Wi-Fi Alliance to simplify hotspot logons

The trade group has come up with a set of industry requirements for making it easier to connect smartphones and tablets to public Wi-Fi hotspots, partly to ease the burden on mobile networks
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The Wi-Fi Alliance has set out industry requirements for letting smartphones and other devices easily log on to public hotspots around the world.

On Tuesday, the standards-setting body said the requirements will feed into the upcoming Wi-Fi Certified testing programme, which will make it possible for smartphones, tablets and laptops to "discover and automatically choose networks based upon user preferences, operator policies and network optimisation".

We envision an automated, cellular-like experience for Wi-Fi users around the world in security-protected service provider hotspots.
– Kelly Davis-Felner, The Wi-Fi Alliance

The requirements were established by the Wi-Fi Alliance's members, which span the industry from service providers to device manufacturers.

The group's testing programme will see some devices authenticated on hotspots using credential mechanisms — mainly SIM cards — that are already used in many mobile devices. New user accounts will be easier to set up, thanks to an industry-wide provisioning methodology, and security will be standardised in the form of WPA2, the Wi-Fi Alliance added.

"Ensuring end users can easily access hotspot networks from various providers is a win for subscribers, service providers and device makers alike," Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing chief of the Wi-Fi Alliance, said in a statement. "We envision an automated, cellular-like experience for Wi-Fi users around the world in security-protected service provider hotspots."

Overcoming the data burden

According to the trade body, Wi-Fi hotspots will help mobile operators in particular overcome the burden placed on their networks by increasing data usage among smartphone and tablet owners. The number of public hotspots worldwide is expected to double from the current estimate of 750,000 by 2014, the Wi-Fi Alliance said, with much of that rollout coming from the mobile operators.

Orange is a key member of the alliance. Rida Zouaoui, the mobile operator's head of access networks standardisation, said in the group's statement that the development of carrier-grade certification for hotspots will help "enhance security and accessibility to Orange Wi-Fi hotspots, especially when roaming".

The Wi-Fi Certified testing programme is expected to launch in the first half of 2012.

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