Travelers visiting airports, hotels and convention centers are finding a range of high-speed access options offered by specialized service providers, but the trick is to know which types of networks are available where.
Companies such as iPass — which offers large corporate customers a universal access interface — and networking giant Cisco Systems have formed alliances with service providers to give their customers access in myriad locales.
Business users seeking broadband connections under the wireless 802.11b standard are the target customers of programs such as Cisco Internet Mobile Office, which has thousands of broadband access points worldwide. Launched a year ago, Ciscos program now has about 1,500 CIMO-certified locations running Cisco-powered networks. Hot spots include coffee shops, airport concourses and hotel lobbies, where users can jump online for a fee.
"As you launch your browser, the software we have will take over and force the service provider registration page open," said Shah Talukder, director of marketing of Ciscos Ethernet Access group.
Users then have the option to pay the service provider directly or charge their corporate accounts. Cisco would not say how many customers use CIMO, adding to the impression that it will take the major marketing muscle of players such as Starwood Hotels & Resorts to popularize broadband on the road.
IPass, which is a Cisco partner, caters to big corporate customers. Its program is similar to Ciscos, providing a universal access interface to large companies that offers a menu of dial-up options beyond wireless. In addition, the interface can be tweaked to support corporate virtual private networks. IPass also monitors member networks to ensure they support specific VPN flavors for new users.
Corporate customers write one check to iPass, instead of dealing with thousands of expense reports, and get a break on access rates because of guaranteed high volume.
"At any given month, we have millions of business users accessing iPass network," said Michael Moore, iPass director of business development. He declined to give a number.
Service providers in critical locations such as airports typically work both with Cisco and iPass to ensure their networks get enough traffic. For example, Wayport, a survivor of the hotel broadband and airport access wars, belongs to both alliances.