Wednesday 14 March 2012

Hotspot 2.0

First generation Wi-Fi hotspots haven't been popular.  They are generally used in an emergency only.  Users dont want to make credit card payments to multiple providers as they move around.  The Pay-As-You-Go billing model never matched up with 3G which uses Mobile Operator contracts to make payment, and roaming easy.  With the introduction of 4G (LTE) offering Wi-Fi speeds the Mobile Operators had pushed PAYG Wi-Fi into a corner.

In addition to the introduction of LTE, many Mobile Operators are looking to provide 'small cell' 4G which effectively works like a Wi-Fi access point. It's an OFDM radio offering data connectivity to the Evolved Packet Core.  These "pico cell" access points are being installed to high streets and they have the benefit that interference is unlikely as each installation must be registered with the RF regulator.

Consumers are much more likely to add a 4G package to their contract than use PAYG Wi-Fi.  This change in consumer behaviour means that Wi-FI will be used where there is no mobile coverage.  Or where the user density was too great for the cellular mast to meet demand.

So, lets talk about Hotspot 2.0

What is Hotspot 2.0?
Also known as Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint, Hotspot 2.0 is a new approach to public access Wi-Fi.  The idea is for mobile devices to automatically join a Wi-Fi subscriber service whenever the user enters a Hotspot 2.0 area.  The intention is to provide better bandwidth and services-on-demand to end-users, whilst also alleviating mobile carrier infrastructure of traffic overheads.

How will it work?
Hotspot 2.0 is based on the IEEE 802.11u standard.  Which is a new set of protocols to enable cellular-like roaming.  If your device supports 802.11u and you are subscribed to a Hotspot 2.0 service you will automatically connect and roam.

Where will I get it?
I would expect early adopters will be the current Wireless ISP's (BT Openzone, the Cloud, etc) and mobile carriers (T-Mobile, Vodafone, etc).  There is already a significant footprint for WISP services in event venues, hospitality, etc.  So for example, if I am a T-Mobile subscriber and they have a partnership with BT Openzone my handset will automatically join BT Openzone HS2 locations.  The consumer contracts are held by the mobile carrier, so I would assume that the data offload would be cross charged to T-Mobile.

When will it arrive?
The word on the street is of late 2012 for Wi-Fi Alliance ratification and device support and early 2013 for usable services.
  There is certainly a demand from Wi-Fi owners (who will generate income) and end-users (who get better bandwidth and services).

How is it setup?
It's a bit too early to tell, but I would speculate that the Wi-Fi Internet Service Providers (WISP) will need a Hotspot 2.0 'integrator' to audit the WLAN for readiness.  Once everyone is happy that the WLAN meets minimum standards the integrator will configure the WLAN edge infrastructure for a single service which uses cloud-based AAA to authorise the client.  The best thing about 802.11u is that a single SSID is broadcast and carries information for multiple subscription services, so the airspace remains clean.  The client devices will be authorised using 802.1X with EAP (TLS, TTLS or SIM).  This is likely to need an app on the client side to act as a dot1x supplicant.  A key feature within 802.11u is the ability to pre-associate and test Internet availability.  This should avoid 'stranded clients' when faults exist.

Hotspot 2.0 is great in concept, a secure 'turnkey' guest service is what customers want.  They also want to revert to a third party for the 'onboarding' of user accounts.  This solution also offers revenue for the Wi-Fi owner and a free service for visitors. 'Everyones a winner' as they say.... 

The technology champions have a big task ahead to get this kind of collaborative service into production.  However, there seems to be a strong appetite and early trials are under way.  So we can assume that there are few core organisations driving progress.  Hopefully we'll see a 'Hotspot 2.0 forum' of top-level SP's who offer roaming services, with international agreements for roaming abroad.

We can also assume that there will be a minimum requirements spec for WISPs to adhere to.  From an RF design perspective the goal will be to support high-density client counts.  However this will be difficult to define, for example a football stadium is vastly different to a hotel.  So from layer 1 up there will be challenges to ensure Hotspot 2.0 services meet expectations.

I'd be interested to see how Hotspot 2.0 competes with 4G/LTE for HD environments like outdoor sports and event venues?  If anyone has compared these two technologies please feel free to comment!

Marcus Burton from CWNP has also written a great blog on this topic

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