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A taste of all-you-can-eat access

Mobility services are intended to make it easier for road warriors to stay connected, but columnist Jonathan B. Spira is living proof that getting connected isn't always easy.

As I have done several times in the past, I am writing this column in a room at a favorite hotel in Munich. This trip, I am equipped with the iPass service.

 IPass is a company that provides managed enterprise mobility services. The iPass Corporate Access service provides users with a virtual network with a global footprint, simplifying high-speed, secure access to corporate networks.

IPass itself has no network, but the iPass Global Broadband Roaming network is, according to the company, the largest virtual network in the world, spanning more than 50 countries with nearly 20,000 hotspots in addition to more than 1,700 cabled venues in 43 countries around the globe. Users of the network have secure access to corporate networks and information.

Typical iPass service locations include airports (more than 160), hotels and conference centers. Users access iPass via the iPassConnect client software, which provides information on locations and types of services available.

What this means for the mobile knowledge worker, not to mention for CIOs and CFOs, is that companies can purchase all-you-can-eat access for their road warriors without having to negotiate separate agreements with multiple providers. More importantly, given the extensive testing iPass does on its partner networks, such as for interoperability with virtual private networks and personal firewalls, managers have one less thing to worry about in the field.

I started my trip using iPass last Wednesday from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport near my American Airlines departure gate. Within seconds, I was connected to the Net, and had access to our corporate network.

My Lotus Notes client was busy replicating in the background, and a few late-working colleagues were sending me instant messages with IBM Lotus Instant Messaging (née Sametime). Connectivity even continued for a few moments as I boarded the aircraft, but the signal in the 777 cabin was, admittedly, a bit weak. Given my late departure (23:55 local time), I packed away the computer and prepared for more time-appropriate activities.

Landing late Thursday morning at London Heathrow, I couldn't wait to get to the Diners Club/Servisair lounge (in Terminal 1), which was also listed on iPass (albeit for cabled connectivity). I only had a few minutes before my connecting flight to Munich so I didn't plan to do anything more elaborate than connect to the network and replicate.

Unfortunately, iPass would not connect and I didn't have time to get involved in extensive troubleshooting. Besides, I would be in my hotel room in Munich in a few short hours, and iPass' site location details indicated that the entire hotel was accessible via wireless LAN.

After all, their system was working well enough, I reasoned, to accept my payment. I was sadly mistaken.

 The devil, it is said, is in the details, and at the Munich hotel there was no WLAN signal in the rooms, plus the cabled connection would not connect via the iPass client.

Fortunately, the hotel's public areas, including its very comfortable lobby bar, were Wi-Fi enabled. The iPass dialer connected within 30 seconds, and once again, connectivity was mine. (I even began placing phone calls using Skype's VoIP service.)

Until somewhere around 23:00 Saturday night, that is. After enjoying a nice dinner, I returned to what had become my usual position (in German, Stammplatz) in the lobby bar. Multiple attempts to connect brought only mysterious error messages "Username or password is incorrect. (100)" and "Disconnected Generic System Error (401)". (Regular readers may recall that in June 2003 I related the story of the crashed hard disk that brought this same hotel's WLAN down.)

Wondering if the problem might be related to iPass or the hotel's provider, Swisscom eurospot, I opted to purchase 30 minutes of time directly from Swisscom. After all, its system was working well enough, I reasoned, to accept my payment.

I was sadly mistaken. My actions were rewarded with a new error message: "Not allowed to connect from this area." Never mind that I was in the only area (i.e., a public area) where Wi-Fi was supported (and had been working several hours earlier).

While iPass was in the clear, Swisscom eurospot was not.

This column originally appeared on our sister site

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