currently available for Nokia S60 phones (E and N series), and later this year for the iPhone, that acts as a kind of VoIP shunt for calling behavior. When you place a call, the software determines whether you're on a Wi-Fi network, and routes the call out that way; if not, it goes to cell. It also routes inbound calls, and can ring your cell phone's number if you're not on a Wi-Fi network and your inbound DeFi number gets a call.
For $40 or $50 per month (1 or 3 inbound phone numbers, respectively, in any of about 30 countries), you get 3,000 minutes (they call it "unlimited") of calling to and from 75 countries. This includes cell lines in Europe, typically a huge extra for most VoIP plans. DeFi said they signed deals directly with carriers, which they say most VoIP providers have not.
Wi-Fi access works at what they say is "1 million" hotspots, but is really Fon plus several tens of thousands of typical hotel, café, and airport venues. Wi-Fi fees are included for VoIP and data in the monthly subscription. DeFi uses Devicescape behind the scenes to handle no-entry authentication to their Wi-Fi footprint.
The integration is the key point DeFi makes about their product, and may be a stumbling block for an iPhone application. The head of DeFi told me that the company wants their service to require no behavioral changes for customers. Of course, users still have to make sure when they're in areas in which a cell call would be expensive that they don't accidentally wander away from a Wi-Fi hotspot. And Apple doesn't currently allow the kind of integration that would be required for call handling and interception, although DeFi said it's having no problems in its development work.
Boingo adds biggest U.S. ferry system to network: On the heels of acquiring the Opti-Fi set of airport Wi-Fi networks from Parsons and ARINC, Boingo Wireless has purchased Parsons's separate business operating Wi-Fi-based Internet access on the Washington State Ferry (WSF) system. WSF handles 26 million passenger rides per year, which is about half of all U.S. passenger ferry volume. (Just north, British Columbia's ferry system handles slightly more riders.) The announcement is slated for Monday.
Boingo already had a roaming relationship in place with Parsons for ferry use, and thus the purchase doesn't affect users of any of Boingo's monthly subscription plans; subscribers still have access folded in to the company's $8 per month handheld/mobile, $22 per month unlimited North America U.S., and $59 per month global (2,000 minutes) plans.
While neither Parsons nor Boingo released statistics on use, I ride ferry on a regular (not routine) basis, and have found the Wi-Fi relied and widely used. WSF runs two big routes that serve Seattle metro commuters: from Bainbridge Island, which unloads passenger after a half-hour run in downtown Seattle (right near Pioneer Square), and from Kingston, which brings riders also after a half hour into Edmonds where they catch express buses. Those two routes represent half of all WSF passenger trips.
Wi-Fi service is available on the majority of WSF's routes, as well as in terminals and in the car waiting areas. For regular rush hour commuters who drive, they may spend over 2 hours round-trip between waiting and the ferry passage, and far more on bad days.
WSF runs on time, however. This may baffle people used to train, bus, and plane schedules, but it's a thing of wonder to watch the ferry workers cast their lines, tie the boats up, and shepherd hundreds of cars and passengers off and on in a matter of minutes, and then return to the bay or sound for the direction or next stop. I'm not saying the system is a miracle, but it's well-tuned. A notable failure, due to initiative-driven cuts in transportation spending, has led to devastating reductions in service to Port Townsend; its regular boats were found to be irreparable. Replacements haven't yet begun to be built for a variety of reasons.
Port Townsend occupies a significant role in the history of Internet access on the ferry system, however. A small firm, Mobilisa, located in "PT" (the affectionate name town residents use) was able to secure a Department of Transportation no-bid contract to unwire the boats. The line it tested service on was the Port Townsend-Keystone run, and it's where I first encountered the service, when I visited PT to write a New York Times article about commuter Wi-Fi: "Destination Wi-Fi, by Rail, Bus or Boat," 8-July-2004. (Mobilisa has been adept at using earmarks to obtain contracts, the Seattle Times reported in a detailed article on 29-December-2007.)
