iPass close to hotspot target with Devicescape deal

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The importance of WiFi infrastructure is on the rise (see separate item) and that creates opportunities for aggregators to offer the broadest platforms to customers – from enterprises to cellular offloaders to WiFi-first MVNOs. That makes a recent deal between iPass and Devicescape a significant one in the world of carrier WiFi.

The two companies both offer clients a huge number of curated hotspots, but they are complementary – iPass is well established in providing access deals for paid-for, often business-class locations, while Devicescape concentrates on free access. The latter has already signed some interesting deals with WiFi-first operators, supporting FreedomPop and Republic Wireless.

The new partners claim 50m hotspots worldwide between them, though it is not clear whether that figure excludes any overlap, and whether it includes both firms’ access to the Comcast homespot network of 10m home-based routers with second, open SSIDs.

Under the terms of the deal iPass will integrate the Devicescape Curated Virtual Network (CVN) into its global WiFi network, enabling its enterprise customers (who pay perhaps $25 a month for unlimited WiFi access) to use Devicescape’s amenity WiFi network too, adding 20m free sites worldwide.

This is important for iPass customers, as there has been commercial pushback against the provider from some customers who increasingly perceive WiFi to be free and want free, but curated, access to be included in their contracts.

By comparison with the new pact, the largest homespot operator, FON, claims 17m FONspots, mostly backhauled on telco ADSL networks. The iPass network is certainly larger than that now, and more coordinated – most FONspots are telco-owned, so access is not controlled by FON, with the telco deciding on fees, data limits and so on. This is a federation of homespots, which can choose to work together, but which don’t have to.

iPass went through a phase of considering its options last year and decided to retain its independence, but appointed a new CEO in Gary Griffiths. He said on taking the helm that he would announce a doubling of the iPass network by the end of 2015. So far, with this deal, it has gone from 30m to 50m, which leaves 10m to find.

One deal that he might have up his sleeve could be with Liberty Global, which had promised to take its homespot network to 10m in Europe by the end of 2015. A deal with one of the FON telcos is also possible to help reach the target – for instance BT has 5.4m FONspots – while China Mobile has 4.3m hotspots of its own. The four French telcos have more than 20m homespots operational between them, according to our calculations.

iPass also raised the idea that the deal with Devicescape could be significant for IoT services. Devicescape typically has access at hotels, airports, cafes, retail outlets and its software uses crowd-sourcing to discover the best available WiFi locations using a kind of real time, cloud-based network quality control.

For the period of this agreement, iPass says it will have some exclusivity to Devicescape’s assets and the partnership is effective immediately, with integration expected to be complete by the end of the current quarter. No commercial terms were revealed.

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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.