Microsoft moves into hot spot security

ITU 2003: The software giant says that Wireless Provisioning Services support could make logging on at Wi-Fi hot spots easier and safer - and would put XP at the heart of the process

Microsoft has announced Wireless Provisioning Services (WPS), support for Wi-Fi that aims to place the company and its flagship Windows XP operating system at the heart of most users' experiences with the increasingly popular wireless networking standard.

The idea is that besides adding security, WPS makes it easier for hot-spot operators' customers to sign on. T-Mobile and Swisscom, both of which have Wi-Fi offerings across several countries, have been unveiled as customer wins, and Microsoft rounded up supporting testimony from mainly North American companies running thousands of Wi-Fi network access points such as Boingo Wireless, Cometa Networks, iPass and Wayport.

Shai Guday, group programme manager, Microsoft Wireless and Mobility, told "Security is a big impediment to wireless adoption. There has been big shift to secure access for private networks and the public space is next."

The big difference with this push from Microsoft, he added, is that normally making something easy to use means making it less secure. While WPS does allows a simple GUI for hot-spot customers to follow, the software improves on existing wireless security technologies used in Windows XP -- including Protected Extensible Authentication (PEAP) and Wi-Fi Protected Access -- and there is a back end component for Windows Server 2003.

Analyst house Gartner reckons that by 2008 there will be 167,000 Wi-Fi hot spots worldwide serving 75 million users.

While it would appear the plus points of Microsoft WPS for network operators include providing authentication and encryption as standard as well as the chance to brand services better, even using Unicode character sets for non-Roman script languages, end users won't avail of these offerings so simply if they don't use Windows XP.

And the problem isn't just for the one in 10 that may surf in public using Linux, Mac OS or something else but for users of other Windows client operating systems as well

Also at ITU 2003, Microsoft and Vodafone announced that they will be working together on Web services development, creating standards that could be rolled out across the wider mobile and IT industries