Virtual network operator Sirocom Ltd has launched a managed WiFi access service for corporate customers than can encompass both guest users on a company’s premises and staff with iPass clients on their laptops.
Weybridge, UK-based Sirocom offers corporate WAN connectivity across multiple networks as a managed service, and with 110,000 software clients active across 400 corporate customers, claims to be unwired access provider iPass Inc’s largest partner worldwide.
Richard Neale, product manager for the company’s Siroconnect suite of remote access services, said its first target with the new Wireless Workspace service will be its existing customer base, to whom it can be marketed as an add-on to enable guest access,
Meanwhile, to add the guest access service, Sirocom has partnered with WiFi hotspot operator The Cloud Networks Ltd, whose GuestBridge service it is reselling. GuestBridge works with any existing access point infrastructure, provided the APs can support SSIDs, said Neale. The only new hardware required is an access gateway from Colubris [Networks Inc].
He said in scenarios where the corporate is already a Siroconnect customer, it can add the GuestBridge part of Wireless Workspace for prices that start at around 300 euros ($395) a month for an entry-level service supporting 15 concurrent users, with discounts as that number scales. Guest access is then managed from a web portal provided by The Cloud, where admins can create and send vouchers to guests, contractors, and other non-staff users working on corporate premises.
The other dimension to the service is that employees with the Siroconnect/iPass client on their laptops can use Wireless Workspace to access the corporate network when on premises, in the same way that they do when off site.
This might sound counterintuitive, in that WiFi access to network when on company premises can equally well be enabled directly, simply by installing some APs and connecting them to the LAN, or by deploying a wireless overlay network with a separate WLAN switch from any of a number of infrastructure providers. But a lot of companies shun such an option due to security concerns, and for this kind of customer, implementing a completely ringfenced WiFi network in their offices, with access for both staffers and guests, controlled and managed by a service provider, can have its attractions.
It is no coincidence that in launching Wireless Workspace, Sirocom uses as its reference customer the Central Europe, Middle East and Africa division of credit card operator Visa International, which has been using the service in its London, UK headquarters building for some three months.
Andrew Vorster, head of technical services for Visa CEMEA, said he chose the Sirocom service because we could not allow non-Visa staff onto a service that we provided on account of liability and compliance issues, while the ability to add Visa staffers with the Siroconnect/iPass client means that I haven’t exposed my own network at all. He said that to implement the service, Visa ran ADSL connections into its building directly to the access gateway, which in turn was wired to the APs so the guest access network would not touch the internal Visa network at any point. Visa employees can go out over their Siroconnect/iPass client, then back into the corporate network, entirely via a Cisco VPN.
Neale said this form of wireless access for employees is not a sine qua non of Wireless Workspace, since the latest version of the iPass client (version 3.5) has the FlexVPN option whereby it can be configured to autoconnect to trusted WiFi networks, precisely for scenarios in which the user is on rather than off site. Whether companies will opt to stick with the VPN out and VPN back in option, as Visa is doing, remains to be seen. There may be some latency added by virtue of the fact that the traffic is being encrypted out and back, but technology and bandwidth are cheap enough nowadays that this may not be an issue, he said.
Neale said there is no greater cost implication from that option because in April Sirocom cut an exclusive deal with iPass that enabled it to charge flat rates for the iPass connectivity service. iPass currently charges by the number of active users, allowing up to 100 at any one time for $400 a month, regardless of whether they are connecting from a public or private network, whereas he said Sirocom only counts as an active user someone who is connecting from a public iPass network.
Sirocom is in the process of being absorbed by another UK managed comms service provider, Azzurri Communications Ltd, whose main activity has been on the voice side. This will enable the merged entity to talk convergence because Sirocom’s forte has always been in data. It offers its VNO services internationally, but still targets primarily UK-based corporates whom it serves across the globe, rather than competing for business from corporate customers in other geographies. It will be interesting to see whether VNOs in other parts of the world such as Denver, Colorado-based Virtela Communications Inc, launch similar managed services for guest and staff access over WiFi.