ITEM: Good news for those of you who find Wi-Fi usage a pain at home and even worse when on the road: Passpoint is here. Almost.
The Wi-Fi Alliance announced Tuesday that it has officially started the certification process for devices supporting Passpoint, which enables them to automatically discover and connect to Passpoint-compliant Wi-Fi hotspots.
Equipment vendors first out of the gate with Passpoint-certified gear include BelAir (recently acquired by Ericsson), Broadcom, Cisco Systems, Intel, Marvell, MediaTek, Qualcomm Atheros and Ruckus Wireless.
Passpoint (a Wi-Fi Alliance spec formerly known as Hotspot 2.0) tackles two of the key headaches of using Wi-Fi hotspots: finding one that your device is eligible to connect to, and actually connecting to it.
A recurring them at the Wi-Fi Global Congress (currently in progress in Seoul) has been the importance of integrating Wi-Fi into the overall mobile broadband experience, which won't happen until at the very least users can connect to Wi-Fi – and roam to other networks – as easily as mobile phones automatically detect and connect to home networks and roaming partner networks.
Essentially, Passpoint does just that – it gives devices the ability to discover hotspots that the consumer can use, and authenticates and connects them automatically (with WPA2-level security). Indeed, a critical feature of Passpoint is its ability to facilitate easier roaming between service providers, says Sarah Morris, senior marketing manager for the WFA.
Morris highlighted a recent WFA survey of smartphone and tablet users in major Wi-Fi markets such as the US, UK, France, Japan, China, and Korea, which found that 77% of respondents would likely switch service providers ASAP in order to access a Passpoint-like Wi-Fi offering. And 87% on average said they would probably stay with their current provider if a Passpoint-like offering were included in their plan.
“This is a major milestone for the Wi-Fi Alliance and the Wireless Broadband Alliance as a building block for NGH,” Morris said whilst announcing the Passpoint certification launch at the Wi-Fi Global Congress,
NGH (Next Generation Hotspot) is being developed by the Wireless Broadband Alliance, in cooperation with the Wi-Fi Alliance and the GSM Association, to enable seamless end to end Wi-Fi connections across operators, to include carrier grade network management, automatic discovery and selection, global roaming and interoperability, and secure, seamless authentication.
The same day the WFA launched its Passpoint certification program, the WBA announced it will kick off Phase 2 of its NGH trials [PDF] in Q4 this year – this time with a larger group of operators and with certified Passpoint gear.
Phase 1 – which included a dozen operators in Asia, the US and Europe – focused on NGH capabilities such as cellular-like connectivity to home-operator hotspots and roaming to visited operators and residential hotspots. The WBA billed those trials a success [PDF] in February.
Almost 40 operators will participate in the Phase 2 trial, including Aircel, China Mobile, DOCOMO InterTouch, Indosat M2, CSL, KDDI, KT, NTT DOCOMO, PCCW Mobile, SK Telecom, Smart Communications, Softbank Mobile, StarHub and True Corp (many of which participated in Phase 1).
The caveat to all this is that this means NGH is still technically in the trial phase. Between that and the inevitable gaps between certification, commercial availability, shipping and deployment of Passpoint-compliant devices, mobile broadband users won't be experiencing seamless Wi-Fi connectivity and roaming for awhile (unless they’re involved with the NGH trials). Still, it’s a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, Morris of the WFA said that the industry group is already working on Release 2 of Passpoint, which will add support for operator policy and online signup to the mix. Release 2 should be ready by this time next year, she said.