iPass introduces SmartConnect, adds Time Warner as partner

Thanks to its own patents, iPass is touting a new service designed to give consumers more protection when they're hopping on public hotspots -- and it's adding more hotspots to its Wi-Fi network with the addition of Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) as a partner.

Patricia Hume

Hume

During the company's third-quarter conference call with investment analysts last week, iPass Chief Commercial Officer Patricia Hume said that in addition to its deals with Devicescape and Fon, iPass added Time Warner Cable as a partner. She said the partnership with Time Warner will add "tens of thousands" of hotspots in the United States in important venues. iPass, a worldwide Wi-Fi network aggregator, has inked deals with the likes of big brands like Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), HP and Huawei.

An iPass spokeswoman confirmed that the partnership with Time Warner is as a "network supplier" of hotspots to the iPass global Wi-Fi footprint. Through the deal, iPass gains access to more than 100,000 Time Warner hotspots.

It's all part of iPass' three-pronged strategy, which includes offering "Unlimited" service plans, being "Everywhere" and being "Invisible." The company launched iPass Unlimited on April 21 from a monthly starting price of $25 per user for unlimited access to millions of hotspots worldwide and access to Gogo Wireless. As for "everywhere," the Time Warner deal is part of that -- increasing the number of hotspots covered by the iPass system. The new product called SmartConnect speaks to the "invisible" tier, where it wants to connect customers invisibly and securely.

President and CEO Gary Griffiths arrived in his position about eight months ago after the company concluded a strategic alternatives reviews process. The board decided it wasn't the right time to sell the company and Griffith, a board member, was named CEO, replacing Evan Kaplan in March. Hume arrived at the same time, and they've been downsizing and hiring to create their own team ever since.

Gary Griffiths

Griffiths

When they arrived, iPass had about 18 million hotspots worldwide across 20 different countries and territories; Griffiths promised to double the footprint by the end of this year. In fact, in the third quarter, the company signed deals with Devicescape and Fon, and with the addition of them plus organic growth of existing partners, it will end the year with about 50 million hotspots.

Hume told FierceWirelessTech that prior to cuts in staff, Griffiths had nine direct reports; he now has four, and "the four were not part of the nine." Bringing in new blood to a 19-year-old company is important if the company wants to act like a startup and be as nimble as it needs to be, according to Hume. 

iPass holds 39 patents filed in eight countries with another 19 patents pending. Some of the patents were ahead of their time and sat on the shelf, so to speak, for a long time. However, now the company is putting them to use.

The company considers SmartConnect a game changer. iPass SmartConnect is a platform that provides secure Wi-Fi connections through automatic VPN tunneling. While it can't completely eliminate the risks of public Wi-Fi, it can minimize them, according to Keith Waldorf, iPass' VP of engineering.

"Hotspot 2.0 is something we are aggressively pursuing with our partners," Waldorf told FierceWirelessTech. "We do think it simplifies a lot of things." However, as it takes time to deploy the newer technology, it's only in a small percent of the network footprint today. With the SmartConnect platform, "we do have the ability to understand if a network is Hotspot 2.0 or if it's the older technology and it still plays an important role," he said.

iPass SmartConnect, through its analytics engine, will classify the relative performance and reliability of hotspots across the worldwide Wi-Fi networks. Those that meet its criteria will be added to the list for potential inclusion in the network, while those failing to meet its standards will be blacklisted to ensure customers do not have a bad experience, Griffiths explained in the conference call.

Asked during the conference call if he's concerned that iPass doesn't actually own any networks that its customers depend on, Griffiths said he is not, adding that it's in an enviable position by not owning infrastructure. Uber may be the world's largest taxi company, but it doesn't own a single cab. Airbnb could be the largest hotel chain in the world, but it doesn't own rooms. "We're the largest Wi-Fi network in the world and we don't own a single hotspot, so I think we're in pretty damn good company," he said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcipt. 

For more:
- see this Seeking Alpha transcript (sub. req.)
- see this press release

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