IPass makes MiFi available for business users

MiFi is going to the enterprise.

IPass Inc. said today it will resell in December the Novatel Wireless MiFi 2200 mobile broadband device used by consumers but it will be preconfigured with customer-specific security and connections to iPassConnect mobility manager software for business users.

The actual MiFi device will be free for a two-year service commitment, or $99 for a one-year commitment, on top of a one-time $50 configuration fee per device as well as the iPassConnect service. That service runs $45 to $60 per month per user in the U.S. and gives 3G WAN wireless broadband access as well as easy Wi-Fi connections globally to 160,000 hot spots, said iPass vice president of product and offer marketing Rick Bilodeau.

IPass, launched in 1996, is already used by about 400 of the world's largest companies whose workers can find wireless WAN and Wi-Fi access from laptops using broadband cards easily as they travel from country to country, Bilodeau said in an interview. With iPassConnect, the IT shop of each company also has a single console where it can manage potentially thousands of users.

Adding MiFi to its portfolio means iPass customers can connect wirelessly as many as five Wi-Fi-enabled devices to the 2-ounce MiFi device , which then connects to a wireless CDMA 1x EV-DO Rev network.

The MiFi device without a service plan would cost a user about $215, Bilodeau said.

"Today, MiFi is just an open hot spot out there, and we see the primary use of MiFi with iPass by folks in consulting and accounting or professional services who visit customer sites and can't use a third-party Wi-Fi service," Bilodeau said. "This approach allows a 3G wireless connection to a corporate VPN, so you still have security."

IPass is adding SSID and security keys to MiFi devices specific to each customer, with a configuration to iPassConnect, he said. IPass has been device agnostic and already provides access to its software from a variety of laptop broadband cards, but the relationship with Novatel has been longstanding and seemed logical, Bilodeau said. It is not exclusive to Novatel, however, he said.

With support for MiFi, iPass is able to extend its management service from, for example, a single worker to a workgroup that could need a temporary office solution as the group travels together, said Eric Paulak, a Gartner analyst.

Paulak said iPass is basically reselling the MiFi service offered by CDMA carriers Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Inc., but iPass will be able to offer a more complete managed mobility service than Verizon or Sprint.

In addition to the MiFi service, iPass also announced a new Open Device Framework to allow its customers to quickly integrate new 3G devices into the iPassConnect software. The capability will come to IT managers and others in the form of templates that can be adapted to a growing number of devices that will be wirelessly capable, including machine-to-machine devices that aren't even voice capable, Bilodeau said.

Paulak said the Open Device Framework sounds like a good idea because it offers a process for helping customers connect to new and different devices, but he had reservations about its impact on newcomers to mobile management.

"My concern is that it is going to be lost on most companies that don't see [device management] as a problem today," he said. "This is mainly a promise to existing customers ... but it will be hard to convince non-customers of the value of this type of service."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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