The service launched for production use in late 2004, and on the Bainbridge route in early 2005. The original contract called for an RFP to be issued, and for Mobilisa to operate the network just briefly--perhaps for a year or so, building out service that another firm would take over. Mobilisa was, I was told, specifically barred from bidding on operating the completed network.
Parsons got the contract in late 2006, and slowly extended service to routes that weren't yet covered. At one point, Parsons seemed to be developing a specialty business in building and operating difficult Internet service networks. That line of business is apparently being shed, however, given that only VIA Rail (operated under the Opti-Fi name) apparently remains in its holdings.
Boingo's original plan was to never operate any physical infrastructure. But the opportunity arose a few years ago for it to buy Concourse Communications, which already managed several major airports' Wi-Fi (and sometimes cellular) networks, and it leapt in with both feet. Boingo now runs vastly more large-scale commuter and business traveler nodes than the next largest operator in the space worldwide.
Slacker joins Apple and Microsoft in releasing new models: It's been a busy week for those who follow the latest developments in music players. Apple's new iPods, while not revolutionary, still up the ante for features and quality; Microsoft's new Zunes, released today, come with fascinating new software options; and the Slacker G2 today. The G2, like the iPod touch and all Zunes, sports Wi-Fi.
Slacker licenses music directly from publishers, and includes a perpetual subscription in the cost of the player. Slacker creates stations that feed out an endless supply of music. The new models are $200 for a 4GB model with the ability to list 25 stations (up to 2,500 songs), or $250 for an 8 GB model with 40 stations (up to 4,000 songs). You can also sync your own music in MP3 or WMA format. For $7.50 per month, you can upgrade and store songs you're listening to, as well as avoid ads.
The G2 is already getting reviews as a much-improved upgrade from the first release. Like the Zune, there's no browser or other Internet features, and that might be a positive.
The G2 is tied into Devicescape's Wi-Fi home and hotspot authentication system, which lets Slacker G2 owners pre-program encryption keys or login information for hotspots that they frequent. Devicescape's software both retrieves and stores login information, allowing the G2 to be used in places that would otherwise require either tedious entry of a WPA passphrase, or be unavailable without a Web browser to handle the login.
Ten thousand is an arbitrary place to put a stick in the sand, but significant nonetheless: The milestone of 10,000 McDonald's wired up--a few hundred have back access only, due to being stores within WalMart centers--is a vindication of Wayport's long-term strategy, dating back to 2004. Wayport switched at that point from a slightly more public-faced, public-access company to one that understood that back-office operations could be just as valuable, if less sexy, than front-facing consumer networks. Dan Lowden, Wayport's long-time marketing and business development chief, said yesterday, "In a lot of these venues, the back office comes first. The Wi-Fi public access for some is a big priority, but for others it's a nice to have, great thing to have, but the priority is the back office."
Although several other quick-service restaurants like McDonald's lack any comprehensive Wi-Fi plan--Burger King, Wendy's, and Subway to name three of the largest--Wayport is locked out of working with direct competitors. This opens the potential for another firm to handle a several-thousand-location network. Wayport has worked with both McDonald's corporate-owned stores (about 2/3rds of stores in the U.S.), as well as reaching out to franchisees, who Lowden noted pay a predetermined flat rate for the service via McDonald's. "It's made them incredibly efficient to be able to offer this to their franchisees at one price, instead of variable pricing," he noted. Wayport acts as the layer between various telecom providers, applications and services, and the stores.
Wayport provides several kinds of back-office services, although credit-card processing was the first thing htey rolled out. They've extended to remote video feeds for security, Redbox DVD rental systems that are found in some McDonald's, and kiosks used for job applications. Lowden said Wayport offers things as straightforward but critical as a dial-up fail-safe when a broadband connection drops.
