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Cometa, iPass deal heats up hot spots

A deal announced today between iPass and Cometa Networks will allow iPass business customers to use Cometa's Wi-Fi hot spot network. Experts believe the deal could spur more businesses to use public high-speed Internet connections, despite current worries about security.

In a move likely to boost business use of wireless hot spots, today iPass Inc. and Cometa Networks Inc. announced an agreement that will allow iPass business customers to use Cometa's Wi-Fi hot spot network.

Hot spots, public areas equipped with 802.11b wireless access points, provide business travelers with convenient, high-speed Internet connections. But business users have been reluctant to use the services, due in part to concerns about the security of these public systems, said Keith Waryas, a research manager with the Framingham, Mass., research firm International Data Corp.

By offering hot spot access in partnership with companies like Cometa, iPass is hopeful that businesses will be more comfortable using the service, especially if it is secure and simple, said Jon Russo, vice president of marketing with Redwood Shores, Calif.-based iPass.

iPass, which provides businesses with secure remote access to their networks, enables its users to connect over wireless networks in much the same way they do now using dial-up, via a virtual private network (VPN) and authentication, Russo said.

In addition to concerns about security, businesses have shied away from hot spot use because of the complication of subscribing to multiple services, Waryas said. Today, Wi-Fi services are offered by a tangle of smaller companies, ranging from wireless carrier T-Mobile USA -- which has partnered with Starbucks -- to smaller players like Wayport Inc. Because of the cost of building out a nationwide 802.11b hot spot network, most of these networks remain small.

iPass offers businesses the ability to use the same service that they already have for remote dial-up connections without having to concern themselves with multiple subscriptions and user fees, Russo said. At the same time, iPass ensures that the access points of its partner networks are capable of supporting its security software.

It simplifies both the billing and the security, which makes sense for businesses, Waryas said.

The system is also capable of blocking out the myriad of wireless signals that users may get from home networks and others that have not implemented security. That way, Russo said, users will only have the option to connect via approved access points.

Though hot spots have had false starts before -- often because they can be very expensive -- Waryas said that hot spots now seem to have enough momentum behind them to be viable. Boingo Wireless Inc., started by Earthlink Inc. founder Sky Dayton, is aggressively moving into the hot spot market, as are carriers like T-Mobile. iPass is already partnering with a number of other wireless hot spot vendors, including Wayport Inc. and Pronto Networks Inc., to give its subscribers a varied base of hot spots to use.

San Francisco-based Cometa, which was launched with investments from AT&T Corp., IBM Corp. and Intel Corp., is still rolling out the network, which Cometa expects to have in 50 U.S. cities by the end of 2003.

Wireless hot spot service is currently available to iPass subscribers for an additional fee, which varies depending on the size of the business, Russo said.


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