iPass offers roaming Internet for PDAs

In the spirit of “anytime, anywhere” Internet access, Redwood Shores, Calif.-based iPass Inc. recently launched a version of its iPassConnect service for both Palm OS and Microsoft Windows CE Pocket PC devices.

The four-year old company specializes in roaming Internet accounts that allow businesspeople on the move to log into local ISPs in approximately 150 countries with one user identification and password. The iPassConnect service attempts to eliminate the woes of signing up for a new ISP account in every country or city a traveller visits. In the past, the service was targeted at laptop computers, but with the launch of iPassConnect PDA, it expands to include Palm and Pocket PC devices.

“The goal here is to make a very intuitive and very similar experience for our users who are familiar with iPassConnect for Windows for the laptop,” said Joan Fazio, director of product management at iPass in Vancouver.

Just as in the version for Windows-based laptops, users of the iPassConnect PDA service go through a series of pull-down menus to tell the system where they are in the world. They select a city and a point of presence (POP) within the city, and then they connect to the POP and enter a user ID and password. Once the connection is established, the user can connect to the corporate network back home via the Internet using VPN client software engineered for PDAs by Certicom Corp. of Hayward, Calif. The service has more than 10,000 POPs worldwide, she said.

Common applications for the iPassConnect service include access to e-mail and to sales automation programs, Fazio said, although applications available are only limited by what the user’s company has implemented. The iPassConnect service does not offer applications, but a means to access them. The service also simplifies accounting because when it comes time to pay for the service, it’s all on one bill rather than on bills from multiple ISPs scattered around the globe, she said.

The iPassConnect service’s dialer program resides on the PDA, but there is a big difference in the amount of memory needed to store it, depending on whether the PDA is Palm-based or Windows CE-based. On Palm devices, the dialer requires 60K of memory, while on Windows CE devices, it requires 360K of memory. The reason for the greater requirements on the Pocket PC is that the graphical user interface (GUI) for Windows CE is more elaborate than the Palm interface and is very similar to actually using the Windows laptop GUI, Fazio said.

According to Sheryl Kingstone, program manager, CRM strategies, at The Yankee Group in Boston, services that offer access to corporate data at any time and from anywhere, like the iPassConnect service, are popular right now, although adoption of the technology is still in the early stages. Potential users are wary of the technology because there are still security concerns. They are also unsure of how to enable applications to allow mobile employees to access corporate data.

The interfaces are still relatively poor and the connection speed is still very low, she said. Also complicating things is the multitude of different standards and protocols being used on the market.

Mobile connectivity is “empowering the disconnected work force; it’s empowering companies so that they can really establish that one-voice philosophy even in a disconnected environment,” Kingstone said. “And it’s also delivering a better way to interact in an extended enterprise.”

The cost to use the iPassConnect PDA varies from country to country, but averages out to be about US$2.40 per hour of dial-up connection. For more information on iPass, visit www.ipass.com.