Wayport also manages AT&T's hotspot network, which puts them in the unwiring seat for the 7,000-odd Starbucks stores that will converted from T-Mobile to AT&T service during 2008. Wayport was once the clear leader in the hotspot builder market, with T-Mobile in the second position. Now, Wayport will be operating through a direct contract or management agreement over 18,000 hotspots in the U.S.; T-Mobile will likely be the second biggest with a couple thousand locations (Borders and FedEx/Kinko's tops among them). The No. 3 player is hard to figure. Panera?
I've been predicting for some time that media on the edge--music, videos, movies, and games stored on servers on the local Wi-Fi network--will be the next big development in venue-oriented Wi-Fi, with Starbucks likely far in the lead. Lowden wouldn't comment on any specific plans in the works, of course, but said generally, "Storing and caching all that content on the edge...hasn't been leveraged in the past, but it will be in the future to create a very unique experience." At Barnes & Noble, Wayport caches some multimedia data that's available to customers in the stores.
The advantage for in-store media storage is that you can leverage the speed of the local network, and add additional access points to distribute network load. The choke point is no longer the Internet connection, but local network speed. I expect--though Wayport, AT&T, and Starbucks haven't said it--that Starbucks infrastructure will be all 802.11n for this reason, likely with both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz support for the best throughput in the higher-frequency band for media transactions. (In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you could only buy movies via 5 GHz.)
Lowden also noted that the proliferation of mobile devices with Wi-Fi built in have led to them reaching out to venues that wouldn't have made sense for them to work with previously, and for unlikely candidates to reach out to them, too. Wayport is now working with a number of healthcare facilities that, while they have their own network infrastructure, wanted to outsource public access Wi-Fi (whether they choose to charge or underwrite it), and certain applications that they're not as experienced with running themselves.
A little history: In 2001 and again in 2004, the heat seemed to be on the public side of Wi-Fi: lots of money to be made, ostensibly, lots of partnerships and venues to be built, and an overcrowded supply of infrastructure builders. The year before, Wayport looked to be an also-ran in the hotspot provider business.
Despite being one of the earliest firms to put Ethernet and then Wi-Fi into hotels, and build out hotspots in airports; and despite their survival of the first hotspot meltdown in 2001 during the dotcom crash and brief venture capital shortage; and despite their early entrance into allowing wholesale pricing for hotspot aggregators; the firm seemed about to be eclipsed by apparently deep-pocketed Cometa (with AT&T, IBM, and Intel in various capital and support roles), Toshiba's mom-and-pop focused turnkey system, and T-Mobile, which had the Starbucks contract. What a difference a year makes.
Cometa, Toshiba, and Wayport contended for the contract to build out back-office and public-access service at McDonald's in the U.S., and Wayport won. Within a few weeks, Toshiba passed its few hundred locations to Cometa, which shut its doors in May 2004. Wayport, meanwhile, had cooked up a strategy for McDonald's that it announced later that month.
Their approach involved a fixed-rate charged for unlimited access by retail network partners for all the locations in their pool. This meant that partners had a fixed cost, instead of a per-session cost, and Wayport could obtain specific revenue even before usage by a partner ramped up. Wayport hasn't discussed the details of this arrangement in depth since, but has partnered with Sony with its Mylo, Nintendo with its DS game player, and ZipIt with its wireless messaging appliance.
The McDonald's deal also apparently gave Wayport a way to extend its work with SBC-later-AT&T; Wayport had earlier in 2004 became the managed-services contractor for SBC to build out The UPS Store/Mailboxes Etc. nationwide. (UPS dropped AT&T as its partner in mid-2007, although that didn't appear to have anything to do with Wayport's role.)
AT&T through Wayport developed its large resold/managed footprint that incorporated resale of Wayport's McDonald's locations with the UPS Store and a few hundred other managed locations, including a handful of airports. The Cingular acquisition of AT&T Wireless put more airports in SBC's hands, too. (SBC was once the 60 percent majority owner of Cingular; when SBC and BellSouth, the other owner, merged that put the newly rebranded AT&T in charge of Cingular which it relabeled as AT&T. Confusing, huh?)
iPass is best known for its corporate connectivity software and remote office hardware, but today enters the individual traveler business: Boingo Wireless can't exist in a vacuum. The service they're offering to individuals and through private-label rebranding is obviously cash-rich enough to attract the interest of iPass, a long-time provider of business connectivity that currently has 3,500 companies as customers, including 417 Fortune 2000 firms.
