iPass, a company that knits together the world's WiFi networks to offer the traveling employees of large corporations reliable, ever-present access to speedy connections, has figured out a way to make its offering still simpler—by putting it in the cloud.
With Business Traveler Service 2.0, iPass says it's transforming into a cloud-based company, coupling its app-based approach with a software-as-a-service model. Through a single log-in, users can securely and cost-effectively connect to nearly 3 million hotspots in 120 countries. Users don’t have to fiddle with credit cards. A business designates who it supports, and for connecting users, iPass handles the rest.
The service is available on iOS, Android and Microsoft-running devices.
"We have about 800 very large corporate customers with service today, and we're not telling anyone they have to switch [from having an on-premise solution]. But having the solution in the cloud is easier to manage, and it includes new features," said June Bower, iPass's chief marketing officer.
iPass addresses two major irritants for users: ease of use and pricing.
To the first point, Bower says iPass understands that maybe a company tells its employees that the service is available, and that they can download the app, but more than likely, employees aren't going to download the app until they are ready to take a trip, and then there's a bit of a scramble involved. And if they do download the app, they still don't really know if it'll work for them until they are on the road.
"We said, 'Let's make sure that people get feedback right away.' So people right away get a message that they've downloaded it successfully. … And the first time they use it, we let them know. We find that we increase the success rate by 20 percent when we give these little encouraging emails."
Also, said Bower, people often don't remember they have the service—the opposite of cost-efficiency is having employees pay to use WiFi in an airport, on a flight, in a hotel room and in a cafe, when their iPass account could have covered all of these. To help, iPass has created a series of programs, including giving HR credit card-like cards that employees can slip into their wallets, so they always have all the necessary log-in information handy.
Another program extends the service to friends and family (who can sign up with a credit card) at the same price the employee's company pays.
"For travelers, we also send out a message with their itinerary, saying remember you have iPass, so use it," said Bower. "Plus, many times there's limited bandwidth on an airplane, and if you're slow to sign up for the WiFi, you don't always get on. The iPass people, though, always get on."
iPass announced Business Traveler Service 2.0 alongside the results of its latest Business Traveler Connectivity Report. Based on a survey of more than 2,200 people, it found that 74 percent of travelers prefer a WiFi connection to a cellular data connection because it's faster, has more bandwidth and is more reliable. Those who use free hotspots said their greatest frustration is slow connections while those who pay for services primarily complained of the expense.
When eWEEK spoke with Bower, she was, in fact, traveling.
"The hotel I'm at [in Paris] offers free WiFi but at a lower bandwidth level. They told me at the desk, 'It's free!' But to send anything big, which I needed to, was $12. I didn't want to pay it, so I sat there for 10 minutes, waiting for that one file to go through."
Like others in the survey, Bower said the fee would have been covered as a travel expense, but on principle it annoyed her to pay for the "stratified free" service.
"You can't bring yourself to feel ripped off," she said. "For a lot of travelers, it's a huge issue."
The new cloud-based service, Bower reiterated, helps "business travelers connect to our global WiFi network, and we've optimized it for the experience of international travelers so they feel supported and they have the help they need on the road."