The WiFi Alliance is adding more capabilities to its Passpoint initiative, which is designed to make it easier for mobile device owners to move from one WiFi hotspot to another.
The group launched Passpoint two years ago as a way to address growing user demand for better access to WiFi networks and to give businesses a service they could offer customers. The technology—based on the WiFi Alliance's Hotspot 2.0 specification—enables users with smartphones, tablets or notebooks who have signed up for the program to automatically connect to WiFi hotspots without the hassle of having to sign onto each one.
Instead, Passpoint allows the device to work like smartphones do on mobile broadband networks. The smartphones automatically connect to the broadband carrier networks as they move around, getting near constant connectivity without the users having to do anything.
With Passpoint, the devices will automatically connect to WiFi hotspots that also use the Hotspot 2.0 spec. The hotspots in the Passpoint network automatically authenticate the user's device, and a secure connection is made via WPA2-Enterprise technology. As the user moves around, the device will connect with Passpoint hotspots that are in range.
For users, Passpoint removes the various steps needed to connect to a WiFi hotspot. Instead, the device now can automatically connect without the user having to do anything beyond the initial signup for the service.
For businesses and wireless carriers, Passpoint offers a range of advantages. Carrier broadband networks are under increasing pressure from customers for more capacity and greater speeds. That pressure will only continue to grow as the number of devices rises in the coming years. WiFi networks represent a way for carriers to offload some of the traffic from their broadband network and ease some of the demand.
That will continue to be important. Cisco Systems officials expect that between now and 2018, wireless traffic will surpass that coming over wired networks, most traffic will be generated by devices other than PCs, and WiFi will carry 49 percent of the traffic and cellular 12 percent. Fixed traffic will account for 39 percent of the total, according to Cisco's numbers, published in June. WiFi will not only generate more traffic via users directly, but also from broadband carriers offloading some of the workloads from their networks, Cisco found.
In addition, businesses can use the improved WiFi capabilities in Passpoint to attract customers and keep them in the store longer, according to the WiFi Alliance. According to a study conducted in the United States and United Kingdom for the group, 70 percent of respondents said they'd be less likely to leave their cable or wireless provider if the provider offered a network of Passpoint hotspots, and 68 percent said they'd switch mobile providers—and half said they would pay more—for an offering that included access to Passpoint. In addition, 69 percent said they had used a mobile device while shopping, and 28 percent said that having a Passpoint-enabled hotspot would make them more likely to stay in the store, 29 percent said they would be more likely to return and 27 percent said they would choose a store with Passpoint over one without.
"Enthusiasm for Passpoint from both mobile and fixed operators continues to mount, and the strategic value of Passpoint extends into new segments as well," Wi-Fi Alliance CEO Edgar Figueroa said in a statement. "What makes the new features exciting is that they empower businesses to realize the powerful commercial impact that WiFi can offer by giving them the ability to engage with customers on a new platform in a secure and streamlined fashion."
The new capabilities in Passpoint include a streamlined process for creating new user accounts, enabling people to sign onto the program on the spot. In addition, the registration process is more secure, and WiFi service providers can now distribute their subscriber policies—such as which networks to join and in what order—through the hotspot.
Among the companies supporting Passpoint are Aruba Networks, Cisco, Intel, Marvell Technologies, Broadcom, Ericsson, Qualcomm Atheros, MediaTek and Ruckus Wireless.