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Hotspot 2.0 will power the mobile Internet

By Bob Friday, chief technology officer, Wireless Networking Group, Cisco, special to Network World
March 08, 2013 10:30 AM ET

Network World - This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

With an estimated 800 million new Wi-Fi-enabled devices entering the mobile market each year, new Wi-Fi networks are emerging to connect businesses and users inside public venues ranging from malls and airports to hotels, schools and universities.

One technology that will power the further development of this mobile ecosystem is Hotspot 2.0, an interoperable Wi-Fi authentication and handoff technology that allows mobile users to move from Wi-Fi hotspot to hotspot without selecting connections and entering passwords, the same way phones travel between cell towers without intervention.

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Hotspot 2.0 is based on three core technologies: WPA2 (802.1X/802.11i), EAP and 802.11u. WPA2 has been used in enterprises since 2004, when it became available to ensure mutual authentication and encryption between the mobile device and network. Encryption is critical in public hotspots for security and to avoid unwanted listeners who can tap into personal communications with readily available tools such as Firesheep.

The Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) is a protocol that defines how security credentials are moved between a mobile device and the security server. Hotspot 2.0 supports EAP-SIM that allows the SIM card on a smartphone to be used on Wi-Fi networks. Hotspot 2.0 also supports EAP-TTLS that assigns a username and password to support mobile devices, such as tablets that do not have SIM cards.

Lastly, 802.11u is the most recent technology that allows a mobile device to collect information from a Wi-Fi network before association and authentication. As we enter the next major innovation cycle of mobilizing the Internet and move from a mobile voice world to a nomadic data world, the adoption of new technologies, like Hotspot 2.0, will require consensus between mobile operators, OEMs and mobile OS vendors.

With the first phase of testing completed, the second phase of Hotspot 2.0 will focus on bringing dynamic policy to the mobile device connection manager and help manage cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity between mobile applications. Phase 1 of Hotspot 2.0 delivered the global interoperable Wi-Fi authentication standard to market and is the foundation of the seamless cellular, or Wi-Fi roaming, experience. Phase 2 brings intelligence to the selection process between networks. In addition to enabling a seamless roaming experience, Hotspot 2.0 with 802.11u will allow the mobile device to discover other local services supported on the network, enabling mobile users to access local mobile apps and services within two simple clicks.

While Hotspot 2.0 Passpoint brings interoperability to the Wi-Fi authentication process, there is also the need for an ecosystem of clearinghouses to move security credentials between networks and mobile operators. This ecosystem exists for cellular and is being leveraged for Wi-Fi networks. Additionally, the Wireless Broadband Alliance is working with the industry to help standardize how security credentials are passed between networks.

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