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6/16/2015
12:40 PM
Sean McGrath
Sean McGrath
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The Future Of Wi-Fi

Hotspot 2.0 has been in development for a few years and is now finally becoming a reality.

Wi-Fi has become and integral part of day-to-day life. No longer is it a novelty that we are willing to pay a premium for; instead it has become a necessity. We expect it everywhere we go, and furthermore, we expect it to be free.

From hotels, bars, and restaurants to trains, planes, and parks, the footprint of Wi-Fi is now truly global.

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But the technology is not without its faults. Users are forced to search for available networks and authenticate by manually entering credentials. The process can be frustrating, especially if the network the user connects to turns out to be slow or none-responsive.

Hotspot 2.0

Hotspot 2.0 has been in development for a few years and is now finally becoming a reality. The notion is simple: Rather than having to manually log on to any given hotspot, devices simply roam among them, jumping among the cellular network and WLANs.

The client device is authenticated by the access point using credentials such as a SIM card, username/password pair, or X.509 certificate. The device can then query Hotspot 2.0-capable access points to see if there is a roaming agreement in place between the venue and the home network provider. All of this can take place with absolutely no intervention from the user.

The advantages of Hotspot 2.0 are vast. For mobile service providers (MSPs), it provides the ability to offload traffic from their traditional networks onto high-bandwidth, low-cost (often free to MSPs) networks.

Venue owners have increasingly found that providing Wi-Fi is an exercise in futility when it comes to generating direct revenue. Customers demand free wireless access and so it is provided, but it is nearly impossible to create a sustainable revenue model around the service. Hotspot 2.0 changes that by allowing venue owners to introduce advertising to devices passing through the network. There is also the potential to generate revenue from MSPs that are piggybacking on their hotspots.

But the most tangible benefit is reserved for the end user. No longer do we have to worry about manually hunting down a reasonable network. Instead we can relax, safe in the knowledge that our devices are constantly working to provide us with the best available connection, and then automatically connecting us in a safe and secure manner.

The Road To The Future

While the idea is straightforward enough to explain, implementation of Hotspot 2.0 has been fraught with complexities. There are various ingredients required to make this recipe a success:

  • The Network. An IEEE 802.11u-enabled access point, able to broadcast the capabilities of the network to devices, is required.
  • The Device. Passpoint, a device-level certification that was developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance in conjunction with partners across the mobile ecosystem, is also needed. Most high-end devices are now Passpoint certified, including any Apple device running iOS 7 and later, as well as the Samsung Galaxy S4 and above.
  • The Relationships. This is perhaps the most complex piece of the puzzle because, unlike the technology that they are built on, relationships cannot simply be deployed. Much like what has happened in the cellular world, roaming agreements will need to be forged among hotspot providers, mobile service providers, manufacturers, and venue owners. This is a process that will take time.

It is impossible to predict the impact that these new partnerships will have on wireless connectivity. For venue owners, there is a clear opportunity to remonetize a service that consumers now expect for free. As cellular carriers offload their traffic, this could come in the form of agreements with the home network provider.

This is unlikely to affect Ma & Pa vendor owners, as MSPs will be looking for guaranteed quality of service; however, the potential for new partnerships is virtually limitless.

The Wireless Broadband Alliance has been working on Next Generation Hotspot (NGH), an initiative designed to standardize the billing, provisioning, and policies side of the equation. The NGH project is now in its third and final phase, and providers such as Boingo have already begun deploying fully functioning Hotspot 2.0 networks.

Technology functions at its most effective when we aren’t even aware of its presence. Service providers, technology vendors, and global alliances have been working tirelessly to bring the next generation of wireless technology to us. The beauty of it is that we don’t need to do anything to take advantage of it. 

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Sean McGrath is a freelance IT writer, researcher, and journalist. He has written for PC Pro, the BBC, and TechWeekEurope, and has produced content for a range of private organizations. Although he holds a first class degree in investigative journalism, his dreams of being a ... View Full Bio
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