Boingo CTO: Cellular-to-Wi-Fi roaming to be ready by early 2013

The initiative recently announced by the GSMA and Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) to make roaming between mobile networks and Wi-Fi hotspots more seamless should be ready for commercial use by early 2013, according to Boingo Wireless CTO Niels Jonker.

Jonker is intimately involved in the work to create the new standards--he has been involved in joint industry initiatives on Wi-Fi roaming created by the GSMA, the WBA, the Wi-Fi Alliance and the IEEE. In an interview with FierceBroadbandWireless, he divulged more details about the Wi-Fi roaming initiative announced on March 20.

The Boingo executive said that work is already underway for the first interoperability trials for Hotspot 2.0, which is aimed at ensuring that Wi-Fi devices can easily connect to hotspots in a security-protected, interoperable way. In the second half of this year, the GSMA and WBA's initiative will be tested in the field. Jonker said that all major network infrastructure vendors, wireless carriers and handset makers are involved in the process, naming Cisco, AT&T (NYSE:T), France Telecom's Orange and HTC among the companies that are involved.

The initiative, which hopes to make roaming between a cellular network and a Wi-Fi network as simple and easy as it is today to roam among cellular networks, will be immensely complicated, Jonker said. The GSMA and WBA will work to develop technical and commercial frameworks to use a device's SIM card for authentication when roaming--which will then need to connect to operators' roaming interchanges. The groups said the plan will enable carriers to uniquely and securely identify users whether they are on a mobile or Wi-Fi network, and to handle provisioning of devices, authentication, billing and handset integration.

The commercial details between carriers and Wi-Fi access point providers will be worked out behind the scenes, Jonker said.

To make use of the new technology, users will need to have newer Wi-Fi chipsets in their phones, as well as new firmware.

Jonker said the technology first will be launched in high-traffic locations such as sporting stadiums, large retail stores and elsewhere. However, Jonker cautioned that the deployments will likely be incremental, especially since some network equipment in the field will have to receive firmware updates or be replaced.

Jonker said the technology will help wireless carriers more easily offload data traffic from overloaded cellular networks to Wi-Fi networks. "We've been running loose without standards," he said. "There's never been this industry push and this momentum to go clean up this mess."

Special Report:  Hotspot 2.0: Bringing Wi-Fi traffic into the carrier's mobile network 

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