If you use the ZONE Finder at the Web site for the Wi-Fi Alliance — that industry group’s listing of wireless hotspots that pledge to use only Wi-Fi Certified equipment — you’ll soon find some changes and new features. That’s because the Alliance is turning to popular hotspot directory provider JiWire to power the Finder in the future.
Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance, told Wi-Fi Planet, “We observed that JiWire has done an excellent job with its site location engine… we discussed this with them for some time and are consummating with their handling the back-office capabilities.”
JiWire claims 75,000 venue listings from 100 countries in its database as of last week. David Blumenfeld, JiWire’s vice president of marketing, says the company “will create a subset of our database with the ZONES.” The Alliance’s ZONE Finder will use the same JiWire structure and formats.
Likewise, ZONE hotspots will be labeled as such in the JiWire directory, much like venues are with other JiWire partners such as Boingo Wireless.
The Alliance is far from the first to license the use of JiWire’s directory — doing so is actually JiWire’s bread and butter, having made partnerships to provide hotspot directory services with the likes of CNET, Wired, Intel, USA Today, and more.
Hanzlik says there are currently 14,000 hotspots registered in the Wi-Fi ZONE database, with a relatively even balance between U.S. and non-U.S. venues.
To become part of the ZONE listing, hotspot providers register with the Alliance using an online form that asks them to designate what Wi-Fi Certified access point equipment the venue is using. The program is run on the honor system, according to Hanzlik, though it gives the Alliance the option of following up if reports come in about problems. Most such complaints have little to do with the hotspot venue’s equipment, however, and more to do with individual users trying to access things like a corporate network via a virtual private network (VPN) connection.
“We’ve never had to remove anyone from the program,” says Hanzlik.
Eventually, Blumenfeld says, hotspot providers will be able to register ZONES directly to JiWire.
JiWire also provides extras in its directory, such as maps and directions to hotspot locations — those will become available on the ZONE Finder database as well. The Alliance was previously providing access to the database on WAP-enabled cell phones; JiWire’s directory also works on WAP phones, as well as on Palm OS handhelds, on other handhelds using an AvantGo channel, on Macs as a MacOS X Dashboard Widget, and in the downloadable Windows software called JiWire SpotLock. (And, of course, on the Web.)
With SpotLock, JiWire has moved from just being a directory to providing security for hotspot users. The software offers a VPN connection to JiWire servers (for $5 per month or $50 per year), securing the signal from end user to access point, where it’s most vulnerable to snoops. The company has also released SpotLock VPN in a browser toolbar, currently available only for the Firefox browser in Windows.
“We launched the toolbar to put Wi-Fi tools and service in the context of how people use the Internet,” says Blumenfeld. “Most people see that as the browser…. [it] is more intuitive for the user.” This way, users with their own connection manager software — a feature in the SpotLock software utility — can take advantage of just the security.
SpotLock’s competition for the hosted VPN service includes PublicVPN.com, HotspotVPN.com, and WiTopia.net’s personalVPN. All have fees similar to SpotLock, but that isn’t the case with the stealth release of Google Secure Access. The software does hosted VPN connection for free through Google’s servers, but doesn’t provide the same level of security as the others. Google is using the weaker PPTP protocol, not SSL or IPsec, for tunneling encryption
Will the Wi-Fi Alliance take advantage of JiWire’s SpotLock security itself? “One thing that’s exciting about the arrangement, it’s a true partnership,” says Hanzlik. While he wouldn’t commit specifically, he said JiWire’s approach to “things like products is particularly of interest to us in the future.”