October 01, 2003
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Europe's largest public access Wi-Fi network. Transparent to VPN and encrypted online sessions, once login has been completed.
Difficult to track down locations of hotspots.
It will take a major deal with a cellular carrier, such as Vodafone, to push The Cloud into the public limelight.
The Cloud, a division of Inspired Broadcast Networks, is something of a low profile public Wi-Fi network, preferring to stay in the background as a wholesale wireless network operator.
When the service was launched earlier this year, the company offered access through two options, pay-as-you-use sessions from a variety of outlets, or through third parties, such as BT OpenZone, whose users can now roam seamlessly onto The Cloud's network.
The Cloud had 1,000 hotspots operational in June of this year and, as of September, had more than 1,800 online. The company hopes to have 3,000 sites operational by the end of the year.
This phenomenal expansion is possible because of the company's so-called itboxes located in pubs, clubs, railway stations and motorway service stations around the U.K.
You probably don't know them as itboxes, but as coin-operating gaming machines that have broadband connections across BT's wholesale ADSL network, linking into The Cloud's private network.
The itboxes use the ADSL connection to download software and data overnight, allowing the Wi-Fi hotspots to piggy-back their online sessions across the same connection during the day and evening.
All sites are pay to use, either though a wireless ISP or through pay-as-you-go vouchers. Some coffee shops make no charge, but at the same time, also support roaming access to pay networks.
Most of the users are BT OpenZone roamers, but The Cloud is in discussions with at least one major cellular network operator to allow its users to access The Cloud's Wi-Fi network as part of a bundle of business services.
This trend is quite commonplace in the U.S., where, for example, T-Mobile offers its digital cellular subscribers free access to its Wi-Fi network, to prevent them from signing with competing networks.
This flexibility means that The Cloud has engineered its network to be highly flexible, and supports all available tunnelling, SSL and VPN protocols, once a user has logged on to the network.
The downside of this flexibility is that The Cloud had minimal levels of customer support. The Cloud assures us that this is no longer the case and that customer support has now improved significantly.
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