Vodafone is launching a multi-network secure remote access service, which it hopes will trump rivals like iPass, because it includes the mobile operator's popular 3G data service.
Vodafone Secure Remote Access, which Vodafone sees as another step into enterprise accounts, is based on a product from service provider Fiberlink. It manages and secures connections over 3G, fixed dial-up, ISDN, public and private Wi-Fi, hotel broadband and home broadband, all behind a single user interface. Intended for remote workers in medium and large-sized organization, it should make remote access costs more visible and predictable, said Vodafone.
The service will enforce company security policies, and allow users to work flexibly. The application will continue to monitor laptops' compliance to security policies even when they are not connected.
"iPass has been the leader in multi-bearer remote access, but is lacking in mobile data," said Vodafone's Alec Howard. "We feel this is our ground. People may say they want Wi-Fi and dial-up, but 90 percent of the access is over 3G." Because Wi-Fi hasn't lived up to its promise, and 3G is ubiquitous, most iPass users end up paying a second bill for 3G access, where Vodafone is the market leader, he said.
Vodafone has already been cutting mobile data fees in a bid to persuade Wi-Fi users across, and last week announced a new £25 (US$47) per month deal, with roaming abroad costing £8.50 for a 24 hour period. The company also introduced an £8.50 fee for a day's 3G data within the UK, and a £95 monthly international fee for big travelers.
While bundling 3G with other access methods may be popular, the service is likely to raise suspicions that Vodafone may use it to boost mobile minutes even when office Wi-Fi would be cheaper. "Our customers are large corporates," said David Hughes, head of enterprise mobility solutions at Vodafone. "We can't pull the wool over their eyes -- people would see through it straight away."
Vodafone isn't yet showing the kind of openness that users will need to make comparisons, however. When asked, Hughes shut up like a clam, arguing that giving the press any information at all, even a ballpark figure for the service pricing, would cause confusion, because costs would vary depending on different customers' needs.
He also refused to give any estimates of savings that users could make if they moved from a rival provider such as iPass. In fact the only figures he would talk about were the money Vodafone expects to pocket -- Hughes hopes to build the service to £100 million in revenue in three to five years.
The new service is part of Vodafone's bid to become an enterprise service provider, which has seen it hiring consultants away from IBM and others, and has so far seen it taking on tasks such as installing Blackberry servers -- but the company is not yet a big league consultant, said Hughes: "I don't think IBM and Accenture will be quaking in their boots," he said. "It's about referencability, and we've got a journey to go there."