Remote Access Gets Safer, Easier

Opinion: As competition heats up, iPass is the latest remote-access provider to announce favorable Wi-Fi pricing for enterprise customers.

One of the smaller but more interesting items that came across the transom this week was an announcement of new Wi-Fi connectivity pricing from iPass Inc.

Starting December 1, the company will offer its enterprise customers flat-rate, unlimited-use monthly pricing across its Wi-Fi roaming network. Jon Russo, vice president of marketing at iPass, describes it as an "all-you-can-eat approach" to compliment the per-minute and per-day billing it already offers.

What makes that so interesting? Its just one more sign that wireless remote access isnt as remote as it used to be.

As Ive noted before, hot spots havent been particularly attractive to enterprise users due to the many concerns about security that surround them and the overall lack of roaming agreements to simplify billing and budgeting issues for the users home office.

Flat-rate monthly pricing simplifies billing issues. Not long ago, iPass introduced a solution to satisfy enterprise security requirements. Both moves represent good, if not necessary, moves on iPass part.

They come as the service sees increasing competition from many of the providers iPass works with to aggregate access and billing services for corporate customers.

For years, iPass was one of the only services to offer secure remote access with consolidated billing. It provided a VPN wrapper through which users would connect and extend an AAA (authentication, authorization and accounting) system that aggregated charges from many vendors into a single bill. When the company launched in 1996, this was a powerful advantage. It still is, though its not quite as powerful as it once was.

Over time, others have gotten wise to the needs of enterprise customers. Competitive new enterprise plans have become quite the trend among mobile operators looking to boost their withering voice revenues with Wi-Fi models aimed at addressing the data, as well as the voice, needs of mobile corporate workforces.

Sprint now offers standardized billing with secure VPN access in its Remote Access Solutions. And T-Mobile is coming on strong with an assortment of Wi-Fi services. Servicing some 5000 U.S. hot spots, the company has become the largest U.S. carrier to offer Wi-Fi remote access alongside its mobile phone plans.

Fortunately for iPass, T-Mobile has been—and continues to be—a powerful partner. iPass ability to provide security and access service through its extended network of partner providers is what gives it a unique edge as the mobile market evolves.

One wonders for how long.

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