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A few finally find HotSpot 2.0 Wi-Fi connections

But don't hold your breath for one near you

By , Network World
December 05, 2013 11:19 AM ET

Network World - There are currently several million smartphones certified to run on a "HotSpot 2.0" Wi-Fi network. In November, about 400 of them finally got a chance to do so -- in Beijing, China.

Attendees at a carrier Wi-Fi conference found that their smartphones, from different “home” carriers, automatically authenticated with and connected securely to a Cisco Wi-Fi network hosted by China Mobile.

The next big public demonstration of what’s confusingly referred to as both Hotspot 2.0 and Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) will be in February 2014: an estimated 75,000 attendees at the next Mobile World Congress in Barcelona will be able to take part.

BACKGROUND: Hotspot 2.0 promises to redefine the Wi-Fi experience

But don’t hold your breath waiting for a HotSpot 2.0 near you, unless you are visiting Boingo’s network at O’Hare airport in Chicago or you are a Towerstream user in New York City, the only two, still limited deployments in the U.S. While the technical details have been sorted out, including a Wi-Fi Alliance equipment certification program, networking companies, carriers, and mobile operators are still haggling over Wi-Fi roaming agreements and puzzling over how, or whether, to make money from it.

So far, the 400-plus attendees in Beijing for November’s Wi-Fi Global Congress, an industry event focused on carrier-based Wi-Fi services, is the biggest public group to test out the long-standing promises of HotSpot 2.0: automatic Wi-Fi authentication and connection, and seamless roaming between different Wi-Fi hotspot brands, and eventually between Wi-Fi and cellular connections.

hot spot 2.0
Credit: Cisco
Next Generation Hotspot (or HotSpot 2.0) got its biggest public test last month at a conference in Beijing.

For carriers, a reliable, secure, high-capacity Wi-Fi service that’s as easy for subscribers to use as cellular means that subscribers can be shifted from overburdened cell networks to higher-capacity Wi-Fi networks.

That’s what drew 14 carriers and operators to the Beijing project: when their subscribers walked into the venue with their phones, the phones and access points started an automatic conversation. By the time a user pulled his smartphone from a pocket, the device already had been authenticated to the Wi-Fi network, with full roaming rights, and securely connected. A Cisco diagram (shown above) outlines the network elements.

(Cisco’s Lisa Garza, who handles service provider marketing for the company’s Mobility Solutions unit, has a high-level overview of the Beijing demonstration.) 

But not any Wi-Fi radio can use such services. First, client radios and access points have to implement the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Hotspot 2.0 specification. The WFA has a testing process for the equipment, and if the radios pass, they are labeled as “Passpoint” certified.

Passpoint deals with network access. You turn on your device, credentials are provisioned, network and device identify each other, and automatically join. In practice, it will be similar to your cell phone finding its “home” cellular network service when you land at an airport, and automatically connecting, with the network “knowing” the device and the subscriber.

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