Can You Afford to Wait for Hotspot 2.0?

Hotspot 2.0 promises to make connecting to Wi-Fi networks from your smartphone as simple and transparent as making a cellular call. Developed under the auspices of the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA), the goal of Hotspot 2.0 is to remove the cumbersome barriers commonly associated with Wi-Fi connection by completely automating network discovery, authentication, and roaming functions.

Authentication & Roaming Today’s Hotspots Hotspot 2.0
Network Discovery and Selection SSID 802.11U
Layer 2 Authentication None 802.11X
Layer 2 Air Encryption None 802.11i
Layer 3 Authentication WebAuth, WiSPr EAP-SIM, EAP-AKA, EAP-TLS, EAP-TTLS
Hotspot Network Untrusted Trusted
Interoperable No Yes
Hotspot 2.0 promises to deliver improved Wi-Fi discovery, authentication, and roaming features.

Hotspot 2.0 Benefits Operators and Subscribers Alike

  • For operators: 2.0 provides a standardized means of giving subscribers access to core network apps and services over managed Wi-Fi resources; it also takes advantage of additional bandwidth capacity that Wi-Fi networks provide for offloading data, voice, and video traffic.
  • For subscribers: 2.0 eliminates the complexity of connecting to Wi-Fi networks and provides cellular-like roaming capabilities between preferred Wi-Fi roaming partners.
“The ability to continue a seamless session is not trivial … It’s one of the things that won’t really happen until this technology is more widely deployed and used. We’re taking things in stages: until you get the underlying things like seamless authentication done, you can’t address this. In the longer term it’s an aim, but it is going to be a little while down the road before it’s possible” 
-Nigel Bird, Orange Group, October 3, 2012

But Hotspot 2.0 is not a short-term proposition. Certification, under the guidance of the Wi-Fi Alliance CERTIFIED Passpoint™ program, has been limited to a handful of products to date. And lengthy field trials will still be required before large-scale deployments take place. Even then, coverage will be limited to access points under direct operator control, which only represents a fraction of the Wi-Fi installed base. The reality is that creating a Hotspot 2.0 network fabric with seamless, ubiquitous coverage is a huge undertaking that will be many years in the making.

Integrating Hotspot 2.0 with an Intelligent Client 

hotspot 2.0 data offload intersection for blogRather than waiting for Hotspot 2.0-compliant software and equipment to become ubiquitous in the market, some operators are deploying an intelligent traffic management client to provide Hotspot 2.0 capabilities, such as seamless EAP-SIM authentication, session persistence, and least-cost roaming.

Additional benefits of using a client to enhance Hotspot 2.0 include:  

  • Consistent User Experience:
    Installing an intelligent client on devices ensures a consistent user experience across all access technologies and device types, regardless of whether or not those devices are Hotspot 2.0 compliant; this allows legacy and 2.0 equipment to use the same Wi-Fi network resources.
  • Efficient Radio Management: 
    Hotspot 2.0 requires device radios to be turned on at all times to detect 802.11u AP beacons. This can result in constant channel interference from competing APs beaconing at the same frequency, as well as rapid battery drain. A client can automatically turn Wi-Fi radios on and off based on policies and real-time conditions, significantly reducing channel interference problems and greatly increasing battery life.
  • Enhanced Network Insights:
    Hotspot 2.0 provides limited visibility to Wi-Fi access points, creating potential “blind spots” for the operator. An intelligent client can provide detailed insights into network connection conditions all the way out to the device level, ensuring the best possible user experience.
  • Extended Traffic Management Policies:
    A client extends traffic management capabilities beyond Wi-Fi to include 3G and 4G networks. This gives operators the flexibility to define policies based on the best available network, or least-cost roaming partner, without being limited to using Hotspot 2.0 network resources.

There is no question that Hotspot 2.0 represents an important step in simplifying Wi-Fi connectivity, but it will take years for it to be deployed on a broad commercial scale. In the meantime, mobile network operators and their subscribers can reap the benefits of automatic Wi-Fi discovery, authentication, and roaming by deploying an intelligent traffic management client.