The update to the Wi-Fi Alliance's Passpoint service will make it easier for tablet users to sign up

Update to Passpoint Wi-Fi roaming system aims for new users

An update to the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Passpoint Wi-Fi roaming system aimed at boosting user numbers will ease the process of registering with hotspot providers.

The Passpoint system, released by the trade association in 2012, is designed to provide a cellular-like experience to seamlessly switch between any WiFi hotspots run by a provider that the user subscribes to, or which has a roaming agreement with their mobile operator or home broadband provider, without having to re-enter authentication details each time.

The system has already been deployed by providers such as Orange, SK Telecom, Boingo and Time Warner Cable, but so far this has involved pre-provisioned devices without the ability to easily register for new services.

The latest update allows on the spot sign up by allowing users that don’t have an account with a hotspot provider or its roaming partners to set up an account via their device using a secure registration process rather than being taken to a captive portal on an open network by their Internet browser, as is often the case when signing up to public WiFi networks.

According to Greg Ennis, vice president of technology at Wi-Fi Alliance, as well as improving the user experience for existing customers the ability to sign up on the spot should help to connect the proliferation of WiFi only devices such as tablets to these service providers.

“This is a huge proportion of the mobile user base that the traditional carrier approach with smartphones doesn’t really address,” he said. “It’s a huge opportunity for the industry to be able to accommodate those types of devices in a fashion as close to the cellular experience as you can achieve.”

Passpoint is essentially a marketing name for the Hotspot 2.0 IEEE standard and on top of easing the processes of roaming between hotspots the system also provides enterprise-grade WPA2 encryption for all connections.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is keen to promote the service as an important complement to traditional cellular roaming for telecoms providers struggling with increasing data traffic.

“There’s been a huge data explosion and everyone is aware of the fact that demand on the part of users for data traffic overwhelms typically what the carriers can provide,” said Ennis. “They see Wi-Fi as a means of satisfying customer data demands when in the presence of a Wi-Fi hot spot.”

To that end the update adds new features for operators that allow them to apply policy settings that govern how users connect, setting routing preferences or specifying preferred network providers or even switching connections based on the speed of various access points.

Edgar Figueroa, CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance, said: “What makes the new features exciting is that they empower businesses to realize the powerful commercial impact that Wi-Fi can offer by giving them the ability to engage with customers on a new platform in a secure and streamlined fashion.”

On top of the fixed and mobile operators that have already deployed Passpoint networks, more than 20 operators are now participating in Wi-Fi roaming trials based on Passpoint.

“Passpoint already delivers the best user experience available in public Wi-Fi access, and the new feature enhancements provide a fundamental step forward that enables carriers to identify and provision users on the fly,” said Dr. Derek Petersen, CTO for Boingo Wireless.

“We’ve made Passpoint a standard requirement for every new network we deploy. Carriers, handset manufacturers, and network OEMs should run, not walk, to embrace and deploy Passpoint capabilities as soon as possible to maximize accessibility and dramatically improve the user experience.”

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