RealTime IT News

QPass Ready to Serve Wi-Fi

The big mobile carriers are still having trouble making a commitment to Wi-Fi, and that is creating uncertainty at all levels in the mobile and Wi-Fi markets. Consider the case of QPass Inc. of Seattle, Wash.

QPass supplies "activity management business system software" to mobile carriers. It stands ready to serve the Wi-Fi industry, it has a Wi-Fi-specific product and a couple of high-profile reference customers -- but it's not sure when or if the Wi-Fi market will be there.

The company's founder, president and CEO is Chase Franklin, a Microsoft veteran who helped develop the technologies that became .NET Passport. QPass, formed in 1997, sells business systems to help mobile carriers manage value added services and service providers, something their existing business systems could not easily do.

The architects of QPass's current strategy and market position brought their initial ideas from Microsoft, specifically from those projects that Franklin and QPass vice president of solutions architecture Michael Cockrill were working on.

"The company was founded on a recognition of the need of content owners to monetize and commoditize their assets," says vice president of products Tom Trinneer. "That core intellectual property is with us today, though it's deployed in a different fashion now."

The company's flagship Prosperity Series products typically help carriers manage tens or even hundreds of third-party value-added service providers offering content and other kinds of services. The software performs all business functions, from authentication to customer care to reporting to billing reconciliation.

"These are all things that have to happen in real time," notes Trinneer. "Those charges must occur at the time of purchase. There is a whole new complexity [for carriers] around these third-party service providers."

Carriers might be able to add the needed functionality by customizing legacy systems that manage their core business of providing dial tone to millions of subscribers. "But our product is a more cost-effective way of getting to market with [value added services] quickly," Trinneer says.

Once the QPass software has been integrated with legacy systems -- a two or three month integration effort, he says -- adding each new service after that is very easy to do.

The company has recently had a couple of successes with Wi-Fi operators -- AT&T Wireless and its fledgling hotspot operation called GoPort, starting with the Denver Airport, and Toshiba's Computer Systems Group, which earlier this year launched a hotspot aggregation venture.

QPass developed a Wi-Fi module for Prosperity that extends the product's functionality to not only manage multiple third-party value-added services providers but also multiple hotspot venue owners.

When AT&T Wireless, an existing customer, won the bidding to provide hotspots in the Denver Airport, it approached QPass, which was already providing the business systems for AT&T's mMode mobile data services. It asked if QPass could support the new venture.

"We added the Wi-Fi capability within a month," says Trinneer. It was only slightly more complex than adding a new value-added service.

Toshiba, a pure-play Wi-Fi operator, came later, although it was also through an existing customer, outsourcer Accenture. In the case of AT&T, the QPass product is integrated with a legacy business system from Convergys. It functions as an overlay. With Toshiba, QPass is the business system.

So the company is ready to rock 'n' roll with Wi-Fi, but as Trinneer says, "Quite frankly, we're trying to figure out if this is a new line of business for us, or just a series of deals."

Time, presumably, will tell. Meanwhile, QPass will go after mostly big, deep-pocketed operators, both mobile and pure-play Wi-Fi, though with the emphasis on the former, and hope the market comes to a head soon.

"We'll opportunistically apply sales and business development resources to generating additional deals," Trinneer says. "Suffice to say that every one of our current customers in mobile is looking at how to do Wi-Fi and we're talking to everyone on that front."

"I'd say we're cautiously optimistic that the two deals [AT&T and Toshiba] are indicative of a trend. But we'll probably sell the module more to mobile carriers than pure-play Wi-Fi folks."

Where does the QPass product fit into the spectrum of business solutions out there for Wi-Fi operators?