Their new service, iPassConnect Mobility Service, is an attempt to appeal to regular business travelers and individuals. With plans that start at $30 per month, the offerings are comparable in many ways to Boingo, but have a couple of interesting twists that may appeal to a different set of travelers. Notably, all plans include dial-up service, and two of four plans include unlimited 3G (US only, over EVDO).
No one offers a combination of service that's comparable in scope or price to iPass's new offering. While Boingo Wireless is cheaper ($22 per month for North America, $39 for global) with a similar Wi-Fi footprint, travelers that need 3G for its ubiquity and dial-up for its use as a backstop have no better choice than iPass.
iPass currently claims a network of 95,000 "active" Wi-Fi locations, which is a subtle dig at Boingo, which often lists their total of signed locations, which expands in count before all new locations are integrated into the footprint. iPass uniquely includes current Starbucks locations run by T-Mobile; Boingo and other aggregators will start to include Starbucks as AT&T takes over the network.
The four plans iPass will offer are paired as two North American plans, and two "global" plans. Their North American Wi-Fi offering at $30 per month includes their entire US and Canada Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and dial-up footprint. Piero DePaoli, iPass's director of global product marketing, said that dial-up remains useful for travelers in more remote areas where Wi-Fi isn't an option. The service currently requires Windows XP, 2000, or Vista.
A global Wi-Fi plan that rolls up all 95,000 Wi-Fi locations and worldwide dial-up service will cost $45 per month. For "that business traveler that definitely leaves the country on a semi regular basis, this is going to be a service that is going to be very attractive," said DePaoli.
Adding cell service to each plan takes the service up to a total of $70 per month for North American Wi-Fi plus US 3G, and $85 per month for global Wi-Fi plus US 3G. At a $40-per-month incremental cost, this is a much better 3G deal than any of the cell operators.
iPass requires the purchase of a $125 PC Card EVDO modem (includes shipping and handling), and a 1-year commitment with a $100 early cancellation penalty. The company will consider adding other form factors, like ExpressCard, as demand warrants.
For enterprise users, iPass aggregates dial-up, Ethernet (mostly US hotel), Wi-Fi hotspot, and 3G service into a single login that's integrated with corporate networks to preserve one user, one password, end-point security (VPN, anti-virus, firewall), consistent billing, and cross-corporate averaging of services.
For now, businesses with multiple employees that are below the threshold of needing iPass's full-bore plan (which is available through value-added resellers, too) will need to sign up for individual accounts under this new individual service.
This new offering is part of what seems to be a trend in both resale and aggreation of hotspots. Starbucks chose AT&T as its new Wi-Fi operator in part for the ways in which AT&T would promote usage, including offering free service to a large swath of existing AT&T customers. Likewise, iPass's entry shows that there's a market for flat-rate services for predictable expectations that spans beyond plain Wi-Fi. 3G never looked this cheap before.
Whisher has relaunched itself with both free and metered fee options for connecting: Whisher is a network. No, it's a buddy list. No, it's a hotspot aggregator. Okay, it's all three in one, now. The company launched as a way to pull together buddies and free locations into a single connection package for Mac and Windows that would prevent people from having to remember or distribute passwords to join. The first software release included a standalone client that had instant messaging and file transfer built in.
Whisher's new release, a few weeks old, strips down the client, embedding it into the Wireless Networks manager in Windows and into the AirPort menu under Mac OS X. Under Windows, account details are embedded into the Wireless Network window; in Mac OS X, Whisher uses a lightweight System Preferences pane to handle account information. The IM and file transfer features are missing, but company head Ferran Moreno said the options may return in the future when people are more accustomed to the basic functionality of their client.
