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Seamless Wi-Fi on your smartphone could quickly become reality

Written on:May 8, 2012
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Soon our smartphones will automatically connect to carriers’ Wi-Fi hotspots thanks to the Wi-Fi Alliance’s new Passpoint certification. Although the Wi-Fi Alliance won’t accept its first devices for certification until late June, there may not be much of a lag time before it hits consumer phones — and other devices.

Wi-Fi Alliance marketing director Kelly Davis-Felner said the Alliance isn’t expecting vendors to submit just new smartphones, tablets and access points to its labs for Passpoint certification, but also the huge body of existing devices and equipment already in the market – upgraded with new Hotspot 2.0 software. Once that old gear receives certification, vendors can push that software out to millions of access points and Wi-Fi enabled handsets.

That means unlike the usual wireless network cycles, we won’t have to wait for next-generation equipment and new gadgets to gradually make their way into the market. “There are millions of access points out there,” Davis-Felner said. “Hopefully they upgrade sooner rather than later.”

The Alliance has already pre-certified a core set of access points and handsets that will serve as a testbed against which the Alliance will compare submissions. The handsets that emerge from the Alliance’s labs will be able to seamlessly authenticate to Passpoint-compliant hotspots without futzing about with network IDs and passwords.

Don’t expect your phone to start automatically logging into every access point in sight though. Essentially Passpoint and Hotspot 2.0 will make it easy to log in to carrier-owned and-managed access points, and right now there aren’t a heck of a lot of them. AT&T has been the most aggressive deploying its own hotspots, but most of the other U.S. operators only use them for spot coverage.

But Davis-Felner said Passpoint certification may well provide the extra push for U.S. operators to get more aggressive about Wi-Fi. The big thing holding back large-scale carrier Wi-Fi adoption is the login issue. Once Hotspot 2.0 solves that problem, they will have the incentive to expand their own Wi-Fi networks and sign deals hotspot providers like Boingo or Time Warner Cable.

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