Passpoint WiFi Hotspot Technology Coming This Summer: WiFi Alliance

The Passpoint technology will enable mobile device users to automatically and securely roam from one WiFi hotspot to another.

NEW ORLEANS €” The WiFi Alliance is set to begin certifying networking gear and mobile devices in June, the next step in addressing user demand for greater access to WiFi networks, according to the head of the organization.

Alliance CEO Edgar Figueroa said the goal of the Passpoint technology is to make it easier for mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, to connect to WiFi networks. Passpoint would let mobile device users automatically connect to wireless hotspots from 3G and 4G networks offered by wireless carriers.

The technology would offer the dual advantages of not only giving wireless users greater and faster access to the WiFi hotspots, but also would help take some of the traffic off increasingly burdened wireless networks, Figueroa said in an interview with eWEEK.

€œWiFi is something people really, really want,€ he said. €œThey know they can do more with their devices when connected to WiFi.€

The WiFi Alliance, in conjunction with the opening day of the CTIA Wireless 2012 show here May 8, unveiled the results of a survey that illustrates user demand for WiFi. According to the survey of tablet and smartphone users, 90 percent of respondents said they would stick with their current wireless service providers if those companies offered the ability to automatically connect to WiFi hotspots.

Another 70 percent said they would switch providers if necessary to get this type of service, and 72 percent said they would pay more for it, according to the survey.

In addition, 85 percent said they would prefer connecting their smartphone or tablet to the Internet via WiFi rather than a wireless network for at least one common online activity, while 83 percent said they would do more on their devices if WiFi were more widely available.

Eighty-seven percent said they want greater WiFi availability for their mobile devices.

The WiFi Alliance over the past couple of years has driven the development of Passpoint, which would enable mobile device users to automatically connect to available WiFi hotspots that are Passpoint-certified. Alliance officials envision a future where devices seamlessly jump from one WiFi hotspot to another as the users move€”similar to cellular roaming€”without the user having to deal with passwords or a lengthy setup process.

Figueroa also noted that Passpoint WiFi hotspots would be protected with WPA 2 security. Many WiFi hotspots today are unsecured, raising the risk of stolen data or other cyber-threats, he said. €œWith Passpoint, you can be confident what you€™re doing wirelessly will be secure,€ he said.

Analysts have said that Passpoint could prove a benefit for users, who could cut their data costs by offloading some of their tasks€”such as viewing videos or streaming data€”from 3G or 4G networks to WiFi. However, the benefits are less clear for the carriers, which could see the pressure on their networks ease with some traffic going to WiFi hotspots, but also could find themselves losing money that users otherwise would be spending on their wireless plans.

Figueroa argued that given the rapidly growing amount of traffic on the wireless networks, the Passpoint technology could be a boon for user and carrier alike.

€œService provider networks are a commodity that is both valuable and limited,€ he said. €œWiFi is available and free.€

During his keynote address at the show here May 8, Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said the government and wireless industry are taking a number of steps in hopes of freeing up much needed spectrum for wireless networks, including the drive to offload some of that traffic onto WiFi networks.