The rise of new Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices and the growing ubiquity of Wi-Fi access points in most countries has been astounding. Recent mobile consumer research by the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) clearly demonstrates that most mobile devices are now Wi-Fi-enabled, and that approximately 70 to 80 percent of the time that consumers use these devices, they are potentially within range of a Wi-Fi access point. In fact, the research shows that one-third of the time, smartphone users are choosing Wi-Fi—rather than their mobile cellular network—to connect to the Internet. We expect that within the next two years, the number of Wi-Fi connections will reach parity with mobile cellular network connections. Wi-Fi has truly become a part of the mobile equation as consumers increasingly look to it to connect to rich mobile media experiences and to power their new, essential nomadic devices, such as tablets and eReaders.
While Wi-Fi is truly becoming a viable and essential complement to mobile, the user experience is certainly not without its challenges. Who hasn’t experienced the frustration of having to log on to a splash page and enter a complex passcode to gain Wi-Fi access at a public hotspot. And you have to repeat this complicated process every time you return for your morning cappuccino. The Cisco IBSG research clearly demonstrates that people also want seamless integration among Wi-Fi hotspots, and increasingly between mobile cellular and Wi-Fi networks.
The recent launch of the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Passpoint program by the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) offers to make this integration a reality. This industrywide, interoperable platform, supported across a range of networks and devices, will revolutionize the Wi-Fi user experience and become a key enabler of seamless data offload from mobile networks to public hotspots.
Here are the key Passpoint features planned for mid-2012:
- Network discover and selection: Devices identify and associate with Passpoint networks in the background, without any active intervention from the subscriber.
- Seamless network access: Authentication no longer requires a browser-based sign-on or the subscriber to enter a password. Devices are automatically authenticated based on a device’s SIM card, a username and password, or installed security certificate.
- Secure authentication and connectivity: All connections are secured with WPA2-Enterprise, which provides a level of security comparable to that of cellular networks.
These additional features are planned for 2013:
- Immediate account provisioning: Streamline process to establish a new user account at the point of access, driving a common provisioning methodology across vendors.
- Operator policy: Mechanisms to support operator-specific subscriber policies, including network selection policy.
Cisco is active in both the Wi-Fi Alliance and the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA). The company has been a driver and supporter of the WFA Passpoint program and the umbrella WBA Next Generation Hotspot program because it sees them as crucial elements in delivering the next wave of mobility. Cisco IBSG describes this wave as the New Mobile—a seamless and integrated business and technical experience between mobile and Wi-Fi networks. The Passpoint program offers to deliver not only a much better Wi-Fi experience, but also allows seamless and secure integration of the two mobile access networks. This innovation is not only great for the consumer, but will benefit all of the players across the mobile ecosystem.