Hotspot 2.0: Wi-Fi Will Never Be The Same Again

Hotspot 2.0

Carriers are excited by the prospect of Hotspot 2.0 (HS2.0) not least because it takes many of today’s manual Wi-Fi tasks, like authentication, and automates them; it lets users roam without hassle and network operators to focus on more important things than simple administration.

It achieves this through a truly revolutionary overhaul of the Wi-Fi connection procedure. Using the new IEEE 802.11u protocols, HS2.0 allows the Wi-Fi client and infrastructure to have a pre-association “conversation” about the capabilities and AAA interconnects of a particular Wi-Fi network. The client then makes an automatic decision about whether or not to connect to this Wi-Fi network, or to another that might be in range.

The shared vision for HS2.0 is for the Wi-Fi user experience to replicate the cellular phone experience through secure connections, automated, and conforming to user and operator policy. The development has considerable multi-industry muscle behind it from the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) for certification under the Passpoint programme and organisations such as the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) for interoperability.

Hotspot 2.0 makes possible links to a huge network of effectively random Wi-Fi access points through a web of interconnections, so that users can enjoy a seamless experience as they move between Wi-Fi networks from almost any location.

It achieves this through a revolutionary overhaul of the Wi-Fi connection procedure, automating the manual configuration and decision-making process, as well as effectively automating security through the implementation of advanced WPA-2 airlink securing and client isolation. HS2.0 eliminates the hassle of users fiddling with their devices in order to associate to the hotspot. No more ‘SSID surfing’ or having to ask the barista for the Wi-Fi passphrase.

While HS2.0 has been developed and promoted predominately by carriers and equipment suppliers, it will have its greatest impact and appeal within the enterprise. That’s what will make it a game-changer.

HS2.0 will be about much more than the technology enablement of a better mobile user experience – it will shift relationships between carriers and building owners; those who want to provide the uninterrupted service as part of their continued strategy to deliver better subscriber experiences, and those who own the locations essential for providing the continuity of service. This commercial/cultural shift, combined with an important leap forward technologically is going to give HS2.0 its place in the Wi-Fi hall of fame.

Whose Line is it Anyway?

Two principle parties are interested in the provision of Wi-Fi services: the owner of the venue or building, and the service provider. Now their interests are coinciding. The balance of power is shifting; the ‘power’ being the ability to offer robust Wi-Fi connectivity with no signal drop-off.

The widespread and growing use of Wi-Fi across public venues such as hotels, schools, shopping centres, retail outlets, public transport, sports venues – in fact, anywhere where people gather and expect to use their mobile devices without encountering any problems – is both a responsibility and an opportunity for venue owners, and for the enterprise. These are usually the owners of the network infrastructure. Since operators want the Wi-Fi network access, the real opportunity will emerge for any enterprise or venue owner to wholesale their existing wireless LAN capacity to operators; charging them recurring fees for that access.

Mobile service providers want to automatically connect their subscribers to their own ‘branded broadband’ service through the venue’s available high-speed Wi-Fi network, and it’s this connection that HS2.0 will make possible; giving the Wi-Fi network an interconnection with subscribers’ ‘home’ service providers so the devices just carry on functioning in the way we all expect in the 21st century. These back-end connections might be direct, but more likely will be indirectly provided through third-party hubbing services.

Hotspot 2.0 at Work in the Enterprise

A single SSID will advertise automatic authentication to a large number of “home” service providers. The Access Network Query Protocol (ANQP) then lets the devices know which providers have roaming arrangements with the venue. Some providers will be included in the ANQP advertisements from the AP, while the mobile device may request the complete list. Providers may be listed using any or all of the following identifiers:

  • PLMNID: Mobile Operator Country Code (MCC) + Network Code (MNC)
  • NAI: Network Address ID (i.e. Domain Name), e.g. btwireless.com
  • Roaming Consortium Organization Identifier: This is assigned by IEEE to a single entity or group of entities with pooled authentication An 802.1x authentication request from the mobile device is forwarded by the local venue WLAN to the home provider via RADIUS.

An essential element in the roaming process, the HLR (home location register) is the database within a GSM network that stores all the subscriber data. If the home provider is a fixed operator, the request could be cleared through their RADIUS infrastructure and subscriber management system. AAA accounting records can also be provided from the local WLAN to the home provider AAA server for billing purposes.

Enterprise WLANs involve large capital and operational expenses and HS2.0 offers the chance both to gain a return on the investment and to secure an on-going revenue stream. The WLAN will become a profit centre. As it does, enterprises will need to build out their wireless LAN networks – driving new requirements for higher capacity and more industrial strength equipment. Where it gets really interesting is when Google, Facebook and Amazon.com come into the picture as home provider, using HS2.0 to authenticate users anywhere against their own databases.

Most expect HS2.0 to go live around late 2013 and early 2014. Once it hits, full monty, enterprise Wi-Fi will never be the same again.

David Callisch

David Callisch is vice president of marketing at Ruckus Wireless. With over 15 years of experience in marketing and marketing communications, David has focused his efforts on the networking hardware industry, and is a veritable fountain of information on this subject. He has extensive experience helping networking startups identify market opportunities, establish defensible differentiation, and create a unique brand. Oh, and he brings bucketloads of energy to every project. Before Ruckus, he was the director of communications at Aruba Networks, helping to launch the company and build the wireless LAN switching market segment. Previously, he served as director of communications at Allegro Networks, a supplier of carrier routing equipment, and held marketing positions at Alteon WebSystems, StrataCom, SynOptics/Bay Networks, and BT North America. His largish nostrils are his defining characteristic.

  • Hotspot 2.0 is in some ways a game-changing piece of technology. Add to this the possibility of mobile subscribers with SIMs roaming onto Wi-Fi networks and back, and you have the makings of a big shift in the wireless / mobile industry. I believe that carrier-grade Wi-Fi with seamless mobile handover and inter-Wi-Fi service provider roaming is both a billion-dollar opportunity and a potential enormous threat to mobile operators out there. At the same time it is a big opportunity for MVNOs and cable companies to offer wireless services where before the inconvenience of logon methods, etc. stopped this from going mass-market. So new and exciting times for everyone in the Wi-Fi industry in particular.

  • Nicola Iotti

    Sometimes industry is ahead of standards.While HS2.0 has limited features, not yet widely supported by clients and that require the replacement of APs, Guglielmo in Italy has a countrywide hotspots network with patented and more advanced features like cloud based network selection, client pre-authentication, single user multiple device authentication …and of course SIM based authentication.
    All these features do not require new APs to be implemented and are already supported by Android devices. See you at Wi-Fi Global Congress in London (10-13 June) or check out our website: http://www.guglielmo.biz