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Wi-Fi roaming starts to take flight with Hotspot 2.0

Boingo launched automatic login capability at 21 U.S. airports on Monday

By , IDG News Service
February 24, 2014 09:51 PM ET

IDG News Service - Smooth roaming from cell to Wi-Fi networks is finally seeing the light of day, with deployments at 21 U.S. airports and at two smaller sites in Europe debuting on Monday.

Wi-Fi networks at some of America's biggest airports, in a park in Warsaw and at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona are using Hotspot 2.0, a set of technologies that vendors and service providers around the world have pursued for more than two years. Up to now, it's only been available in a few instances. The specification lets users get onto Wi-Fi as easily as they roam onto cellular networks, eliminating the need to choose a network, log in or give a password.

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While making consumers' lives easier, Hotspot 2.0 could also help mobile operators offload more data demand from their expensive licensed frequencies. But to make it real, service providers have to both upgrade their network infrastructure and forge business deals with partners, both of which can be time-consuming, said analyst Peter Jarich of Current Analysis.

On Monday, Boingo Wireless announced that its subscribers with Apple iOS 7 devices will be able to join 21 airport Wi-Fi networks automatically and free of charge. The list of facilities is impressive, including Los Angeles International Airport, O'Hare International in Chicago, and the three major airports serving New York City: JFK, La Guardia and Newark.

To activate Hotspot 2.0 on their devices, Boingo customers just need to download a profile from Boingo for Passpoint, the client component of the technology. Using that profile, the airport networks can automatically authenticate users and log them in. Hotspot 2.0 can hand off the device's connection from any cellular network to Wi-Fi without any action by the user. The Wi-Fi networks are encrypted using standard WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access) technology.

Boingo operates Wi-Fi and small-cell networks around the world, selling mobile workers access to those networks and partnering with service providers for traffic offload. The company has roaming agreements with three of the four major U.S. mobile operators, as well as with five of the 10 biggest carriers in the world. For now, the Hotspot 2.0 service is available only to Boingo customers. But carriers could offer it to their own subscribers through a separate Passpoint Profile, the company said.

Boingo plans to expand the service to Android devices. In its largest venues, more than 50 percent of Boingo customers use iOS devices, compared with about 20 percent for Android, spokesman Christian Gunning said in an e-mail exchange. Supporting Android will take longer because of the diversity of OSes on those devices. Many commercially available smartphones from Samsung, LG, HTC and other manufacturers have hardware that can support Hotspot 2.0.

"There are a good number of Passpoint-certified devices, but I wouldnt say its common yet," Jarich of Current Analysis said.

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