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Hotspot 2.0 will enable enterprises to wholesale Wi-Fi access

Despite being touted as the 'next big carrier thing,' Hotspot 2.0 looks to have a major impact on enterprises everywhere

By David Callisch, VP of marketing, Ruckus Wireless, special to Network World
April 08, 2013 12:42 PM ET

Network World - The most widely anticipated but least understood "next big thing" in the networked world is Hotspot 2.0 (HS 2.0).

A multi-industry initiative or framework for automating many of today's manual Wi-Fi tasks, HS 2.0 is being driven by the Wi-Fi Alliance (for certification under the Passpoint program) and organizations such as the Wireless Broadband Alliance (for interoperability). The shared vision for HS 2.0 is compelling: turn the Wi-Fi user experience into one that mirrors the cellular phone by establishing a Wi-Fi connection experience that is secure, automated and conforms to user/operator policy.

With Hotspot 2.0 it's now possible to link a huge network of effectively random Wi-Fi access points through a web of interconnections so users can seamlessly move between Wi-Fi networks from almost any location.

[ MORE: Hotspot 2.0 guru talks Wi-Fi roaming, new job at Ruckus ]

It achieves this through a truly revolutionary overhaul of the Wi-Fi connection procedure. Using the new IEEE 802.11u protocols, HS 2.0 allows the Wi-Fi client and infrastructure to have a pre-association "conversation" about the capabilities and AAA interconnects of a particular Wi-Fi network. The client then makes an automatic decision about whether to connect to this Wi-Fi network or not, or potentially to another that is also in range.

The selection process can be influenced both by user preference and operator policy. Automating this manual configuration and decision-making process eliminates huge hassles for both users and network operators, and increases the use of Wi-Fi service. Another important benefit of HS 2.0 is the implementation of advanced WPA-2 airlink security and client isolation to effectively automate security.

But while HS 2.0 has been developed and promoted predominately by carriers and equipment suppliers, this new technology looks to have its greatest impact and appeal within the enterprise.

Yes, the enterprise. Here's why.

People use Wi-Fi mostly indoors. And when they are indoors they are in some building, somewhere. And somebody else typically owns that building and most often the network infrastructure inside. That somebody else is usually an enterprise. A more recent phenomenon is the widespread and growing use of Wi-Fi across public venues. Such venues include hotels, schools, malls, retail outlets, public transport, etc. [Also see: "Two services that help protect public Wi-Fi users"]

In these locations service providers want to automatically connect their subscribers to their own "branded broadband" service using the venue's available high-speed Wi-Fi network, which they neither own nor operate. Hotspot 2.0 makes this possible by allowing user devices to automatically connect to any Wi-Fi network that has an interconnection with their "home" service provider. These back-end connections might be direct, but more likely will be indirectly provided through third-party "hubbing" services.

Hotspot 2.0 and the enterprise

This represents an unprecedented opportunity for any enterprise to wholesale their existing wireless LAN capacity to myriad operators by charging them recurring fees for Wi-Fi network access. Enterprises can effectively turn their WLANs, often burdened by large capital and operational expenses to begin with, into profit centers while underwriting the costs to build more industrial-strength wireless network the improves their own users' experience.

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