The Wi-Fi Alliance is hoping to give Wi-Fi-only service providers a boost by including a number of new features into its Passpoint certification program.
The new features include online sign-up and immediate account provisioning for Wi-Fi-only devices like tablets and notebooks, and the ability for operators to distribute specific subscriber policies, such as which networks to join and in what order of preference.
Kelly Davis-Felner, vice president of marketing for the Wi-Fi Alliance, said the operator policy feature addresses the business relationships the service providers may have with one another. For example, an operator might have roaming agreements with a couple of different providers but has a preference for one of those providers because of their business agreements; the new features would allow that operator to steer users onto that preferred provider's network.
Passpoint was launched in 2012 and is based on the Wi-Fi Alliance's Hotspot 2.0 Technical Specification. Fixed and mobile operators, including Boingo, Orange, SK Telecom, Time Warner Cable and Telkom Indonesia, have deployed Passpoint networks. More than 20 operators are now participating in Wi-Fi roaming trials based on Passpoint, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance.
"Passpoint delivers vital access and security technology for Wi-Fi providers of every type, while also easing the way for effective Wi-Fi roaming interconnect agreements," said Ken Rehbehn, principal analyst in the 451 Research Mobility Team, in a press release. "The new features are important because they enable Passpoint's value proposition by making it simple to connect millions of Wi-Fi-only devices to secure, trusted Passpoint venues. Wi-Fi providers--including fixed, mobile, retail and hospitality services--should take note."
While cellular operators may not see a lot of revenue incentives in offering Wi-Fi-only devices, plenty of other operators are interested in adding Wi-Fi options. Time Warner Cable, for instance, is aggressively deploying Wi-Fi hotspots. A service provider like Time Warner might offer a Wi-Fi-only credential and suddenly, "you have someone establishing a Wi-Fi account who might otherwise be using" cellular, Davis-Felner said.
The relationship between wireless service providers and cable operators is both collaborative and competitive, making for an interesting dynamic.
"On the one hand, a fixed provider, a cable provider can certainly augment the Wi-Fi reach of a mobile provider that doesn't have a huge Wi-Fi network, but on the other hand, cable providers are certainly encroaching into a space that's the comfortable home of mobile providers," she said. "So suddenly, you're just as likely to be in a Time Warner hotspot, depending on where you live, as you are to be in range of your mobile provider's hotspots or even a good 4G signal."
The Passpoint certification program test suite includes support from Aruba Networks, Broadcom, Cisco, Ericsson, Intel, Marvell, MediaTek, Qualcomm Atheros and Ruckus Wireless. DigiCert and NetworkFX are authorized certificate authorities for the program.
Research recently conducted among smartphone and tablet users in the United States and United Kingdom on behalf of the Wi-Fi Alliance found that Wi-Fi services enabled by Passpoint have the potential to foster customer loyalty and drive measurable business value for both service providers and retailers.
Seventy percent of respondents agreed that they would be less likely to leave their cable or wireless provider if the provider offered a network of widely available Passpoint hotspots. Sixty-eight percent of respondents agreed that they would switch mobile providers for a Passpoint-enabled Wi-Fi offering, and half of respondents agreed they would be willing to pay more to get it.
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