The Wi-Fi Alliance has kicked off a new project called Wi-Fi CERTIFIED that is aimed at greatly simplifying the user experience at Wi-Fi hotspots, while also insuring basic security using behind-the-scenes authentication. The Wi-Fi non-profit association is partnering with wireless equipment maker Cisco and global telecom carriers to produce a worldwide network of interoperable hotspots that users can seamlessly connect to, roam across, and use to hop between a mobile broadband connection and Wi-Fi connection.
Before you get too excited, you should know that this is primarily aimed at smartphones, as wireless carriers look to offload mobile broadband data from their mobile networks to Wi-Fi in order to reduce congestion. However, this could also affect tablets and laptops that use integrated mobile broadband chips. Devices will need to have a SIM installed and activated, because that is the proposed method for silently authenticating devices on this uber-mesh-network of global hotspots.
Data volume on cellular networks is expected to almost double from about 2.3 terabytes in 2011 to 4.5 terabytes in 2012. Cellular companies are expanding their Wi-Fi hotspots where it makes sense in order to ease the load. They currently run about 750,000 of these Wi-Fi hotspots, with plans to increase the number to 1.5 million by 2014.
Cisco has signed on to build networking gear that can support the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED initiative and France Telecom-Orange is one of the first wireless carriers to get on board.
The Wi-Fi Alliance has laid out four main components of the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED program (quoted from their materials):
1. Network Discovery and Selection: Devices discover and automatically choose networks based upon user preferences, operator policies and network optimization 2. Streamlined Network Access: In many cases, devices will be automatically granted access to the network based upon credential mechanisms, such as SIM cards, which are widely used in cellular devices today 3. Immediate Account Provisioning: The process of establishing a new user account at the point of access will be streamlined, eliminating user steps and driving a common provisioning methodology across vendors 4. WPA2 Security: Over-the-air transmissions are encrypted using the latest-generation security technology
The Wi-Fi Alliance timed the official announcement about Wi-Fi CERTIFIED with the start of the CTIA Wireless conference in Orlando. Naturally, for this to succeed, it will need near universal support from the wireless providers. I'll be checking with various telecoms at CTIA this week to see if they plan to participate, and I will update this article and/or post in the discussion thread below with any updates.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).