FatPort wins big support from iPass

Connecting western Canadian mobile workers to their applications back at the office is the goal of a California wireless access provider that’s looking for business north of the border.

IPass Inc., a firm from Redwood Shores, Calif., last month announced plans to join forces with Vancouver’s FatPort Corp. The deal would see FatPort’s wireless LAN “hot spots” in the left coast metropolis integrated with iPass’s own untethered network across the U.S.

Come October, by which time FatPort’s hot spots should be iPass-compliant, iPass users seeking wireless LANs will be able to visit FatPort’s locations in various Vancouver neighbourhoods as well as iPass’s locations south of the border to access applications such as e-mail.

FatPort offers wireless LAN connections throughout Vancouver, including such locals as Lamplighter’s in Gastown, Bean Around the World in Kitsilano Beach and Blenz in Yaletown. IPass keeps wireless nodes in U.S. airports, including Dallas Ft. Worth and Minneapolis.

Users need only the iPass client software (“iPassConnect”) and wireless network interface cards in their notebooks or handheld computers to gain secure wireless connections.

According to John Sidline, iPass’s spokesman, the company’s wireless access nodes are built for high-flying suits – people who need wireless-but-protected connections to corporate networks. When FatPort’s Vancouver hot spots join the iPass fold, they will be robust enough for the corporate crowd, he said, adding that ease-of-use is also a primary concern for the firm’s target user.

“It’s like flying first class… There are no wires to connect, you just open up your laptop and bang, you have a broadband connection.”

But according to one industry analyst wireless access providers like iPass could bang directly into network management apprehension with their mobile services.

“Security remains one of the top concerns of network and IT managers,” said Warren Chaisatien, analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto. “And I think they will remain major concerns for the foreseeable future.”

The fact is wireless connectivity has a bad reputation in the security department. Early Wi-Fi protective measures such as the wired equivalent privacy (WEP) standard proved to be less-than-perfect sentries, Chaisatien noted. What’s worse, security concerns are “exacerbated” by “rumours and scare mongers” invoking images of hackers and war drivers intercepting sensitive corporate info as it travels the airwaves.

In an age when network administrators are asked to provide solid and secure connections, images like that certainly don’t help. For the average networking guru, wireless remote access can appear more of a bane than a boon.

Chaisatien said it’s incumbent upon service providers to address these concerns – real or not – with the latest security measures if they’re to convince network managers that remote wireless access to HQ is a safe bet.

Sidline said iPass does just that. For one thing, users can rely on their trusted virtual private network (VPN) software while connecting to iPass’s service. Thus information on the wing remains hidden from prying eyes.