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IPass and Cometa Cozy Up

Enterprise remote access specialist iPass Inc. has announced an entirely expected deal with U.S. hotspot newcomer Cometa Networks Inc. (see Cometa Hooks Up With iPass).

The deal, identified months ago by Unstrung as a dead certainty (see Hot Spots: Part Deux), will see access aggregator iPass offer its customers secure connectivity to their intranets via the 25,000 public access hotspots Cometa plans to make available in the U.S., starting late this year. iPass provides software-enabled remote access through the wired and wireless networks of multiple partners in 150 countries worldwide.

The deal makes sense for both parties. iPass gets to offer its customers more ways to remotely access their intranets, while Cometa would get traffic on its network and revenues, dependent on how much its access points are used by iPass customers.

It's early days in the relationship, however, as the small print on the press release shows: "The agreement in question provides for iPass and Cometa to agree upon pricing and certain other aspects of the relationship in the future. If iPass and Cometa are unable to agree to these additional terms, either party will be able to terminate the agreement."

But this is a formality, believes Monica Paolini, a San Francisco-based consultant with Analysys, who says the early announcement of this relationship will strengthen Cometa's hand when negotiating prime locations for its hotspots. In addition, it will be a boost for the whole hotspot sector, as it will encourage further uptake by business users. Widespread access via an extensive network of public access points is the crucial element for the success of 802.11 hotspots, adds Paolini, and "Cometa will play an important role in establishing an 802.11 footprint in the U.S." This is an important first deal for Cometa, she adds, "and it is important that [the startup] signs several such deals."

But it's good news for both parties, she stresses. It will expand the hotspot footprint that iPass can offer, while Cometa can ensure from the beginning that its network is engineered to work with the iPass access platform, notes Paolini.

This point is backed up by iPass's VP of marketing, Jon Russo, who is almost unable to contain his excitement about being first to have a deal with Cometa. "We will work with Cometa as it builds out its hotspots to ensure interoperability with our software," he says, referring to the nattily-named "generic interface specification" (see IPass Blocks 'Rogue' WLANs).

Russo is also upbeat about the "fit" of the two companies. "We have a foothold in Cometa's target market of enterprise users, which is why it has chosen us for the partnership," he says of the non-exclusive relationship. However, the fact that Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) is an investor in Cometa and iPass will have helped bring the two together (see Rainbow Unveiled and Intel & iPass Connect).

The iPass man is also confident of the boost it can give its new partner. "We can help Cometa towards its target of 11 million users," adds Russo. That's quite a target; how much can iPass help? At this point, unfortunately, Russo is constrained by iPass's impending initial public offering (see iPass Files for IPO), so he has to limit himself to saying that iPass has hundreds of thousands of "unique users" worldwide, while iPass software is "deployed in millions of devices."

As Unstrung went to "press," Cometa had not returned our calls, so we'll have to wait to find out whether this deal is the first of many, what's behind the 11 million target, and whether the hotspot rollout is still on track to begin before the end of 2003.

— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung

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