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Why connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot is about to get easier

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In the near future, getting your smartphone, tablet or laptop connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot won’t be an exercise in frustration or require annoying pop-up log-in screens. The Wi-Fi Alliance will begin to certify wireless devices for its industry-wide Passpoint initiative this July. With devices using the Passpoint standard, users will be able to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots without having to enter logon credentials with each connection instance and will be able to seamlessly roam from one Passpoint-enabled Wi-Fi network to another.

WPA-2 Enterprise security for Passpoint-certified hotspots is important, but the seamless roaming to other Passpoint networks and simple connections will surely appeal to consumers and corporate types alike; especially as we all start to carry more wireless devices. Here’s how the Wi-Fi Alliance describes the first phase of the Passpoint initiative:

Wi-Fi hotspot access for in-network APs no longer requires an active selection or input from the subscriber. Passpoint uses a consistent interface and automated association process.

Devices can be automatically granted access to the network based on multiple credential types. Passpoint supports Subscriber Identity Module (SIM)–based authentication, widely used in cellular networks today, as well as username/password combinations and certificate credentials. No end-user intervention is required in order to establish a connection to a trusted network.

Using SIM cards for authentication is a superb option as it’s a proven solution for access to cellular networks around the world. Sure, there are still plenty of CDMA handsets out there without a SIM card, but Verizon(s vz) and Sprint(s s), for example, are moving towards LTE networks, which are GSM-based and do use a SIM.

Simple authentication and roaming will likely be welcomed by carriers who are trying to offload as much cellular traffic as possible to Wi-Fi networks; whether they’re networks run by the carriers or by third parties, such as Boingo. And the SIM approach offers a method to provide operator-specific controls for partner networks. Phase two of Passpoint, planned for 2013, will add streamlined account provisioning for Wi-Fi as well.

Ideally, the days of using splash screens or login apps for Wi-Fi access will diminish with Passpoint. And that’s key because not every connected device has a high-powered web browser or is challenged by input methods. Take Amazon’s Kindle(s amzn), for example. Om is traveling right now and just lamented how difficult it is to get his e-reader connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot:

“Most airport lounges and public locations want you to sign-in through a browser page. On Kindle’s browser, that is like cleaning your nails with a butcher’s knife. I have tried and tried and failed. It is frustrating to say the least.”

Hang in there, Om. Help is on the way if you can hold out until later this year!

5 Responses to “Why connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot is about to get easier”

  1. I love the fact that Om was suckered into buying a device that doesn’t work off his home network And was suckered by the fact sheet that said wifi enabled or 802 a/b/g/n compatable. Never mind that the browser doesn’t work.
    Om, now that you have personal experience and such media clout, why don’t you start a device standards association and make another billion dollars.
    This scheme mentioned in this article will not work in rural America where satellite broadband is the only thing available.
    Picture this: a ten jeep caravan pulls into a resort gas station to fill up.
    They all have their iphone setup to autoconnect and sync there 2 megapixel photos they have been out capturing for two days while ohving. Bam the daily limit of useage set by the satellite provider is hit and nobody gets to connect for 24 hrs.

  2. crimcriminey

    doodleedoo-doodleedoo-doodleedo… flash forward a few years…

    …the attack stems from the wireless client’s association from one passpoint to the next. PSKs can be gleaned in anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 days.