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When in Roam, Follow the Airpath

Dial-up users can use any phone line, anywhere to get Internet access. When will wireless hotspot users be able to use any hotspot, anywhere?

Airpath Wireless hopes it's moving the industry in that direction by opening up membership to the Airpath Member Network to any and all hotspot owners. All that's required is the provider offers public wireless access using a RADIUS client server or gateway. They can then add support to their box that will make it point to Airpath.

"Radius servers have a setting for roaming, we give them an IP and then their RADIUS server talks to our roaming system," says Todd Myers, CEO of Airpath Wireless. Hotspot hardware products from companies like those from Colubris, Nomadix, Bluesocket, and IP3 Networks are all supported. The company offers Airpath-powered "Instant Hot Spots" products based on Colubris, Nomadix, and Cisco hardware.

Airpath officials say anyone paying a flat fee for wireless hotspot access doesn't want to be stuck with extra roaming charges for using a hotspot that's not part of their usual network. They equate the extra with cell phone roaming charges when out of an area or fees charged when you're not using your own bank's automatic teller.

"If you go outside your network, it's always X dollars on top of your subscription rate," says Myers. Making the Airpath network and transparently open to all subscribers makes it easier for end-user, but, Myers says, "the transaction is between us and the network provider."

It's the way they work with network providers that differentiates Airpath from hotspot access providers like iPass and GRIC Communications.

"Our customers are ISPs, not enterprise," says Myers. "We're not an end-user or subscriber oriented company. We sell backend services. Our roaming system supports accounts in existence that are subscriber based; we support different types of subscriptions such as hourly, daily, monthly."

Airpath's network already works for customers of some wireless hotspot aggregators, such as Boingo.

Airpath currently has about 50 active hotspots in the United States. Myers says that current negotiations with various companies could increase that footprint to 300 over the next two months.

Tim Barrett, president of Airpath, says this expansion and opening of the Airpath network is just a drop in the bucket: "The real network hasn't been built yet. There's a lot of public locations that aren't enabled yet."

Eric Griffith is the managing editor of 802.11 Planet.

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