Fon ready for Hotspot 2.0 but it’s slow going

Fon (Fon)
Fon will be presenting its new WiFi Service Management Solution at Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona later this month. Image: Fon

The Hotspot 2.0 standard for Wi-Fi is designed to make Wi-Fi roaming as seamless as cellular, automatically and securely connecting to a hotspot. But it’s taking a while to actually get deployed in the market.

And even though Fon’s Wi-Fi service management solution is Hotspot 2.0 compliant, it doesn’t supply or control the actual physical hotspots that are deployed. That’s dependent upon how its partners support the technology, and the reality is: that’s not much right now.

“Even though our technology is used there and it’s ready to go, we see it as a slow transition towards that,” Fon COO Enrique Farfan told FieceWirelessTech. “Obviously, we’re all hoping that this speeds up. At this moment, we see that is still a little bit away.”

A lot of “home spots” are not compliant with Hotspot 2.0, a relatively newish standard that enables seamless roaming among Wi-Fi networks and between Wi-Fi and cellular networks. It was developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance and the Wireless Broadband Association (WBA) to enable seamless hand-off of traffic without requiring additional user sign-on and authentication, so it resembles cellular in that way. . Release 2 adds more features on top of Hotspot 2.0 Release 1.

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Farfan said he believes things are happening much faster on the public side of things, such as with Boingo Wireless and its airport deployments, but it’s slow going in the home spot or small business markets. Without a strong business case behind it, it’s a pretty big investment for service providers to swap out the older customer premise equipment and upgrade it with the newer stuff.

When Fon was founded in 2006, mobile operators were not all that keen on Wi-Fi. In the U.S., AT&T had not yet launched the iPhone that generated so much traffic, eventually leading it to embrace Wi-Fi offloading in a big way.

Now, some 19 operators all over the world are connecting with Fon, which has two business lines: Fon Network, which ties together different carrier and premium networks into one, facilitating roaming between countries and selling access deals to interested parties; and Fon Solutions, which, as the technology arm of the company, offers best-in-class Wi-Fi products and services. Fon's partners include British Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, SoftBank Japan, Telstra Australia and more.

In a nutshell, what Fon’s platform does is enable operators to offer Wi-Fi as they would offer anything else, Farfan said.

While Fon doesn’t position itself as a substitute to cellular, the challenge always has been the fact that many people want to compare Wi-Fi to cellular. Many of the advancements in Wi-Fi technology and standards go a long way to narrow that gap, and when you bring Hotspot 2.0 into the mix, “now we’re starting to see a whole new way of providing Wi-Fi,” he said. 

Fon CEO Alex Puregger told FierceWirelessTech that the company continues to have ongoing discussions with U.S. operators. Farfan acknowledged Fon’s interest in the U.S. but said it would probably need to work with a partner or pursue some indirect route. It’s not writing off the U.S., but it plans to focus on areas where it has a stronghold, like Europe, and expand more into the Asia Pacific region.