The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), the industry association focused on driving the next generation Wi-Fi experience, announced this week (26 June 2012) that many of the world’s largest operators and vendors have signed up to advanced trials of Next Generation Hotspots (NGH). The WBA expects the first NGH deployments to take place in H1 2013.
NGH will give users easier access to a far greater number of public Wi-Fi access points around the world. The trials will take place in Q4 2012 and will employ the first generation of Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Passpoint equipment, which the Wi-Fi Alliance announced this week it will start approving.
Passpoint mobile devices can automatically discover and connect to Wi-Fi networks powered by Passpoint-certified access points, delivering the mobile broadband experience that users want. The specification behind Passpoint was defined by service provider and equipment maker members of the Wi-Fi Alliance
Next Generation Hotspots provides a much improved Wi-Fi experience for users in two ways. Firstly, it lets users gain access to Wi-Fi networks without the need for usernames and passwords. Secondly, it allows operators to establish relationships with each other so their users can access a wide variety of hotspots in their own country and around the world.
The advanced trials will build on the first phase of tests conducted earlier this year that used prototype equipment from a wide variety of different vendors to test automatic hotspot discovery and authentication across many different operators’ networks.
The new trials will repeat the basic phase one tests using the newly certified Wi-Fi equipment as well as verify more advanced operator billing and connectivity policies in addition to extensive authentication methods. The trials will test operator-to-operator billing procedures to ensure that they are compensated when carrying each other’s subscribers.
They will also test features that allow users to change their hotspot subscription package to ensure they’re receiving the best deal or, where they do not have automatic access through their operator, to simply set up a connection with the hotspot provider directly through a popup option.
The trials will vet operator connectivity policies for automatically choosing a hotspot when many are available. In order to ensure as many people as possible can access hotspots without entering usernames and passwords, the trials will test a variety of authentication methods, including SIM-based, for the growing number of smartphones, as well as non-SIM based, for tablets, laptops and legacy phones, which cannot support SIM authentication. The methods to be tested are EAP-TLS, EAP-TTLS, EAP-SIM and EAP-AKA.
Shrikant Shenwai, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance, said: ‘Growing mobile data usage is driving a surge of operator interest in public Wi-Fi. Key to this is the development of a new generation of hotspots. Not only do they remove the need for cumbersome log-in procedures, they also support operator roaming agreements giving users broadband access wherever they are.
‘By employing simple connectivity, open standards and global operator relationships, public Wi-Fi now has the same crucial ingredients that made cellular technologies such a massive success. Many of the world’s largest operators are now set to put the first standards-based hotspot equipment through its paces in the most extensive trials ever conducted later this year.’
‘We congratulate the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) as they initiate phase two of their Next-Generation Hotspot program,’ said Edgar Figueroa, CEO, Wi-Fi Alliance. ‘By utilizing Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Passpoint equipment and devices in these trials, operators will be offered a solution that delivers secure and seamless Wi-Fi.’
Wi-Fi hotspots are set to undergo rapid growth with a November 2011 Informa report predicting a rise from 1.3 million in 2011 to 5.8 million by 2015, a 350% increase. This does not include ‘community hotspots’ where users share their own Wi-Fi access point with others, which add a further 4.5 million worldwide.
The first products to be designated Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Passpoint, and which form the test suite for the certification program, are:
•Broadcom Dualband 11n WiFi and Dual Band 802.11n Access Point
•Cisco CT2500 Series WLAN Controller and LAP1260 Series Access Point
•Intel® Centrino® Advanced-N 6230
•Marvell Plug – 88W8787 802.11 a/b/g/n Reference Design
•MediaTek Hotspot 2.0 Client V1
•Qualcomm Atheros Dual-Band XSPAN™ 3-Stream 802.11n Access Point and Dual-Band XSPAN 2-stream 802.11n WLAN Adapter
•Ruckus Wireless ZoneFlex 7363 and ZoneDirector 1100