The biggest change beyond form factor, however, is the addition of WiFi Out, a name that sounds patterned after Skype's SkypeOut. WiFi Out is a per-minute roaming service that uses the WeRoam aggregation footprint as well as separate agreements with major European hotspot providers. They're claiming about 60,000 hotspots across 400 networks.
WiFi Out works differently from most of the other aggregators out there today, which have mostly switched to flat monthly pricing for unlimited access. That includes Boingo Wireless, iPass, and Trustive, among others.
Whisher, instead, requires a minimum prepaid deposit of either $10 or €10 via credit card or PayPal. Metered service runs about US 10 cents per minute, although it varies widely among providers; a given hotspot's price is shown in the network selection interface.
In my current experience, there is no provider offering a combination of prepaid metered rates and broad access. There might be a niche for this for the occasional traveler. Boingo charges $39 or €29 per month for global, which would translate in Whisher's pricing system to about 6 1/2 hours of service at 10 cents a minute. That's a reasonable benchmark for figuring out whether an aggregator with unlimited access makes more sense to you (since Boingo's footprint encompasses all of Whisher's) than a pay-as-you-go service.
The company continues to list tens of thousands of free locations identified by their users, and free access shared by their users from their own locations.
In a deal that's been years in coming, Boingo's aggregated hotspot service now includes 9,000 McDonald's stores: Coming on the heels of Starbucks's switch from T-Mobile to AT&T, this is a very good week indeed for Boingo Wireless--they'll be adding the two biggest chain networks in the U.S., both of which dwarf the next largest network.
Boingo sells aggregated access to roughly 100,000 hotspots worldwide: unlimited U.S. access is $22 per month, while worldwide is $39. A mobile device service is $8 per month worldwide.
Christian Gunning, Boingo's marketing director, noted that McDonald's may have a reputation for bringing in local people and consumers, but, "The McDonald's [addition] also helps you with a subset of the business traveler group, the windshield warriors, the regional sales guys, who go from town to town to town."
McDonald's locations are operated by Wayport under an arrangement that they first secured in 2004 where resellers of the service pay a flat rate per location in the network rather than a per-session fee, which is otherwise common in the industry to this day. (Read "Wayport's Wi-Fi World Switches from Per-Connection to Per-Venue Fees," 2004-05-24, for historical background.)
AT&T's new contract with Starbucks also puts the coffee giant's 7,000 stores into Boingo's roaming arena as the telecom firm takes over management during 2008. Starbucks and AT&T said a schedule hadn't yet been set for the first market to switch to AT&T, nor which markets would switch first; just that it would start in second quarter 2008.
(Industry trivia contest: By the end of 2008, AT&T will have the largest network in the U.S., with over 17,000 hotspots directly under contract; who is #2? Panera has over 1,000 locations with free access, and I'm not sure any hotspot network is larger than that.)
Boingo also announced today that it had joined the Wireless Broadband Alliance, a several-year-old international group that facilitates roaming agreements among its members, T-Mobile's U.S. operations being the only American component. Boingo operates 28 airports in the U.S. and UK, and that gives them some leverage.
Big news, and I had not an inkling of it, lest you think your loyal correspondent always has the inside track: Starbucks is shredding its deal in place since 2001, originally with MobileStar then T-Mobile, to switch to AT&T as their Wi-Fi provider. That moves 7,000 locations from T-Mobile's ledgers of nearly 9,000 to AT&T's. It turns AT&T from "McDonald's plus," with a relatively small footprint of other locations, to a 17,000-location giant. It also means that 12 million DSL customers and fiber (U-Verse) subscribers and 5 million remote-access business customers now get free access to Starbucks.
AT&T says in their press release that all Starbucks Card holders, which is simply their value-storing swipe card system, will get two hours of free Wi-Fi a day. No purchase is needed: you just need an active card, I confirmed with the company. Walk in, buy a $5 value card, activate it, and you're on for two hours a day from then forward. You can also use multiple devices with a single account, within reason, Starbucks told me. AT&T has also lowered the price for usage from T-Mobile's somewhat egregious $6 per hour or $10 per day to $4 for a two-hour session. The monthly price, like the rest of AT&T's network, is $20 per month for outsiders, which also includes all 70,000 domestic and international locations in their worldwide roaming network.
