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Report raps Wi-Fi providers for 'location inflation'

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Wi-Fi hotspot aggregators' coverage claims have been taken to task after independent research has revealed that the way they count access locations and covered sites diverges widely.

In particular, remote-access provider GoRemote - formerly known as Gric - has come under fire from Wi-Fi Networking News, which conducted the survey, for listing multiple hotspots within a single venue as individual locations.

WFNN compared the hotspot databases maintained by GoRemote, its arch-rival iPass, and US-based aggregator Boingo. All three bring together Wi-Fi hotspots - and other connectivity options - to provide customers with a single log-on and billing scheme across multiple networks.

Each touts their ability to provide access at a large, diverse array of sites.

WFNN compared how each company records locations in three US cities: Seattle, New York and Houston.

In New York, Boingo lists 62 separate locations; iPass lists 258 access locations hosted at 247 physical sites; GoRemote "had 61 listings, but only 21 locations, with the Warwick Hotel accounting for 37 separate entries".

Seattle saw similar discrepancies: GoRemote lists 35 access locations in just seven physical sites. iPass' 149 venues yield 160 entries on its list, while Boingo's 26 sites are all unique locations.

iPass's figures reveal that in almost all cases only airport hotspots are listed as multiple locations. Other venues, whether they have one access point or one hundred, are listed only once in the company's database, WFNN found.

Across the US, the survey found Boingo listed 2665 locations with only one or two per cent of the total overlapping. iPass's total was 6829 locations, with an overlap rate of under three per cent. However, GoRemote's 1361 listed locations translated to 843 unique sites, WFNN claims.

"GRIC doesn't appear to be differentiating in its marketing between the necessary additional entries required for roaming across a venue, and the unique number of locations that a purchasing decision might be made on," the report concludes.

GoRemote did not respond to WFNN's request for clarification.

A separate demonstration given to The Register by iPass using location databases downloaded by the company's own remote access software and Gric's - as it was then - confirm WFNN's own findings.

As the Wi-Fi market matures, international aggregators like iPass and GoRemote will increasingly act as the interface between user and Wi-Fi network providers. Users seeking better roaming opportunities will turn to such companies - who primarily target big businesses - as a way of gaining Internet access at a multitude of locations without the need to maintain a separate access account for each of them.

What attracts customers to the aggregators is the size of their reach. The more locations aggregators can provide via that single account, the better. With no standard methodology in place, aggregators can count locations by whatever metric they choose: physical venues, installed access points, or a mixture of the two.

WFNN's research suggests it's time the Wi-Fi industry needs to develop, agree and implement upon an apples-to-apples approach to venue tallies. ®

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