iPass gives IT more control of mobile access

Mobile connectivity provider iPass, which for many years has consolidated network accounts for workers on the go, is now shifting its focus to helping enterprises manage mobile data use.

With a set of cloud-based services announced on Tuesday, iPass will be able to handle authentication and network access rights for employees based on an enterprise's own policies, spanning Internet use in offices, at home and on the road.

The traditional business of iPass has been giving enterprises -- and, for a short period, traveling consumers -- access to a multitude of networks around the world with just one account. iPass did the dirty work of making deals with providers of dial-up and wired and wireless broadband so companies and traveling employees didn't have to. The iPass software client presented road warriors with locally available network services, sometimes several of them.

Now iPass is focusing on that client software, and on a cloud-based system for managing it, to make Internet access easy whether travelers are using an iPass-provided network or not. With the cloud-based services, controlled via a Web browser, enterprises can define each employee's access rights according to policies, monitor workers' network use and add any service provider the enterprise works with, said Piero DePaoli, senior director of product marketing.

This is designed to give the enterprise and its workers more control over their available connections. Employers can add carriers with which iPass doesn't have contracts, and individual employees can register their own home Wi-Fi systems as preferred networks. An enterprise can control the client software so workers are only presented with the name of its own preferred network in a given location.

IPass still offers its network of more than 140,000 access points around the world. But the dial-up access on which iPass built its business is mostly a thing of the past, and travelers can now get usable data speeds in many places just by signing up for a single mobile operator's 3G service. At the same time, some of those carriers have already built Wi-Fi hotspots into their service deals. Still, some enterprises want to pick and choose which networks their employees use in various locations. The new iPass services give them more control.

Extending the idea of a consistent connection experience to all types of networks and letting enterprises take the lead on governing it are logical steps, industry analysts said.

"It's a natural evolution of where they are," said Burton Group analyst Michael DiSabato. "They're just adapting to go along with how this is evolving."

With the new services, iPass can serve enterprises that know exactly what they want, said analyst Craig Mathias of Farpoint Group. That could significantly expand the company's potential market, he said.

Customers of the new services will enforce their own access policies for cost, security and compliance using the iPass Mobile Control service. The iPass Mobile Insight service will deliver reports and analysis of mobile network use by all types of devices. iPass Mobile Connect will orchestrate policy-based access for the iPass Open Mobile Client software.

The new service isn't replacing the traditional iPass service, DiPaoli said. At least for the time being, both will be offered and customers will be able to choose. The new service currently is available with a Windows client but soon will be available for all the platforms supported by the existing service, including BlackBerry, iPhone, Nokia and all major PC OSes. For a typical customer, iPass software costs between US$2 and $4 per user, per month, and access to iPass' network of connections costs between $20 and $40 per user, per month, depending on the number of users, the company said.

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