Time Warner announces massive Hotspot 2.0 deployment

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 large-scale deployment of Hotspot 2.0 represents a significant boost for the technology, which has been slow to take off despite the attractiveness of enabling seamless roaming between Wi-Fi networks. Hotspot 2.0 also enables seamless data roaming between Wi-Fi hotspots and cellular networks.

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 new Wi-Fi network branding. That two-year-old certification effort has done little to raise awareness of Hotspot 2.0 and Passpoint among the general consumer populace.

Now that Time Warner is operating the largest U.S. Passpoint-enabled network, however, awareness of the technology and its capabilities will certainly increase, at least among Time Warner customers.

Rival cable MSO Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) is planning to add Hotspot 2.0 technology to its growing, Xfinity-branded public Wi-Fi network as well, though it has not provided a specific timeline. Comcast, the largest U.S. cable operator, has proposed a $45.2 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable, the second-largest operator.

Time Warner's subscribers who have a standard Internet service package or above with qualified devices--such as the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy 4 and HTC One--will be able to select the new TWCWiFi-Passpoint SSID or continue to access the TWC WiFi SSID.

After connecting to TWCWiFi-Passpoint the first time, customers will then seamlessly connect to the new preferred secure network whenever they are in broadcast range, meaning they should no longer have to mess with clumsy login procedures.

Time Warner said that all of its future hotspots will also offer the TWCWiFi-Passpoint network option.

The cable MSO also announced that enterprise-grade WPA2 encryption technology is now available on nearly all of its 33,000 Wi-Fi hotspots located in Southern California, New York City, Austin, Charlotte, Kansas City, Myrtle Beach and Hawaii.

"Our goal with TWCWiFi-Passpoint is to assure even our most security-conscious Internet customer that it's as safe for them to surf the Web on-the-go as it is for them to surf in their home," said Rob Cerbone, vice president of wireless products for Time Warner Cable.

Other U.S. Hotspot 2.0 launches have been made, though on a much smaller scale. For example, this past February, Boingo Wireless introduced Hotspot 2.0 networks at 21 U.S. airports, including seven of the top 20 busiest airports in the United States

Time Warner's TWCWiFi-Passpoint service has actually been live since late March, and Time Warner has already seen a 15 percent boost in users who had never accessed the network before suddenly connecting to Wi-Fi, Cerbone told GigaOM.

Cerbone said Time Warner does not intend to launch a mobile network using Wi-Fi to challenge cellular operators. However, he noted Hotspot 2.0 capabilities could be useful for MVNOs such as Republic Wireless and Scratch Wireless, which direct their users to Wi-Fi networks first so as to keep their prices low.

Similarly, Comcast hinted at a broader Wi-Fi future in its recent FCC application to merge with Time Warner Cable. "A ubiquitous Wi-Fi network built by Comcast could make a 'Wi-Fi-first' service, which combines commercial mobile radio service with Wi-Fi, a more viable alternative," the company said.

For more:
- see this Time Warner release
- see this GigaOM article

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