Wi-Fi Passpoint standard could end hotspot sign-on hassles

The Wi-Fi Alliance's Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint program will aim to make finding and getting on hotspots invisible to the user

The Wi-Fi Alliance will launch a program to simplify the use of Wi-Fi hotspots in July, making it easier for both users and mobile operators to get off strained cellular networks.

Users of smartphones, tablets, cameras and other Wi-Fi-equipped devices will be able to get onto hotspots without entering usernames or passwords, the group said in a white paper released on Tuesday. The paper outlined the program, called Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint, and said the first phase of certification tests will begin in July. A second phase beginning next year will add more features.

As mobile data use dramatically grows, carriers want to move their subscribers to Wi-Fi hotspots to ease the burden on their cellular networks. Wi-Fi can also improve data capacity in indoor spaces where traditional "macro" cell networks don't reach. But subscribers typically can't move on and off those networks as easily as they roam from one cell tower to another. Infrastructure vendors and other mobile players are trying to make Wi-Fi an integral part of carrier networks, and next week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona will showcase many new products in this area.

"It's going to be there for the long term," said analyst Peter Jarich of Current Analysis. "It's going to be a part of the way operators look at their networks, looking forward." As evidence of that trend, cellular network giant Ericsson announced Tuesday it would acquire BelAir Networks, a privately held Canadian maker of Wi-Fi gear.

Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint is an attempt at a standard set of tools for interoperability among access points and client devices from different vendors. On the strength of the Alliance's widely recognized logo programs for basic Wi-Fi, security, multimedia and other functions, it could transform the way consumers see -- or don't see -- Wi-Fi hotspots.

"As an industry-wide solution, Passpoint will work in any network and overcome the limitations of proprietary, non-interoperable solutions offered by some providers today," the Alliance said in its white paper. The Wi-Fi Alliance has worked with the Wireless Broadband Alliance, a group of carriers organized for hotspot standards, to harmonize the two standards, according to the white paper.

The most obvious advantage of the Passpoint standard may be doing away with the browser "splash screens" that greet visitors to most public hotspots. Instead, admission to the network will happen in the background, through a variety of mechanisms that can include an SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card and certificate-based methods. This should make it possible for devices without browsers, such as cameras and lower-end cellphones, to join Wi-Fi networks where they are authorized, the Alliance said.

Because the SIM is the main method of authentication on most cellular networks, using it to get onto a Wi-Fi hotspot owned or authorized by a carrier could simplify the process for both subscriber and carrier.

In the first phase of the program, in addition to authentication methods, the Alliance will certify products for network discovery and selection based on user preferences, what networks are available and other factors, using the IEEE 802.11u standard. The first phase will also establish security during the use of hotspots, mandating the Alliance's own WPA-2 Enterprise (Wi-Fi Protected Access) technology for every connection made through Passpoint.

In the second phase, the Alliance will expand Passpoint to include a streamlined process for setting up a new user account at the point of access. It will add in operator-specific subscriber policies, including for network selection.

Passpoint is also designed to help service providers set up roaming between their networks of hotspots. And with an increased ability to detect subscribers and their access privileges, carriers will be better able to distribute their own paid and protected content with DRM (digital rights management), according to the Alliance.

Vendors will have to have all the components of the specification to win certification, but Passpoint hotspots can be made compatible with older access points and devices. However, the benefits of Passpoint won't be available in those cases.

Having more information about and control over subscribers' use of hotspots could help to change the way carriers use Wi-Fi, Jarich of Current Analysis said. That technology might even start to displace cellular base stations where it makes more sense to use the other network, he said. Depending on how much value subscribers get from using Wi-Fi networks or how much of a carrier's data traffic ends up flowing over wireless LANs, a carrier might even start to charge for hotspot use, which today is typically thrown in for free because it offloads data from the licensed network, he said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments



Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?