Remote connectivity service provider iPass Inc will announce that it has struck relationships with three operators of 3G networks in Asia whereby its corporate customers can choose to be billed by iPass or by the carrier.
This type of relationship is what the Redwood Shores, California-based company calls Phase 2 mobile data, said Doug Loewe, iPass’s VP and MD of EMEA and APAC, Phase 1 being where a corporate traveler uses the iPass connectivity client on a his or her laptop to access a cellular network but can only be billed by the network operator.
The difference between the two, for the subscriber, is one of convenience and, potentially cost, in that anything billed by iPass may be subject to a corporate rate, versus an individual rate for data roaming on a cellular network in a foreign country.
For iPass, meanwhile, the difference is huge, in that it is not part of the transaction at all in Phase 1, where in Phase 2 it is buying wholesale connectivity (minutes or megabytes) and selling retail.
Indeed, it could be argued that the whole Phase 1/Phase 2 language used by iPass is itself somewhat wishful thinking, in that many carriers have never shown any desire to move beyond Phase 1, nor even acknowledged that there exists a Phase 2.
As a connectivity vendor coming from the WiFi world whose USP was in linking up all those WLAN islands to form an archipelago, if not a full-blown continent, iPass has for a long time represented more of a threat than a promise to cellular operators.
They’re already in the wireless WAN game, so why, they have argued, would they need some outsider imposing its brand and doing its own billing on traffic running over their network? Viewing iPass customers in the same way as they view subscribers to other networks roaming onto theirs, they have tended to feel that billing for time on their infrastructure is their right and theirs alone.
Thus iPass, in adding cellular to WiFi connectivity on its iPassConnect client, has had to tread softly. The first crack in the dam in terms of making it to Phase 2 came in the US, where a CDMA widely tipped to be Verizon Wireless not only lets iPass do its own billing, but OEMs the client as its own for Verizon subscribers.
Rumour has it that negotiations are underway with the other big CDMA player there, Sprint, at least for iPass customers to be billed by iPass when using the Sprint network, even if Sprint customers continue to use a different client and be billed by the operator.
Indeed, the US has until now been the only place iPass has, as it were, made it to second base in this way, so today’s announcements, with Beijing Unicom in China, KDDI Corp in Japan and Hutchison Telecom’s 3 Hong Kong in that geography, are significant not only for the increase in cellular networks available to iPass customers, but also because they are all Phase 2 relationships. This shows carriers are realizing we are not a threat but a vehicle to drive 3G revenue streams, said Loewe.
Which means the with one and potentially two Phase 2 relationships in North America and three in Asia, Europe is, as Loewe put it, the last frontier for iPass in bringing at least a couple of big reference customers on board with agreements whereby it gets to do its own billing.
On the WiFi front where it made its name, iPass can now boast the availability of its connectivity at 62,000 hotspots worldwide, dividing roughly equally between its three main geographies. More importantly, now that travelers are having to spend longer at airports on account of security requiring them to check in earlier, we’re available at 74 of the world’s top 100, Loewe went on.
As for future bearers, he acknowledged that WiMAX is one the company is looking at, arguing that since its software is largely bearer-agnostic, adding it in would imply little more than some additional driver development, the real issue being the availability of networks.
The strategy would, in any case, be to try to segue into WiMAX from WiFi, just as we do from 3G to HSDPA, which suggests iPass would seek to build WiMAX with operators who also have a foot in WiFi and with whom it has relationships on that front.
In the nearer term, meanwhile, the company is readying clients for the sub-laptop class of mobile device, i.e. cellphones and PDAs. Loewe hinted that a client for Series 80 phones from Nokia Corp is already at an advanced stage of development and said other flavors of Symbian, as well as Windows Mobile 5.0 are on its roadmap.