And--yes, there's an and--all Starbucks employees, 100,000 "partners" (read: wage slaves and management) get free access at all Starbucks locations. Which you have to admit is a nice perq.
AT&T is also part of Boingo's roaming network, which means that their customers suddenly get 7,000 highly desirable domestic roaming locations at no additional cost. (iPass has long had a T-Mobile roaming relationship.) The same is true for other AT&T roaming partners, an AT&T spokesperson confirmed.
T-Mobile HotSpot subscribers will still be able to access Starbucks locations. Starbucks posted a separate press release stating that T-Mobile will be a roaming partner onto the AT&T network through a side deal; no additional cost is involved. There's some leverage here, because T-Mobile does have about 2,000 other locations, including some premium airports like San Francisco. Existing roaming/aggregation deals among Boingo, AT&T, and T-Mobile were partly predicated on the airport market, where millions of subscribers to each network pass through each year.
I should have seen this coming, because it was extremely odd when Apple partnered with Starbucks for the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store service, when their exclusive iPhone partner is AT&T and Starbucks had the T-Mobile deal. This also may pave the way for in-store iTunes Store media servers, which would--as I have written too much about in the last few years--allow someone to use the edge network, the WLAN not the Internet, to pull down a movie in a few minutes instead of an hour or two on a home network.
Wayport just sent out their press notification; the Austin, Texas, firm has been providing managed services for AT&T for the telecom's own network for a few years, but also operates through its own relationship the 8,000+ McDonald's locations. AT&T has been the backhaul provider, as I understand it, for most of the McDonald's deal. It's a bit intertwined. Wayport's hotspot growth has been limited in recent years as the market for where Wi-Fi could go became saturated; this move is exceptionally good for the privately held firm.
The deal goes into place starting market-by-market in the second quarter of 2008, and will be completed this year.
Devicescape released version 2 of their connection software designed for mobile devices today, making the initial setup even more frictionless: Devicescape Connect allows mobile devices to log into hotspot and home networks without the user entering a single password or using a micro-browser to navigate through usage agreements. The latest revision allows a mobile device to sign up for Devicescape's service without first setting up an account on Devicescape's servers. This dramatically reduces the overhead for someone wanting to connect immediately to Wi-Fi networks.
Company head Dave Fraser said in an interview yesterday, "Without registering or going to our Web site or anything, as soon as you install the client, or power on a device with the client in it, you get immediate access to any hotspot we can get you into." Fraser noted that's any of the tens of thousands of free hotspots that are part of their system now, including Google in Mountain View or McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. Fraser said, "There's lots and lots of them in our database now. We'll automate those. You don't have to plan in advance, and register, and populate My Wi-Fi," the part of a My Devicescape account in which you list networks you're a member of.
Devicescape currently has software available for Mac OS X and Windows, as well as certain Nokia phones and tablets, Windows Mobile, and jailbroken iPhones and iPod touches (iPods touch?). Prior to its current incarnation, the company focused exclusively on providing Wi-Fi and networking software for mobile devices, and that's still a big chunk of their business; this means we can expect to see a host of devices with Devicescape software built in, ready to go. The company had no announcements about built-in device support today, however.
I hope manufacturers will be delighted with this new release, because it means that someone who buys a piece of Wi-Fi-equipped hardware can immediately use it on an open or free network, or on a hotspot network for which they are a member, such as T-Mobile HotSpot or AT&T's Wi-Fi network. CEO Fraser said, "A manufacturer can ship the device, and if you switch it on for the first time in Starbucks, it'll say, 'hey, do you have a user name and password on this device?'" (Devicescape said they set a goal to be set up to work with 100 hotspot networks by the end of 2007; instead, they hit 1,000.)
