Global Internet access aggregator iPass on Monday finally introduced a software client for Research In Motion BlackBerry handsets, giving users of the popular business devices a way to hop on faster networks and avoid expensive cellular roaming charges.
Subscribers to iPass can get access to almost 140,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in 83 countries for a set monthly charge. The company already offered clients for Symbian S60, Microsoft Windows Mobile, and Apple iPhone and iPod Touch devices, as well as the major versions of the Windows and Mac OS X platforms for laptops.
BlackBerry was an obvious target for iPass, which has ended a brief venture into consumer services and is now focused fully on enterprise connectivity. Part of the reason iPass hadn't yet supplied software for BlackBerries was that RIM's platform was relatively late to the Wi-Fi game, according to Steven Wastie, senior vice president of marketing and strategy at iPass.
Smartphones as a whole are a strong growth area for iPass. The number of people using iPass Wi-Fi on handhelds jumped 200 percent between the first and second quarters of this year, according to the company. An important use case for the services is international business travel, which can turn a reasonable monthly 3G data plan into an expensive and unpredictable odyssey through international roaming agreements, Wastie said.
"People are getting sticker shock on some of these 3G roaming fees," Wastie said. The push e-mail that is the BlackBerry's claim to fame can make the problem worse because users may rack up high charges while automatically receiving e-mail without even knowing it. With iPass, employees who want to rein in their mobile data costs can retrieve their e-mail over Wi-Fi networks in hotels, conference centers, airports and other locations for what they're already paying for the iPass service, he said.
Despite the opportunity to cut some enterprises' overseas connection costs, iPass faces a growing challenge as fast wide-area wireless technologies become increasingly available, said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. Roaming charges may be high, but competition and regulation, such as recent moves by the European Union, will drive them down, Gold believes. A law that went into effect in July forced mobile operators in E.U. countries to slash their roaming charges for voice calls, text messages and data.
The client software will work with all current and future BlackBerries equipped with Wi-Fi, including the 8820, BlackBerry Bold, Pearl 8120, Pearl Flip 8220, and Curve 8900, 8320 and 8350i. Subscribers can download it for free from iPass, and enterprises can also manage the software through the BlackBerry Enterprise Server to control which of their employees can get the client and how they can use it, iPass said.