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Network World - In an ideal world, mobile workers would be able to automatically log in to secure, ubiquitously available Wi-Fi hotspots for high-speed access to enterprise resources rather than have to search for a local hotspot and try to log in or rack up minutes on costly cell plans. What's more, those Wi-Fi connections would be able to hop seamlessly from spot to spot as users roamed. But reaching that nirvana state requires advances in security and what is nowadays elusive cooperation of hotspot operators.
The Wi-Fi Alliance is tackling this behemoth challenge with its Hotspot 2.0 spec, which enables mobile devices to automatically discover and connect to Wi-Fi networks. Moreover, Hotspot 2.0 describes an interoperable Wi-Fi authentication and handoff technology that would allow users to move among hotspots without needing to re-establish the connection, much like cell calls are passed from one tower to another today.
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The Wi-Fi Alliance has already begun certifying products that are Hotspot 2.0-capable with its Passpoint program. Aruba, Cisco, Juniper, Qualcomm and Samsung are among the companies with Passpoint-certified products that, among other requirements, automatically configure industry-standard WPA2 security protections without user intervention.
The goal of the program is to create an environment where Wi-Fi is the primary mobility network. "Enterprises aren't keen on paying for cellular resources if they have a good Wi-Fi network available," says Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing and program management director for the Wi-Fi Alliance.
Brad Noblet, president of independent firm BN Consulting, agrees. So far, Wi-Fi has played best in the enterprise where internal IT groups manage largely homogenous environments and they have left carriers to handle the public side, he says. As data costs climb and usage rates spike (think video streaming), IT is looking for alternatives to the cellular component, and cost-effective Wi-Fi networks some day may fit the bill.
How will enterprises know that they can trust these networks? Enterprise Strategy Group Senior Analyst John Mazur says the creation of federations of secured wireless networks will be key. For instance, carriers or cable providers would develop global preferred networks of wireless hotspots and then allow users to access them. Instead of negotiating credentials and security levels for each hotspot, users would configure their security preferences upfront and then the device would automatically handle each hotspot's login requests.
Education institutions across the world have developed a similar federated structure, called eduroam, using RADIUS and 802.1X technologies. Researchers, teachers, students and staff who are eduroam-enabled by a member institution are able to securely access the Internet from their notebook or mobile device when visiting another member institution. The home network performs user authorization while the network the user is visiting deals only with access.