Cisco brings Hotspot 2.0 carrier-network smarts to its Wi-Fi

Cisco is implementing the Hotspot 2.0 standard and a radio-agnostic gateway for easy use of hotspots

Cisco Systems announced its take on the reshaping of mobile networks that is emerging at this week's Mobile World Congress on Tuesday, saying it can build a Wi-Fi infrastructure spanning all the way from the access point to the core network.

Cisco said its system is based on the Hotspot 2.0 standard, a specification created by the Wi-Fi Alliance to make it easier for mobile users to join and roam among public Wi-Fi networks. It's the first such offering approved by the Wireless Broadband Alliance, a carrier industry group that promotes the use of Wi-Fi hotspots, according to Cisco. The company's own name for the technology is Next Generation Hotspot.

Mobile infrastructure vendors, citing demand from carriers with fast-growing mobile data use on their networks, are taking a multipronged approach to covering indoor and densely populated outdoor locations. Numerous "small cells" are being introduced at Mobile World Congress, including ones with Wi-Fi, cellular radios and a combination of the two. Along with those network elements, vendors are announcing systems to manage heterogeneous networks, also called hetnets.

Not surprisingly, Cisco emphasized Wi-Fi in discussing the emerging generation of cellular networks. It doesn't make cellular radios. But the company's core packet networks for mobile operators, and the Small Cell Gateway it announced on Tuesday, can manage both kinds of access networks. Cisco sees Wi-Fi rather than enterprise-grade cellular radios as the most logical type of radio network for indoor coverage, but the company's back-end infrastructure for mobile networks is agnostic to the type of radio used at the edge to reach users' devices, said Kelly Ahuja, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Mobile Internet Technology Group.

The Next Generation Hotspot software can be added to a majority of the 12 million Cisco access points in the field, including some that predate the current IEEE 802.11n standard, Ahuja said. The technology is designed to let users get onto service providers' hotspots without signing in manually and also seamlessly roam among networks operated by different providers.

The Small Cell Gateway will manage subscriber and service information from both types of small cells and handle tasks such as authentication and provisioning.

Cisco is working with several service providers on the technology, including AT&T, BT Group, Hong Kong mobile operator PCCW and Shaw Communications, a cable operator in western Canada.

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

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