Wi-Fi

Cisco, Wi-Fi Alliance, and telecoms look to secure, simplify Wi-Fi hotspots

A new program called Wi-Fi CERTIFIED is aimed at simplifying global roaming across hotspots for mobile devices.

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.

About

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).

6 comments
jayohem
jayohem

Several people have spoken of establishing various types of areawide (city, county) wifi connectivity, but competition and high pricing seem to stand in their way. Perhaps the providers should think more along a McWireless or Wireless King priced model than how much as they can squeeze out of the public. They'll make up the difference with the volume of business. That's how the big box discount store chain owners made their fortunes.

thesnowfamily
thesnowfamily

Back when cell phones became popular it did not take long for the ability to hop from tower to tower while traveling. I have wondered why the same model has not been used for Wi-Fi technology so smart phones, and Wi-Fi device, could do the same. I understand signal range is an issue but it seems like one that could be solved. Maybe all this is the start of the answer to my question?

bswift77
bswift77

I have been on board with this for some time. This would be a wonderful idea. More and more people are using their smartphones which creates more and more traffic on phone data networks. This is a win for everyone. I would love to see this expanded to laptops. More and more companies are going with Unified Communications which puts more emphasis on mobility. I love this idea.

JonGauntt
JonGauntt

I think this is the perfect next step. It makes a lot of sense as more and more people are utilizing the power of smart devices. In 20 years will we be worried about carrying around a laptop and connecting to these kinds of networks? I really don't think so. I think we need a breakthrough in input devices so that we no longer need a full keyboard attached to the main board and display. Once that happens, we will no longer need the large size of the laptops we currently see. At that point, portability is king and it doesn't matter the size of the device as long as it is powerful. We are already seeing very powerful devices that would allow us to use moderate augmented reality and it will only get better in the next few years. At that point, if you could carry the power of a laptop in your pocket, why wouldn't you use it? This type of network meshing and authentication really is looking further down the road than the next year or two and I for one am glad to see it. It won't trickle down to where I live for a while, but if the technology is becoming available and utilized it will gradually take over a lot of the market and allow the average user a lot of flexibility in using smaller technology. Who knows, maybe in 10 years it will be to the point that picking the network isn't the important thing... which is one area where the US is really lagging behind the world. If we had a common network we would have superior connections, but while everything is split up between the majors we all have poor service frequently. Perhaps this is a step in the right direction to help that. I hope we see all (or at least most) get on board with this idea.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

I think that the cell network was designed this way from the start. They carefully have enough overlap where the device can sense each signal without one drowning out the other. Typically, Wi-Fi networks are not designed or installed by wireless engineers and consist of only one access point. Most modern access points have the ability to function as "wireless repeaters". This is essentially what you are talking about. They have to have the same SSID but they must broadcast on different channels so that you do not get interference. They also must be placed intelligently so that the signals overlap just enough. You will be able to exit one signal feild and enter another without losing your "connection". Now imagine that if you walked to your neighbors house and starting using their connection, now you are "roaming". Cell phones do drop calls when transferring to a "roaming signal". This is essentially like a different SSID, owned by a different company.

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