Passpoint: Why all the no-shows?

Most of what's broken with Wi-Fi is fixed with Passpoint. So why are so many important companies on the sidelines?
Written by Larry Seltzer, Contributor

I'm writing this at Starbucks. I come here often to work partly because they have lots of AC plugs and free Wi-Fi. But the Wi-Fi is open and unencrypted, so when I open my computer to work, I have to go through a ridiculous, complicated ritual:

My computer automatically connects to the Google Starbucks network, but not my phone. I have to manually connect to the network there. On the phone the browser automatically opens and attempts to load www.google.com, but is redirected to a Starbucks landing page, at which point I'm connected to the Internet. On Windows I have to open a browser window manually and load something to get redirected to the landing page.

At this point I'm connected to the Internet on an open, unencrypted local Wi-Fi. Such networks are usually one big shared segment, and the last time I ran Wireshark here that was the case. So now I load my VPN (HMA! Pro) for which I pay $50/year. I usually run it on my phone too. It often strikes me as overkill, but I tell other people how important it is and I don't want to be a hypocrite.

All of this happens because of a lack of foresight by the original designers of Wi-Fi. Public Wi-Fi services almost always operate unencrypted because it would be far too complicated to use WPA2 and would create a support burden that the average barista cannot meet.


Now, at last, a new standard is emerging that will eliminate all this work and give even the average user the best Wi-Fi experience he could hope for: It automatically connects, using WPA2-Enterprise, a level of encryption and authentication worthy of a modern, security-conscious corporation.

I explain Passpoint and some new features in it in a news story from last night. If everyone were supporting Passpoint, the user experience with mobile networking would be considerably better. There are also big advantages for the cellular and Wi-Fi providers.

And yet, when I look at the pretty long list of companies that are working to support Passpoint, I only see the missing names. Among them: Microsoft, Google and Apple. All of these companies are members of the Wi-Fi Alliance, the industry consortium that runs Wi-Fi, so they don't seem to have a general problem with the group. Microsoft and Apple have the most expensive level of membership.

I contacted both Microsoft and Google to ask them about this. Microsoft declined to comment. Google did not respond to my inquiry.

Microsoft, Google and Apple are the major operating system companies that control the Wi-Fi stacks. There has been iOS support for Passpoint for some time, I suspect because the developers use iPhones. There is no Android support generally, although all the major Android OEMs (Samsung, LG, Motorola, etc.) have support for it. And there's nothing for Windows. And nothing for Windows Phone.

I must say I'm stumped. I don't understand why a Passpoint OS configuration would be difficult to do, although I see a claim on the community discussions for the Android Open Source Project that configurations are not easily portable across implementations. If that's true of Android it surely would be of Windows. iOS, on the other hand, has a very limited set of hardware configurations. But why then are so many Android OEMs providing support but (as far as I can tell) no Windows OEMs?

Without in-the-box Passpoint support I have grave doubts that it will take off. Windows OEMs don't have a great record of providing add-on support like this. Similarly, Android OEMs don't inspire confidence for a consistent user experience.

Google's lack of support for Passpoint also makes me think that it's unlikely my Starbucks will have Passpoint support any time soon. Bummer.

At bottom, it seems that the real problem with Passpoint is that it's really, really hard to do. It seems that just about everyone involved with the Internet connection experience needs to be on-board for it to work, and some of them aren't being cooperative.

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