Hotspot 2.0: Creating a virtuous circle of Wi-Fi investment

Tammy Parker, FierceWirelessTech

The recent report that Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) late cofounder Steve Jobs hoped to encourage wireless router makers to include a "guest network" option so Wi-Fi's footprint could be spread exponentially is helping focus more attention on Hotspot 2.0, which enables seamless roaming between Wi-Fi networks and also enables seamless data roaming between Wi-Fi and cellular networks. But recent comments from industry executives indicate Hotspot 2.0 has yet to gain widespread adoption, though its impact could be expansive in the future.

In a column, Re/code's Walt Mossberg recollected that Jobs hoped the industry "would encourage people to share their bandwidth with strangers via these guest networks," and he envisioned creation of a consortium of sorts to make this happen. Though the consortium never happened, individual companies--think independent Wi-Fi firm Fon and cable operators Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and Cablevision (NYSE: CVC), for example--have glommed onto the guest Wi-Fi network concept to expand their individual Wi-Fi footprints.

Meanwhile, service providers are also starting to jump onto the Hotspot 2.0/Next Generation Hotspot (NGH)/Passpoint bandwagon. In April, Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) confirmed its rollout out of "TWCWiFi-Passpoint," a national Wi-Fi network that includes Hotspot 2.0 technology on most of its public access points as well as upgraded encryption.  The Wi-Fi Alliance offers a certification program for Hotspot 2.0 devices under its Passpoint brand, hence the use of the term "Passpoint" in Time Warner's Wi-Fi network branding. Hotspot 2.0 has an access point technology counterpart called Next Generation Hotspot (NGH)

Late last month, Cisco announced it is providing Hotspot 2.0 to Orange Romania, which is using the technology to enable its customers to move between cellular and Wi-Fi networks with seamless authentication. (Cisco also recently published a blog post and white paper detailing the Hotspot 2.0 network it enabled for the 2014 Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona this past February.)

Boingo Wireless is also deploying Hotspot 2.0 technology, starting with a high-profile launch at Chicago's O'Hare Airport during September 2013. However, in a recent case study published by the Wireless Broadband Alliance, Boingo spokesman Christian Gunning acknowledged Hotspot 2.0 suffers from a "chicken and egg issue." Many carriers are waiting for more Passpoint-certified devices to arrive on the market before they will invest in Hotspot 2.0 technology, while device vendors want to see more NGH-compliant networks before they commit to certifying their devices.

Further, the business model and business partnerships must evolve if devices are truly going to have the freedom to hop between cellular networks and Wi-Fi hotspots owned by venue owners, service providers such as Boingo or cable operators.

Municipalities are also getting in on the Hotspot 2.0 act. Ruckus Wireless announced in June that it had helped San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., roll out Hotspot 2.0 across both cities' public Wi-Fi networks, which are available in locations such as their busy downtown areas. Ruckus CEO Selina Lo, speaking to analysts last month during the company's second-quarter 2014 earnings call, said there is a lot of enterprise interest in the technology, and she expects more service providers will likely come on board as well.  

"Hotspot 2.0 alone does not change the Wi-Fi landscape in terms of the market size. However, Hotspot 2.0 is making it so easy for people to connect to hotspots that we will continue to see usage increase as Hotspot 2.0 gets rolled out, and I think that that itself will drive the service providers to install more Wi-Fi," Lo said.

It will take time, but Hotspot 2.0 is ultimately expected to become part of a virtuous circle of Wi-Fi investment. Since the technology simplifies secure access, it should encourage more Wi-Fi deployments, which will, naturally, be equipped with Hotspot 2.0 technology.--Tammy