Wi-Fi Alliance's Passpoint program on track for June certifications

Carrier participation still in question

NEW ORLEANS -- The Wi-Fi Alliance's Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint Program, which aims to make Wi-Fi hotspots work more like cellular and LTE networks, is on track to start issuing certifications this summer.

Wi-Fi Alliance CEO Edgar Figueroa said during an interview at CTIA in New Orleans today that the organization would begin offering certifications to networking gear and mobile devices starting in June with the goal of getting Passpoint-certified devices onto market shortly afterward.

BACKGROUND: How Passpoint could make Wi-Fi hotspots more like cellular data services 

ANALYSIS: Despite LTE hype, Wi-Fi is the real deal

"Adoption of Passpoint will take a shorter amount of time than what you'd expect," he said. "The first release of Passpoint will be in June and we will productions available throughout the following months. ... I would not be surprised if we already started seeing roaming agreements between carriers as well."

The Passpoint initiative essentially creates a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and allows you to access any in your area that take part in the program. What's more, any hotspots that take part in Passpoint will allow you to connect without entering in any login or billing information since the program supports Subscriber Identity Module (SIM)-based authentication that cellular networks currently use to grant users seamless handoffs between cell sites. This also means that carriers can forge Wi-Fi roaming agreements with one another that could, for instance, give AT&T subscribers access to Verizon hotspots without having to enter in any information or manually connect to different networks.

From an end user's standpoint, Figueroa said that anyone wanting to get Passpoint on their smartphone would only need to install a software update that would "bring the intelligence of the technology onto the device." He added that "once the consumer has that technology and provided that they have a service operator that offers the service, they're good to go."

But while Passpoint-certified devices are set to hit the market this summer, it's so far unclear just how many major wireless carriers will support the initiative. So far T-Mobile has been the only major wireless carrier to publicly commit to supporting Passpoint-certified gear and devices. Verizon Vice President of Network Hans Leutenegger said today that he didn't know of any Verizon commitment to deploy Passpoint and generally expressed skepticism about the idea of forging Wi-Fi roaming agreements with other carriers.

"Once we put our customer onto someone else's Wi-Fi network we don't know what their experience is going to be, so our preference has been to keep customers on our network," he said. "If we can't control the customer experience and they have a bad experience then we can't get that customer back."

Even so, Figueroa said that as companies come to depend more on Wi-Fi to offload the data on their 3G and 4G networks, they'll come to see Wi-Fi roaming agreements as an important component of network management.

"Wi-Fi and Passpoint are very compelling for operators because they have data demand issues," he said. "Lots of data show that consumers are also interested in having something like it as well."

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