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Is that hotspot safe to use? Wi-Fi Alliance wants to help

The group is also seeking to get rid of wires in the home

By Mikael Rickna$?s, IDG News Service
September 30, 2013 12:23 PM ET

IDG News Service - Security-savvy mobile-device users are increasingly casting a skeptical eye on public Wi-Fi, and now the vendor consortium behind the wireless standard wants to make logging in via that coffee shop network a bit safer.

The Wi-Fi Alliance's Passpoint program, based on the Hotspot 2.0 specification, will make public hotspots both safer and easier to use, according to CEO Edgar Figueroa.

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"Today, for the most part, when we go on a public hotspot we are sending data without protection. With Passpoint the connections are secure and the communication is encrypted," Figueroa said.

Also, users should no longer have to search for and choose a network, request the connection to the access point each time and then in many cases re-enter their password. All that can be handled by Passpoint-compatible devices, according to Figueroa.

"The beauty of Passpoint is that the whole industry has agreed to do it this way. More than 70 [devices] have been certified," he said.

Mobile operators have come to see public Wi-Fi as an important part of their networks as they face growing data usage volumes, and between 60 and 70 big operators are members of the Alliance, Figueroa said.

But he had little to say about the uptake of Passpoint among operators, and would point out only two examples: the first Passpoint-compatible hotspot from Boingo Wireless at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and 30 operators taking part in a trial conducted by the Wireless Broadband Alliance.

Work on an updated Passpoint program has also started. It includes new features for standardized user provisioning. Today everybody signs up users differently, and that makes it harder to implement roaming, according to Figueroa.

The plan is to have the new specification ready next year.

The most obvious problem for current Wi-Fi networks is performance in crowded environments, and Figueroa said the Alliance has addressed that issue with the 802.11ac certification program, which "offers a robust solution that takes you onto 5GHz. So far that band hasn't been widely used, but ac makes it more compelling," he said.

The Alliance has also added the new WiGig program, which approves products that operate in the 60 GHz frequency band and offer gigabit speeds over short distances. The technology will be used to connect PCs and portable devices to monitors, projectors and HDTVs wirelessly. Other applications include "instant backups," according to Figueroa.

"This will be our attempt at making this market go ... We have a critical mass of vendors who are investing," Figueroa said.

Behind the scenes, other areas are also being explored.

"There is a lot of stuff going on around the connected home. There are also a lot of things we are working on for smart grids and there are interest groups looking at health care," Figueroa said.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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