The Global Wi-Fi Footprint of iPass

by Morgan Staggers on September 27, 2016 in Wi-Fi Hotspots

In business since 1996, California-based iPass today is a multi-national global Wi-Fi service provider (GSP) with a truly worldwide Wi-Fi footprint. Thanks to a number of key acquisitions over the years — including Safe3w and Mobile Automation, both in 2004, and GoRemote Internet Communications in 2006 — iPass has morphed from a dial-up Internet access company to become “the world’s largest commercial Wi-Fi network, covering over 120 countries and territories and selling to over 700 large corporations, telecom service providers and other strategic partners around the world.”

Note this company is not to be confused with I-Pass, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority’s electronic toll collection system nor the contactless smart card/electronic wallet used widely in Taiwan.

It’s no stretch to report that the public’s awareness of Wi-Fi has grown in recent years. According to iPass, half of all Internet traffic either originates or terminates on a Wi-Fi network. Today Wi-Fi carries more traffic than wired broadband or cellular LTE data. There are a number of reasons why Wi-Fi is growing in popularity and companies like iPass are building upon their success as a far-flung Wi-Fi aggregator while becoming a more than viable alternative to cellular.

See this iPass-produced video found on YouTube which serves as an introduction to their services:

The iPass Raison D’être

Demands for connectivity drive iPass’ business. Thanks to the evolution of cloud-based web apps and collaboration services, the quantity and volume of data transfers (often including video content, which ramps up file sizes) between devices has mushroomed. As cellular bandwidth frequencies struggle to cope with rising user demand, multi-national companies in particular with multiple locations are increasingly turning to Wi-Fi in lieu of cellular in order to communicate with their offices and employees.

iPass provides what is known as a hosted “software as a service (SaaS), one of the three pillars of cloud-based networking, to its clients. The others are infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). “SaaS is a software distribution model in which a third-party provider hosts applications and makes them available to customers over the Internet.” In 2014 iPass launched its ‘Business Traveler Service 2.0,’ a cloud-based SaaS model praised by road warriors everywhere.

Here is an iPass-produced video from YouTube showing how to stay connected to the Internet with iPass:

Choosing iPass Wi-Fi Instead of Cellular

Why choose iPass Wi-Fi over cellular? SmartPhones connect using both capabilities. But while cellular companies meter bandwidth usage, iPass offers unlimited Wi-Fi bandwidth usage and unlimited connection time for a flat monthly fee per user. That means no roaming charges or fees when exceeding data caps.

Convenience affects productivity. Although more Wi-Fi hotspots are free to use than ever before, there’s still pay-to-play wireless access points (WAPs) around. Many require the use of an access code. iPass offers a downloadable app for any device that provides immediate Wi-Fi access to their global network from 57 million WAPs across the globe.

With the advent of 4G and LTE, cellular bandwidth speeds have increased markedly but the latest Wi-Fi standards (e.g., IEEE 802.11ac) remain much faster than real-world cellular speeds. For example, 802.11ac is rated at 433 Mbsp per spatial stream. That’s more speed than your current SmartPhone can handle unless you have the very latest models. Too, when one considers the average 4G download speed in the U.S. is somewhere around 10 Mbps, it’s easy to grasp that mobile devices have faster data transfers when using a Wi-Fi network.

One advantage cellular has had over free (aka unencrypted) Wi-Fi from hotspots is security. In fact, an iPass’ internal security report found that two-thirds of the organizations surveyed banned their employees with mobile devices from using free Wi-Fi hotspots. A whopping 94% judged free Wi-Fi hotspots to be “a significant mobile security threat.”

iPass offers what they call ‘Last Mile VPN (Virtual Private Network), giving “global hotspot security (and) providing VPN tunneling between the user and iPass’ secure Internet gateway.” The “last mile” is where most security breaches occur. To protect against this vulnerability, Last Mile VPN masks and encrypts data. This version of a VPN, not as extensive as a corporate VPN, safeguards user data only from the device to the iPass server and doesn’t create a “VPN tunnel all the way back to the corporate firewall.” This “poor man’s VPN” however is ideal for small and medium businesses (SMEs) that don’t have the assets to build their own corporate VPN. And even those users who work on a corporate VPN can take advantage of the extra layer of security the Last Mile VPN provides.

See this YouTube video “On How to Connect to Wi-Fi Using iPass for Window Laptops”:

iPass SmartConnect

One of the challenges facing Wi-Fi is roaming between access points. When properly commissioned, WAPs allow seamless roaming from one access point to another. The fly in the ointment is the “handoff” (i.e., where one device leaves one WAP and connects with another) which, according to IEEE 802.11 standards, is totally a client device-dependent function. Since true uninterrupted Wi-Fi connection is not possible per current IEEE 802.11 standards — i.e., no latency between handoffs (current latency is typically <500 ms or 1/2 second) — there is the possibility of dropped data packets and degradation or even loss of service.

SmartConnect minimizes connection concerns while transparently and securely connecting devices to the user’s optimal Wi-Fi hotspot(s), according to user application. SmartConnect

  • Locates the best WAPs with “advanced analytics” that quantify signal strength, bandwidth availability, speed and connection rate attainment.
  • Based on the user’s specific needs, SmartConnect automatically connects to the most optimal WAP. SmartConnect employs a self-learning algorithm to find the best Wi-Fi networks in real time. iPass connects once and reconnects to best available Wi-Fi networks as the device roams.
  • SmartConnect connects to Wi-Fi networks securely with the iPass Last Mile VPN, using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol 128 bit encryption.
  • SmartConnect finds WAPs both inside and outside the iPass Wi-Fi network. This capability allows iPass to add new hotspots whenever they’re needed most.

Coda

It doesn’t take much number-crunching to realize the enormity of cost savings users can potentially realize by using iPass’ Wi-Fi network instead of cellular. And network security, the ongoing nightmare of IT managers everywhere, can be addressed by using the iPass Last Mile VPN.

Of course, iPass  is not the only mobile services provider available. Fon, around since 2006, has a prominent footprint in Europe but their Wi-Fi network too spans the globe. Boingo and Towerstream are also big-time players in the same league with iPass. In 2013 a consortium of five American cable companies — including Comcast, Time Warner and Cox — claim to have aggregated the largest American Wi-Fi Network thanks to reciprocal usage agreements between the principals. One thing is for sure: as IEEE 802.11 standards evolve, Wi-Fi networks will penetrate markets deeper with more comprehensive coverage and faster speeds.

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