MCI adds Wi-Fi to its remote access

LONDON (12/19/2003) - Corporate remote access services are jumping on the Wi-Fi bandwagon in a big way. MCI has extended its Remote Access product to include international Wi-Fi hotspots, and the ability to use PDAs. However, the rival iPass service, already has greater Wi-Fi access, and just added another 3,900 T-Mobile hotspots in the U.S.

MCI's product includes VPN security and automatic features to determine what access is available and make the best use of it, connecting by local dial-up numbers, or broadband if available. MCI's own 600 Wi-Fi hotspots in the U.S. were already available to users of the product, but a deal with Boingo Wireless Inc. gives them access to 2000 more hotspots round the world, including several Caffe Nero outlets in London.

Ipass, meanwhile, is ahead of the game with 3,000 hotspots round the world, thanks to deals with providers including the Wi-Fi giant Swisscom AG (which has hotspots in Moat House and Holiday Inn hotels), and Surf and Sip which -- somewhat ironically -- means it is already in those Caffe Nero outlets where MCI just arrived.

The deal with T-Mobile U.S. gives iPass another 3,900 there, more hotspots there than MCI's global total. An MCI spokesperson said that MCI's service is better than competitors ("MCI has been recognized by the leaders of industry for its security features"), a claim that iPass rebutted vigorously in its case ("we've been rigorously tested for security").

These deals are both prompted by the fact that most paid-for public access Wi-Fi is not a leisure activity. Most users are on business, with T-Mobile's own research finding 88 percent of hotspots users are executives doing email. The deals are intended to extend this use to even more business users, by making it easier to pay for hotspot use up front through your remote access contract, and allowing in customers whose remote access clients would not previously have allowed them to use the hotspots.

MCI has also extended its product to support the use of Wi-Fi-enabled PDAs. MCI is the name Worldcom Inc. goes by, since it emerged from bankruptcy.

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