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New standard to ease hotspot connection

Wi-Fi Alliance working to standardize authentication and provisioning of public Wi-Fi networks, which it says will provide simpler way for mobile devices to connect to these hotspots.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

The Wi-Fi Alliance has released a new standard that will enable users to hop on and switch to wireless hotspots as seamlessly as they already can now with cellular data technology.

In a statement released Wednesday, the trade association announced the formalization of a hotspot certification program to standardize the authentication and provisioning of public Wi-Fi networks, in a move to simplify access for mobile Internet-connected devices to wireless hotspots. It is working with service providers and device manufacturers, such as France Telecom-Orange and Cisco, to drive the initiative and plans to launch the program in the first half of 2012.

When adopted, it will enable mobile users to switch seamlessly from one public Wi-Fi hotspot to another.

"We envision an automated, cellular-like experience for Wi-Fi users around the world in security-protected service provider hotspots," said Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance, in the statement.

The hotspot program will also benefit network service providers, allowing them to automate the offloading of cellular traffic to Wi-Fi in mobile devices. The Wi-Fi Alliance added that service providers are already feeling the pinch from "data-hungry" devices and have started expanding Wi-Fi hotspot deployment to support their cellular bandwidth. Globally, Wi-Fi hotspots are expected to more than double by 2014 from today's 750,000, it said.

In the statement, Philip Solis, research director for mobile devices at research firm ABI Research, said the program will further extend service providers' Wi-Fi offloading strategies. "Having an industry-wide solution for provision and authentication enables service providers to take those strategies even further. It enables the development of roaming agreements and ready access to Wi-Fi for subscribers of numerous service providers," Solis said.

The alliance touted four key benefits of the certification program:

  1. Simplifying network discovery and selection by enabling devices to automatically detect and choose Wi-Fi networks based on user preferences, operator policies and network optimization;
  2. Streamlining network access by automatically granting a device's access to the network based on credential mechanisms, such as SIM cards;
  3. Provisioning accounts immediately by streamlining the process of establishing a new user account at the point of access, thus, eliminating user steps and driving a common provisioning methodology across vendors; and
  4. Ensuring security of connection by encrypting over-the-air transmissions with the WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access) protocol, which was developed by Wi-Fi Alliance to secure Wi-Fi connections.

It is not clear whether the program will exclude devices using integrated mobile broadband chips, as highlighted by ZDNet Asia's sister site Techrepublic.

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