iPass network grows and grows, adds FON to go to 50m APs

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Back in August, US WiFi aggregator iPass cut a deal that put it out on its own, tying up with Devicescape, to create a network that we compared favorably with that of FON, the Spanish entity that invented WiFi sharing. At the time it claimed it would then to go 50 million access points, and later head to almost 60 million.

That claim has become somewhat blurred, as it now says that a new deal with FON takes it to a further 9 million access points, but it still sticks with the 50 million end point.

We had previously raised the issue regarding overlap between some of iPass’ Homespots – home gateways installed with operators who offer them as access points – and many of those in Devicescape’s Curated Virtual Network, are built from free WiFi, intentionally shared by its owners. It looks like iPass has just mediated its claims somewhat because of the potential for overlap.

But even so, having access to 50 million access points is tremendously significant, especially when there are only around 8 million planned commercial WiFi hotspots in the world, and over 4 million of those are in China. It clearly take in many of these, but also a good many WiFi Homespots or what are increasingly being called community hotspots.

If you go to the FON home page we see that FON now claims 17.4 million access points, almost all of them community hotspots in Europe. However iPass already had a deal with British Telecom, and perhaps one or two other FON partners, so to avoid double counting it says it will add only 9 million community hotspots.

This is a huge change of direction for iPass, brought about by its new CEO Gary Griffiths, who is clearly keen to be able to boast the largest WiFi network in the world. As iPass gets the software side of the equation sorted out by year end, these will all come to feel like part of the iPass network to iPass customers, so it will pick the strongest signal with the best throughput and log on automatically.

At his last quarterly figures Griffiths reported strong bookings, virtually three times the level of the previous quarter and more than all of 2014 put together and hinted at these deals which would increase the size of the iPass network by over 2.5 times to 50 million hotspots.

He also claimed a reenergized sales channel; and a new streamlined expense structure with $3 million shaved off expenses against the year ago quarter.

Devicescape boasts 20 million access points, and that deal probably took iPass to around 41 million hotspots, rather than 50 million and it added a lot of free municipal networks. Devicescape made it clear to us when we spoke to executives there, that it had no deals with commercial homespot providers like Comcast (now 11.7 million devices and expected to reach 12.5 million this year), while iPass certainly had – and in essence the network is now best of both worlds. It can let a single home sign up from any provider through the Devicescape Curated Network, or iPass can go and cut a deal with a large community hotspot provider.

Devicescape also told is that in the past many APs were shipped with security off by default and left that way, which gave their network a “false positive” looking like it had been deliberately shared. But nowadays home routers have security switched on by default and it has witnessed the rise of the guest network, so there is a verifiable deliberately shared network opportunity among many residential homes which means there is bound to be an overlap with community WiFi.

Rethink and Maravedis have tracked WiFi hotspots of all types and estimates that there will be 8.2 million commercial hotspots at the end of this year, but a further 66.7 million community hotspots, making a global total of 75 million if you count both types. Having access to 66% of all global hotspots is really starting to make a network that should be accessible almost anywhere. iPass mostly sells to enterprise customers who usually get unlimited WiFi access for a monthly fee.

The deal is also a first for FON because previously it would not have had the power to sign such a deal and was reliant on its host operators to sign their own deals and there is the possibility of FON customers getting access to the wider iPass network, although that has not been agreed as yet, it was mentioned.

“Our vision is WiFi that is unlimited, everywhere and Invisible. I’m really excited about partnering with FON as it supports this vision through significantly increasing our WiFi hotspot footprint globally. When I came on board back in February, we stated we wanted to double the size of our network by the end of the year, and this partnership goes a long way to supporting this goal,” said Patricia Hume, Chief Commercial Officer at iPass.

FON was founded in February 2006 by serial entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky with the goal of blanketing the world with affordable WiFi. Fon’s partners include British Telecommunications, KPN, Orange, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Oi Brazil, SoftBank Japan, and Telstra Australia.

iPass this week also launched SmartConnect, designed to connect customers invisibly and securely to the WiFi hotspot that best meets their usage needs. In addition, iPass SmartConnect will enhance hotspot security for end users through last-mile, virtual private network (VPN) functionality. SmartConnect is available on select devices now and will be available to all iOS and Android customers by the end of this year and all Windows customers by Q1 2016.

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Mr. Fellah, is a Senior Analyst and founder of Maravedis with 20-year experience in the wireless industry. He authored various landmark reports on Wi-Fi, LTE, 4G and technology trends in various industries including retail, restaurant and hospitality. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless and marketing events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as RCR Wireless, 4G 360, Rethink Wireless, The Mobile Network, Telecom Reseller to name a few. He is a Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS).

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