Allstream provides global roaming for enterprise users

Allstream Corp. announced a new service for enterprise dialup customers on Thursday that will give them access to a global Wi-Fi network by November.

The company is using MobileOffice software – a remote access and mobile office solution from GRIC Communications Inc. in Milpitas, Calif. – and GRIC’s global Wi-Fi services to enable its clients to access their networks while away from the office. Allstream will bundle global roaming into its dialup service, offering all corporate dialup users the option to use MobileOffice, which will be billed per usage.

GRIC is a network aggregator that has 35,000 wired and wireless access points in about 150 countries worldwide, said Richard Rossi, spokesperson for GRIC. This means GRIC aggregates Wi-Fi service into a single virtual network and uses its MobileOffice software to provide authentication and billing services. It is targeted at medium- to large-sized enterprises and the company has partnerships with about 300 service providers around the world.

However, GRIC isn’t the only company that provides global Wi-Fi services. iPass Inc. in Redwood Shores, Calif., for instance, has about 20,000 points of presence (POPs) including a broadband global access network with 2,500 Wi-Fi hotspots and about 1,000 Ethernet connections in outlets such as airports and restaurants.

Bell Canada Ltd. resells iPass to clients and so does iRoam Services Inc., an independent Wi-Fi provider based in Concord, Ont. iPass has similar software to GRIC – its biggest rival.

However, Allstream decided to use GRIC because its MobileOffice integrated easily into multiple types of access – dialup, Wi-Fi, digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable, said Eric Fletcher, vice-president, product management of connectivity services at Allstream in Toronto. He added that MobileOffice also integrates well into Allstream’s Internet Virtual Private Network (VPN) Service, and is easy to manage with the company’s customer base.

Roadpost Inc., in Mississauga, Ont. also signed a deal with GRIC in September to provide global Wi-Fi services.

However, Richard Earle, president and CEO of iRoam, isn’t worried about Allstream’s foray into the global enterprise Wi-Fi market.

“I think all it’s doing is proving the point that this sort of broker model is a good model [for Wi-Fi] and it’s gaining marketshare overall,” he said.

As for Fletcher, he said it’s impossible to tell which company is going to dominate the enterprise Wi-Fi market. “The Wi-Fi marketplace is embryonic at this point,” he said.

Regardless of how Wi-Fi access is achieved, it is something that business travellers require into today’s marketplace, according to one analyst.

“Having remote access for enterprise customers is obviously something that is becoming increasing important, not only for sales people who have to be on the road and need access to corporate e-mail and intranets, but for an increasing number of folks who find themselves taking work home at night,” said Mark Quigley, analyst at the Yankee Group Canada in Ottawa.

Quigley also noted that while useful for remote workers, the global network’s dialup components limit file sizes and the amount of work some employees can do. He added that despite this, having a connection is better than having no connection at all.

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