T-Mobile testing Passpoint Wi-Fi call, data offload with 50,000 customers

Finally, a carrier is pushing forward with a large test of Passpoint Wi-Fi technology, which lets phones automatically authenticate into and use public hotspots securely for voice and data.

T-Mobile is moving forward with a new Wi-Fi technology that makes it easier for phones to automatically connect to hotspots. Earlier this week, the company introduced trials of its Preferred Wi-Fi Network service to 50,000 customers in Tampa and Orlando, Florida.

The Preferred Wi-Fi Network option is T-Mobile's branding for Passpoint technology introduced by the Wi-Fi Alliance in 2012. Passpoint alleviates the need to manually log in to Wi-Fi networks:

In Wi-Fi networks that do not support Passpoint, users must search for and choose a network, request the connection to the access point (AP) each time, and in many cases, must re-enter their authentication credentials. Passpoint automates that entire process, enabling a seamless connection between hotspot networks and mobile devices, all while delivering the highest WPA2™ security. Passpoint is enabling a more cellular-like experience when connecting to Wi-Fi networks.

The idea is to treat known public hotspots similar to cellular carrier airwaves and enable more seamless roaming between the two networks.

T-Mobile has plenty of reasons to test the service and eventually launch it beyond two Florida cities.

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The company has long offered Wi-Fi calling as an option because until recently it didn't have enough low-band spectrum to provide solid indoor cellular coverage.

That's changing as T-Mobile is deploying 700 MHz spectrum where radio signals travel better between walls and in buildings, but it's going to take time to do that. Using Wi-Fi is a good way to manage the coverage gap.

Having phones use Wi-Fi for voice or data services also helps customers in two ways. By not having a device search for the nearest cellular tower, a phone's battery life can be marginally improved. And it can reduce the amount of mobile broadband data use; helpful for customers that are watching their monthly allotment of gigabytes.

T-MoNews notes that the Preferred Wi-Fi Network trials are supported by 34,000 Bright House Networks public hotspots in the Orlando and Tampa area.

However, to use it, you need a Passpoint-certified phone from this list: Apple's iPhone 5, 5s, 6 and 6 Plus; HTC's Desire, One M8 and One M9; LG's G3, Leon LTE, G Stylo, and G4; Samsung's Galaxy S5, S6, S6 Edge, Note 4, and Note 4 Edge; and Sony's Xperia Z3 or Z1s.

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