Wi-Fi Alliance Starts Testing Automatic Wi-Fi Roaming

No more user names and passwords, as Wi-Fi Alliance introduces seamless hotspot signups

The Wi-Fi Alliance has started testing mobile devices and infrastructure for its new W-Fi Certified Passpoint programme, which aims to  Wi-Fi roaming between hotspots as seamless as using a cellular network.

Devices certified to the Alliance’s Hotspot 2.0 level, can automatically discover and select networks, deliver a constant automated connection process, so users don’t have to keep putting in usernames and passwords, while benefiting from WPA2 security and nter-provider roaming agreements.

The Wi-Fi Alliance told TechWeekEurope that there was significant demand from both users and operators for the certification programme as networks continue to struggle with the volume of data being carried on their mobile networks. Hotspot 2.0 is based on underlying interoperability standards including the Next Generation Hotspot (NGH)  defined by the Wireless Broadband Alliance.

Easy wi-Fi roaming

“Passpoint is a certification programme that’s based on a specification that operators and vendors have developed in the Wi-Fi Alliance to streamline access to Wi-Fi hotspots,” said Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director at Wi-Fi Alliance. “So what that means is the specification is striving to define a experience that feels much more like a cellular experience. So network selection and authentication happens in the background rather than through user intervention, forms, passwords and credit card numbers to actually get online in a Wi-Fi hotspot.”

Operators apparently see Passpoint as a way of offloading data from their networks onto Wi-Fi networks, even despite increased adoption of 4G, as well as a way to define roaming agreements.

“Yes, obviously 4G is a huge step in terms of capacity and speed, but at the end of the day, what our operators tell us is that it is still another licensed network,” said Davis-Felner. “We’re going to be in exactly the same fix with 4G as we are now.”

“They would like to find an automated way for an Orange subscriber to be able to access a BT hotspot while in London and have that be a seamless experience, so that kind of inter-provider roaming is another thing that this technology enables that I think is significant from an industry standpoint,” she added.

No security concerns

The Wi-Fi Alliance has conducted research among smartphone and tablet users in a number of countries which reveals support among consumers for the initiative. Seventy-six percent said that they would switch service providers in order to use a Passpoint-like offering and 67 percent said they would be prepared to pay more. Eighty-nine percent said that they would stay with their current provider if they had access to such a service.

Testing begins this week and all products will have to undergo certification tests to receive the end-facing logo.

“We’re a certifying body so you have to have an interoperability test in one of our labs in order to carry the certification mark,” said Davis-Felner, who added that there would be no security concerns as all participating products would have to support WPA2 security and that users would be using a credential given to them by their mobile operator , in this case, a SIM card.

“Interest in Passpoint has been very strong,” she said. “From a timeline standpoint you will start seeing Wi-Fi certified equipment this year and hopefully deployed very quickly.”

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