Operators will test Wi-Fi roaming, simplified login in Q4

Wi-Fi Alliance lays the groundwork by starting its Passpoint certification program

The Wi-Fi Alliance has begun certifying products that simplify access to hotspots and roaming between different mobile service operators; providers and equipment vendors are expected to test these products in the fourth quarter, the Wireless Broadband Alliance said on Tuesday.

Mobile operators see Wi-Fi as a way to offload traffic from their networks to handle growing data volumes.

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

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

While Wi-Fi is already used by operators all over the world, the work currently underway aims to take the use of the technology to the next level. Users will be able to authenticate with a SIM card and move between mobile networks and Wi-Fi hotspots from different providers both at home and abroad.

Leading the charge is the Wi-Fi Alliance. On Tuesday, the organization announced it had started certifying the underlying products as part of the organization's Passpoint program, which is based on technology defined in its Hotspot 2.0 specification.

The certification program is a major milestone for Wi-Fi technology, because there is now finally a single industry-wide solution for seamless access to Wi-Fi-based mobile broadband, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Certified mobile devices can automatically discover and connect to Wi-Fi networks powered by access points that have also been approved.

The first products to be certified include access points, controllers and clients from BelAir Networks, which is owned by Ericsson, Broadcom, Cisco Systems, Intel, Marvell, MediaTek, Qualcomm and Ruckus Wireless.

Next, the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) along with a number of operators will conduct trials during the fourth quarter to see if they work as intended.

A first set of trials were organized earlier this year, and the first commercial services are expected to be launched during the first half of next year, according to the WBA.

The second round of tests will delve into more complicated features, including operator-to-operator billing procedures when users are roaming and what Wi-Fi network to choose if more than one is available, according to Tiago Rodrigues, program director at WBA.

"Different metrics can be used [when the device chooses which network to connect to]. Probably the most common one will be the quality of the bandwidth. The devices will have the intelligence to make an initial assessment to understand which hotspot can offer the best service," said Rodrigues.

The technology to make such an assessment is still under development, and the first prototype clients that can perform intelligent network selection will be used during the trial, according to Rodrigues.

Most of the operators are expected to test SIM-based authentication methods, but there will also be interoperability tests of other methods based on EAP (Extensible Authentication Protocol) for devices such as cameras and tablets that don't have SIM cards, Rodrigues said.

There are several goals with the Q4 trial. They will allow operators to get more experience with the technology as they prepare to launch commercial services, and also find things that need to be improved and fine-tuned by organizations such as the Wi-Fi Alliance and GSM Association, according to Rodrigues.

Thirty-seven operators and 24 vendors will take part in the trial, according to the WBA. The first group includes AT&T, China Mobile, Orange and Time Warner Cable while the vendors list includes companies such as Cisco Systems, Ericsson and Intel.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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