The principle behind Hotspot 2.0 is to provide mobile device users with the ability to seamlessly roam between their cellular provider’s network and public Wi-Fi networks. Most of the major device manufacturers should be providing Hotspot 2.0 enabled products by the end of 2013.
The cellular experience is replicated on Wi-Fi by providing the user with an automatic, secure connection that conforms to a mobile operator’s backend AAA policy without the fuss of having to log on, enter passwords or pay for the Wi-Fi.
The Hotspot 2.0 concept is a multi-industry initiative being driven by the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) – largely comprised of equipment manufacturers – and the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) – made up of mobile service providers.
The WFA is responsible for defining the technical standards and certifies equipment and software under the Passpoint programme, while the WBA is looking after policy and interoperability between mobile service providers.
Rob Mustarde, VP Marketing at Wi-Fi equipment provider Ruckus Wireless, says: ‘Under Hotspot 2.0, when the user’s device roams from a cellular base station onto a Wi-Fi access point (AP) it will say: this is who I am, this is my home network, do I have the right to access you as an AP? The AP has the intelligence to know who its roaming partners are, recognizes that the user’s home network is a roaming partner with the Wi-Fi provider and will authenticate him, allowing him secure and encrypted access to the network,’ explains Mustarde.
The downside to this, and the current main stalling point, is that it does require a lot of mobile operators and Wi-Fi providers to get together and agree to be part of the aggregated roaming exchange agreement.
However, once a sufficiently large number of roaming agreements have been set up the benefit for the end user is huge in that he can roam both at home and abroad without any fuss. The benefit for mobile operators is that they retain visibility of their customers with full reporting of what they are up to on Wi-Fi, just as they get on cellular.
Release 1 of Hotspot 2.0 dealt with network discovery and automatic authentication based on the device’s network SIM card. Release 2 solved the issue of authenticating non-SIM based devices. ‘The user just has to log in once and you get a certificate downloaded to your device, a virtual SIM card in effect, and that is used to authenticate you from then on,’ explains Mustarde.
Release 2 also handled most of the policy issues. Normally, the mobile device finds the AP or base station it thinks is best. But Hotspot 2.0 allows the operator to exercise both technical and policy control by deciding which AP to connect your device to. For example, the operator may decide to connect you to the fastest available AP based on the fact that you are a premium customer.
However, in Mustarde’s view what makes Hotspot 2.0 really interesting is that it will allow enterprises and organisations to wholesale their existing wireless LAN capacity to a wide range of mobile operators. Payment could be based on providing access only at certain times, or by charging different rates per gigabyte according to the time of day and so on.
‘The largest volume of APs out there today have been deployed by enterprises in places like shopping malls, airports, train stations, retail outlets and hotels – places that often suffer from congestion from a cellular standpoint,’ says Mustarde. ‘Hotspot 2.0 provides a significant opportunity for the enterprise to get money back on its wireless LAN investment.
‘I don’t think people realise yet, but Hotspot 2.0 has the potential to make a really big impact on the wireless industry. It might take a one to three years for everyone to take part, but after that we’ll just be connected wherever we are, including overseas,’ says Mustarde.