Paying too much for WiFi, 3G? You have options

Aggregators, bundles, new offers can bring out-of-office Internet access under control

By Daniel Dern, ITworld |  Mobile & Wireless, 3g, wifi

For Americas-only travellers seeking only WiFi, Boingo is less expensive. But for a fleet of international users, iPass's billed-only-in-months-accessed approach -- plus access to 3G and other networks in the same fee -- may shift decision points.

"This gives the IT manager the freedom to deploy the software to everyone, you only get charged when you use the software and/or the network, and network use is flat rate, no worry about overrun charges," says Piero DePaoli, Senior Director, Global Product Marketing, iPass Inc. "Typically, in a large organization, with 1,000 people, we might see 250 people use it per month, some different users from month to month."

(iPass will charge a nominal fee of somewhere between $1-5 per month if you use its software to access a non-iPass network, e.g. your company or home WiFi.)

Beyond controlling, reducing remote access costs

Access to international hotspots is a big selling point. The high costs of international roaming for voice and data have come as big surprises to many users; WiFi access can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars per user. Even for users already committed to WiFi, given international hot spot rates of around twenty dollars a day, an iPass or Boingo account means savings even for just a few accesses. Using fixed-rate WiFi instead of international roaming rates for 3G and the savings are likely be even more substantial.

For companies already using or willing to adopt VoIP, there's further spending-throttlers: using VoIP instead of cell phones. If you've tried researching "how do I use a cell phone in other countries," you've probably discovered it's an aggravating mix of expensive and complicated. VoIPing, where an option, can bypass much of this.

"They all use the same WiFi partners, so look at what they do on the client, administrative, security and other services (e.g. backup and restore) and whether they support the devices/environments you're using," says Current Analysis' Weldon. "So it's 'which will integrate with my authentication and security environment.'"

iPass' appeal isn't just access aggregation and cost savings; the company iPass also offers authentication, VPN and other services, including integration with Cisco, Checkpoint, Microsoft, Juniper and other VPN providers, "so getting onto the corporate VPN is simple and easy, it looks like a single login," says iPass's DePaoli. iPass resellers offer additional features, such as the NetMotion Wireless' Mobile VPN through iRoam Mobile Solutions, which can maintain a persistent connection when a network connection goes down.

Advice: Research

The biggest challenges for most companies is understanding that overspending on remote access is real and how much money this represents -- and that there are solutions, and how much these may save.

The biggest challenge for IT is being willing to take on the responsibility, in order to save money. One way to avoid access costs becoming part of IT's budget is to charge them back to users' departments.

To a large extent, selection is likely to be driven by where a company is headquartered, Current Analysis' Weldon says. "It's hard for a global carrier to compete with domestic carriers for 3G." And, Weldon suggests, "If you're already a customer with a carrier, you should see what they offer and what discounts you have for adding on these services, since that will probably be your best deal. For internationally, look at other companies, of course."

"Almost any research or service will be better than pay as you go. The more that IT can bring this in house, the better," says Amy Cravens, a contributing analyst for In-Stat. "Most users are expensing WiFI as they go."

Daniel P. Dern is a freelance technology writer based in Newton Center, MA. His web site is www.dern.com and his technology blog is TryingTechnology.com.

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