What do you get when you cross the head of a growing, upstart ISP with the sheer gadget appeal of the iPhone? Free WiFi – at least, if you’re in South Australia (or one of a few other places).
This week, Internode – an SA stalwart that has rapidly expanded its footprint nationwide in recent years – announced it would allow iPhone users to log onto its network of 108 hotspots for free.
Turn on your iPhone within the radius of one of Internode’s hotspots, and you’ll be able to not only access the web, but access MobileMe fuctions like email, contacts and calendar; the built-in Google Maps client; and Apple widgets.
There’s no need to fire up Safari first; configure your iPhone once, and it will automatically switch from 3G to WiFi connectivity whenever it detects the Internode SSID – extending a lifeline to users who are pushing the boundaries of their regular subscription plan, or those who want to do some serious web browsing, music buying or Twittering while sipping a latte.
CEO Simon Hackett admits his decision to explicitly support the iPhone comes out of his own love for the device, which he has been using since it came out in the US. Asked why Internode had decided to explicitly support the iPhone when many other smartphones also support WiFi, Hackett isn’t afraid to play favourites.
“We’ve done a lot of testing of other devices prior to the launch of the iPhone,” he explains. “Frankly, every other device we’ve tried has just… sucked.. compared to the iPhone. The iPhone is the real game-changer here: with WiFi and 3G access being smooth and almost seamless, and with its internet tools being of ‘lapotop quality’ rather than just being ‘toy’ applications, it truly is a game changer.”
Market demand has also played a part, he adds: “Phones with WiFi have been very rare visitors to our hotspots in the past,” he explains. “iPhones are highly frequent, and growing rapidly. A strong association with, and support of, the iPhone platform will be a case of ‘enlightened self interest’ for us, and good for our customers.”
While the access is free, an obvious use of the Internode hotspots would be to allow customers of Internode’s NodePhone VoIP service to make calls using their normal VoIP details and a client application on the iPhone – or, it would be, if Apple hadn’t banned VoIP applications on the device.
Still, Hackett is open to the idea: “We would be happy to brand a VoIP client for the iPhone to work with our NodePhone VoIP service.”
Telstra and Optus already allow iPhone customers to failover onto their respective WiFi networks, but the Internode network fills a big gap in those companies’ relatively sparse SA coverage. Outside of SA, Internode’s network has just four locations in NSW, four in Queensland, two in Victoria, and one in the Northern Territory. (a full list is available here).
The network is also available to laptop users, who can access Apple MobileMe and iDisk functions or use a NodePhone VoIP client to make calls at Internode hotspots.
Hackett is eager to continue expanding the hotspot network and welcomes proposals from interested parties: “anyone with a decent place for iPhone users (and laptop users) to congregate and use them, and with authority to let us deploy there, is invited to drop us a line,” he says. “We’d love to consider it.”
Carriers love to talk about 3G-WiFi failover, but does it work as described? Are you using it regularly? Tell us about it in the AMW Forums.