Mobile Access:
iPass provides behind-the-scenes network for roaming Internet access

A growing number of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are offering so-called "roaming access" to the Internet. Once you establish an account with an ISP that offers roaming access, you can dial in using any of well over a thousand local telephone numbers around the world.

How can a single, often small ISP offer dial-up service from 150 countries around the world? The answer is a Mountain View, California, company called iPass Inc, that has pieced to together a network comprised of Internet Service Providers around the US and around the world.

By understanding how iPass works, you'll be better able to find an inexpensive way to access the Internet while on the road.

iPass doesn't sell Internet services directly to the public. It relies on its network of ISPs, companies that sell Internet access directly to the public, to handle direct contact with customers. What iPass does is act as the intermediary between ISPs in two key ways.

First, iPass provides the technical solutions that allow you to have an account with an ISP in, say, London, but connect to the Internet in Singapore using another ISP's local phone number. Someone, after all, has to monitor access, verify passwords and the like.

Second, iPass handles the money. Since, in our example, your account is with an ISP in London, only London is in a position to bill you for the time you spend online in Singapore. So for the network to function, someone has to track where you have logged in from and for how long, and then transfer money from London - from the ISP who bills you for the service - to Singapore, where an ISP let you use its local access number.

At present, the iPass network contains over 1,100 Points of Presence (POPs). Each POP consists of a local phone number that can be used for Internet access. Larger cities may be represented by multiple POPs. A list of locations serviced by local phone numbers can be found on the iPass Web site at http://www.ipass.com.

How it works

To use the iPass network, you need to have an account with an ISP that is a member of the network. Then each month in which you've used the roaming Internet access service you will be billed for roaming access by your ISP together with the amount you normally pay for regular usage. There will be a flat monthly fee for use of the service (normally only charged for months when you've used the service), and a per minute charge.

The monthly and per minute charges are determined by your ISP, not iPass, so charges can vary considerably. An iPass spokesperson says charges are mostly between US$.05 and $.20 a minute. The monthly charge is normally a few dollars, sometimes more.

How to sign up to use iPass

To find out if your ISP belongs to the iPass network, you can simply ask your ISP. Or, you can check iPass' Web site for a current list of participating ISPs. If your current ISP does not participate, you have several options. You can first try to talk your ISP into offering the service. In theory, this shouldn't be too hard, since your ISP can conceivably make some money from their participation.
If that doesn't work, you can shop around for another ISP. Look first, obviously, for an ISP that offers a local or toll-free number for normal use when you're not traveling. iPass may give you Internet access from any of 150 countries, but your cheapest option is always going to be the use of your regular ISP's phone numbers.
Next, ask each of the ISPs you've identified that offer the iPass roaming service about their rates. You may find they vary widely. Ask both about fixed monthly rates and per-minute charges.

Using the service

When you've established a roaming account with your ISP, they will provide you with a simple software utility to load onto your computer. At Roadnews.com, we tested the Windows 95 version. Macintosh and Windows 3.1 versions are due out later this year. The Windows 95 utility consists of a database of all the local numbers around the world, and a Wizard that sets up a Dial-up Networking connection script.

When you run the Wizard, you are prompted for such information as the city and country from where you are going to connect, your user name and password, and so forth. It then creates a connection script that is assigned an icon that resides in Windows 95 together with other such scripts. You can create, store, (and edit) as many of these separate dial-up scripts as you need.

When you wish to connect, you double-click on the icon appropriate to your location and your computer will dial the number for the location designated. Once connected, you can surf the Web, ftp, or use Email software such as Eudora to send and receive messages.

As with EUnetTraveller (see related article), you do not change your normal software configuration when sending Email. Your connection to the Internet may be from some far-flung corner of the world, but your Email is checked using your regular Email address, username, and password.

Corporate users

The iPass network works for people who normally use dial-up accounts. It can also be setup for corporate users who wish to give individual employees use of the service whenever they are on the road.

More sophisticated systems can be established for companies with extensive or specific needs, says iPass.

Contact:

The first place to contact is your regular Internet Access Provider. You can locate providers that are part of the iPass network, and see a list of the places where local phone numbers are available, by going to iPass' Web site at: http://www.ipass.com/main.php. iPass can also be reached at 650 Castro Street, Suite 500, Mountain View, CA 94041, USA, 650/944-0315, Fax: 650/237-7321, Email: info@ipass.com. Information about EUnetTraveller can be found at http://traveller.eu.net.

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