Four years ago, Anurag Lal, VP of business development with iPass, was one of the pioneers in the first Wi-Fi initiative, which was termed “global broadband roaming.” At the time there were a handful of disparate networks spread across the globe, though no single network was large enough to provide global coverage. Lal and iPass led the way in convincing companies to open their networks and facilitate the ability for global roaming in a secure and seamless environment. Mobile Enterprise caught up with Lal to discuss the changes in the industry since that time, as well as what lies ahead.
Mobile Enterprise: How have things changed since you introduced the first global Wi-Fi roaming agreement in 2000?
Anurag Lal: When we went to market we were fortunate. iPass was a small company, compared to where we are [today], and we knew that in order for us to make an impression in the industry about roaming, we needed a partner that had [the resources to attract] industry attention. So we took the concept, packaged it and actually shipped it to a bunch of leading technology vendors. As our good luck had it, Cisco actually picked up on the vision, had a similar vision and agreed to go to market with us jointly on the global roaming broadband aspect.
So Cisco was the partner that we announced this capability with at Comdex 2000. Obviously, people were new to this environment, and Wi-Fi roaming/broadband roaming was not a concept that everyone understood or felt comfortable about.
ME: How does the industry today contrast with 2000?
AL: We have the largest Wi-Fi capability with the help of companies such as T-Mobile, Swisscomm, BCCW, Synctell NTT Comm., who are all roaming and distribution partners. For a company like iPass, we believe that is a phenomenal achievement, because we were able to go out and instill the roaming thought process within these large companies and get them to play with us, despite the fact that for quite some time they didn’t consider us a peer.
A lot of other things have happened since the early days. The providers’ thought processes have evolved considerably, and they have now recognized the value of opening up their networks, because they believe companies such as iPass add value, and they want to leverage that value to go to market. Though there are a couple of pockets globally that are still closed, I think the environment is a lot more open today because of all the work that’s been done by various organizations, including iPass. There is an acceptance of open networks, though every now and then I do hear statements like, “Hey, I own the air within a hotel, and nobody else owns it, and I won’t let anyone else in.” Clearly there is a level of maturity that’s come through an evolutionary process, and also through an understanding of the importance of roaming to the overall scheme of things in Wi-Fi.
ME: What do you see shaping up in the industry over the next year?
AL: I believe the industry is phenomenally positioned in regard to Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies. I think over the next couple of years we will see Wi-Fi go from a hotspot-based technology to a more metro-based environment. We are going to see a lot more metro deployments.•