iPhone users get unlimited WiFi for $5 a month, no kidding

Cogeco Data Services Inc. has launched a new One Zone plan that gives users of Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPod unlimited WiFi Internet access for $5.00 per month.

One Zone, formerly owned by Toronto Hydro Telecom, spans six square kilometres in downtown Toronto. The 802.11g wireless network is accessible from Front St. up to Bloor St., between Spadina Ave. and Jarvis St.

The plan launched June 19 to coincide with the release of Apple’s latest iPhone model, the 3GS.

iPhone and iPod users who visit the One Zone Web site with their devices are automatically redirected to a portal page where they purchase one month of Internet access. After making the purchase, users login through the same portal with a username and password.

There is no contract to sign and no limit on data use. Users can expect to receive download speeds of 7 mbps on average, but as a wireless network, speeds can be influenced by the surroundings, Cogeco pointed out.

The standard monthly fee for One Zone access is $30 a month. According to Cogeco Data Services president Ian Collins, the company can afford to provide the $5 per month service to iPhone and iPod users because they typically don’t use their devices for large data transfers.

“Our expectation is that users won’t be using it for downloading video and huge files … It’s just the nature of the device. It’s not likely they’ll be downloading gigabytes of information standing on the street,” he said.

The iPhone/iPod plan, which is the first new WiFi plan added to One Zone since the service was launched in 2007, was inspired by a customer request.

“This particular service actually came at the guidance of a customer who was looking for a certain type of service offering and called and asked us about it. We were able to put it together for him because it made a lot of sense for us to do that, so we do get a lot of our ideas from our customers,” said Collins.

Mark Tauschek, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Inc., expects the plan will attract a pretty decent uptake.

“I would say if you work in downtown Toronto or even live in downtown Toronto and you don’t travel outside out that area, it is a really good deal. If you’re got an unlimited data plan for $5, you can’t really beat that,” he said.

With no requirement to sign a long-term contract in order to get the $5-a-month service, there is little risk in using it, he pointed out. “If it doesn’t work very well or if it starts getting inundated by iPhone users, then you can always bow out and you don’t really lose much, you lose five bucks,” he said.

One Zone’s reputation is also “pretty decent” when it comes to network reliability, according to Tauschek. “I’ve read about a couple glitches, but I think that’s to be expected.”

“I’ve heard the network performance is pretty good and is actually underutilized,” Tauschek added.

iPhone users can save a considerable amount of money by using WiFi instead of paying monthly data fees to their cellular provider.

“For the odd person that has an unsubsidized iPhone, they may opt for the OneZone plan over a carrier data plan,” said Tauschek.

But Tauschek doubts the plan will have any significant impact on cellular service providers.

“In order to get a subsidized iPhone here in Canada you have to buy a data plan. However, you may see people that spend most of their time in the six-kilometre coverage area decrease their data plan from 1GB ($30) to 500MB ($25) and spend the leftover $5 on the OneZone plan,” he said.

Wi-Fi enabled iPod users could take advantage of the monthly service by using VoIP apps such as Truphone and Skype to turn their Touch into a VoIP phone, Tauschek pointed out.

Business users should create a virtual private network to their enterprise infrastructure for secure access to e-mail and enterprise resources, Tauschek suggested. “I wouldn’t recommend using it without some sort of secure connection because it is unencrypted … you need to add a layer of security, but virtually every enterprise has some sort of VPN that could be used,” he said.

Cogeco Data Services acquired Toronto Hydro Telecom in July 2008. As a result of the acquisition, Cogeco now owns and operates the largest WiFi network in North America.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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