That's a far cry from my usual experience with handheld devices that have Wi-Fi, where I'm tediously entering data in a micro-browser, if it's even usable, or unable to get past an Accept button that I can't see because the device lacks any browser at all. Even the iPhone's superior Mobile Safari browser doesn't store passwords or form field entries, which means re-entering the same data every time, and it doesn't work consistently on free networks that require a button or box to be checked to accept terms. (It's getting better; it was far worse when the iPhone was first released, but Apple and hotspot operators are clearly improving compatibility with one another's offerings.)
It's a great demo in, say, a camera store or a phone store, where with a store network all ready to go, a salesperson could help the buyer unpack their new gadget, fire it up, show them how to enable Devicescape, and then get on the Internet. That's a pretty powerful sales tool.
The 2.0 software has a feature that I expect will provoke criticism: By default, a device will automatically look for all unsecured networks in its vicinity if no preferred hotspot is found, and then connect to each open network and try to reach the Internet. In some states and countries, I believe this could constitute unauthorized use of computer networks; passively scanning doesn't typically ring any legal bells. In Germany and Singapore, I believe the law is quite clear: without advance permission, any access is infringing. I think it's a bad idea for this feature to be turned on by default for that reason regardless of its positive aspects.
Fraser noted, "You can switch it off, if you don't like it, because it can be controversial." They expect to leave this feature on only for a certain period of time as they gather more information about the open networks out in the wild, and work out a way to allow folks with intentionally open networks to register with them or signal their openness. In the next release, Fraser said, "You'll have the option of saying connect me only to intentionally open unsecured networks."
Fraser said that there are benefits to register on the Web site after initially using a device. If you have multiple Wi-Fi devices, including computers that use their connection software, you can consolidate it all into a single account. The Web site is necessary for registering personal networks that use encryption keys, and for using their buddy network to allow other people access to your networks or gain access to theirs without sharing encryption keys.
But the frictionless process is designed to let people who otherwise won't be paying for Wi-Fi to gain immediate access to free locations, or to use bundled services that their operator--like AT&T--might offer. Fraser said, "We wanted something that was going to work for the majority of people out there for which Wi-Fi is really a free or bundled thing."
The software isn't yet set up to serve ads to users in exchange for access, something that's proving efficacious in some networks, and has gained some traction through a recent deal between JiWire and Boingo Wireless that gives iPhone and iPod touch users free access in many airports in exchange for viewing ads. (Disclosure: I own a small number of shares in privately held JiWire.)
Devicescape also announced a change in their developer licensing terms to make their software easier for potential partners and free software developers to use. The new license isn't open source, but they provide the source code at no cost, and deployment for non-commercial projects carries no fee.
Boingo picks up seven airport Wi-Fi networks: Boingo bought Concourse Communications last year to conserve revenue, improve their bargaining power with international hotspot network operators, and expand their retail brand. They've rolled out a few more airports in the interim, but this Sprint deal lets them pick up seven with one blow. (I wrote a lengthy article on the state of Boingo on 17 Oct 2007.)
The deal allows Sprint Wi-Fi subscribers to retain inclusive access to these airports and gain the 16 that Boingo operates, which includes the big three around New York City (JFK, Newark, and LaGuardia) and Chicago's two airports.
This acquisition puts Boingo in a position where they will surely be able to work with every airline that offers in-flight Internet access, as those airlines will want to provide some form of seamless access from airport to airport, too.
Boingo charges $22 per month for unlimited access to U.S. hotspots and $39 per month for unlimited access to its worldwide network. A single session costs $8.
The airports are Houston William P Hobby (HOU), Houston George Bush Intercontinental (IAH), Memphis International (MEM), Milwaukee General Mitchell International (MKE), Oakland International (OAK), Louisville International-Standifer Field (SDF), and Salt Lake City International (SLC). These are mostly solid second-tier airports, with the exception of Houston George Bush (No. 4 in the U.S. in 2006 by passenger traffic) and Salt Lake City (No. 23).