Optical/IP Networks

GoAmerica to Offer First Combined WLAN/WAN Data Service

GoAmerica Inc. expects to offer wireless data service for enterprises, accessible over both WAN and LAN connections in the U.S., by the second half of this year.

The firm plans to offer corporate subscribers access to its wireless data service from public 802.11b wireless LAN hotspots. In doing so, GoAmerica is betting that it succeed where wireless ISPs (WISPs) like Metricom Corp. and MobileStar Network Corp. have failed. It’s planning a more ambitious service that brings together wireless LANs and WANs and offers business customers average speeds of around 2 Mbit/s at a range of up to 300 feet.

The firm has teamed up with Boingo Wireless Inc. to extend its WAN service to the local level. Boingo, a company started by EarthLink Inc. founder Sky Drayton, has developed software that enables subscribers to access around 90 percent of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE)’s 802.11b (WiFi) public access hotspots in the U.S. (excluding the VoiceStream/Mobilestar network).

GoAmerica's Go.Web service formats data from corporate intranets so it can be read by all the common wireless devices and can be routed, via its Hackensack, New Jersey-based operations center, over nationwide data networks (such as the Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) networks operated by AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless) to the user’s device.

GoAmerica's Go.Web system includes over-the-air encryption from the wireless device to the GoAmerica server, as well as SSL (secure sockets layer) and VPN (virtual private network) from the server to the enterprise. The firm also offers its OnPrem server for corporate customers, which allows them to encrypt and decrypt Go.Web data behind the company firewall.

GoAmerica plans to aggregate its existing network services and launch WiFi service in more than 1,500 U.S. locations. The company’s partner, Boingo, told Unstrung back in January that it offered access to around 750 hotspots in hotels, airports, and elsewhere. Boingo claims that its partners run close to 90 percent of the hotspots in the U.S., outside of the VoiceStream Wireless Corp. WLAN network.

Boingo's software allows users to log on to any one of their 750 public spots without having to deal with each individual WISP. The software includes a network "sniffer" and a location finder that “sniffs” the air for signals and establishes a connection.

Services like GoAmerica’s and the Sputnik Inc. network represent a second try at the WLAN cherry, after the notable failure of companies like MobileStar Network Corp. last year (see Sputnik to Put WLAN Networking Into Orbit?).

The emphasis on corporate travelers is natural – they are the only people likely to pay the $40 to $70 that GoAmerica will ask for the service if it follows the lead of other WISPs. Boingo’s Drayton told Unstrung in January that there are 36 million business travelers in the U.S., 26 million of whom travel with a laptop. However, it is unlikely that WLAN services will see anything like those kinds of numbers for early services.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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