iPass sees surge in Wi-Fi use

More mobile workers are using hot spots to keep connected, reports network aggregator

iPass, a company that gives mobile workers access to multiple networks through a single subscription, says it has seen a sharp rise in Wi-Fi usage in recent months.

The company reported this week that it has seen a 54 percent increase in the number of European Wi-Fi access sessions initiated by its global enterprise users between January and June 2006. iPass believes this shows that more firms in Europe are embracing mobile working, and giving their employees the tools to work remotely.

Ken Greene, director of iPass's technical consultancy, said: "The main factors [behind the rise in usage] are the proliferation of the technology... wireless cards are now integrated in most laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots are becoming much more ubiquitous, but also the fact that users get more and more confident using the technology based on their experiences connecting to their home wireless LAN or their corporate WLAN."

iPass declined to reveal exactly how many users or access sessions — defined as a user logging into a single hot spot at least once on any day — it had recorded.

But it did reveal that airports are the most common popular places for iPass subscribers to get connected, followed by hotels. There were 14,000 iPass access sessions at London's Heathrow airport in the first half of the year, which equates to almost 80 users a day.

Given that Heathrow serves an estimated 185,000 passengers on an average day, it appears that Wi-Fi hotspots are still a niche service. But iPass's figures don't include people who logged on through other means, such as a subscription to a single operator or by paying a one-off charge.

Wi-Fi hot spots starting springing up across the UK in 2002, once the Government relaxed restrictions on the radio spectrum.

Many companies started launching hot spots, including BT and T-Mobile, but they refused to allow customers of rival operators to use their own wireless networks. Some roaming deals are now in place, but many companies find it's easier and cheaper to sign up with a network aggregator rather than maintain accounts with multiple operators.

The downside is that the aggregators can also struggle to sign roaming deals. iPass itself had to fight a long battle before it got BT onboard.

Greene said that iPass now covers 70 percent of the UK's commercial hot spots, but just under 50 percent of all hot spots worldwide.

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