Sprint CTO hedges on Hotspot 2.0 support

SAN ANTONIO, Texas--Sprint (NYSE:S) Chief Technology Officer Stephen Bye stopped short of voicing support for Hotspot 2.0 technology, saying instead that Sprint would continue to watch the standard's evolution. However, Bye said Sprint would continue to research ways of providing quality wireless service, whether over licensed spectrum or unlicensed spectrum.

Bye made his comments here during the FierceWireless Executive Breakfast on Wi-Fi offloading, which kicked off the Competitive Carriers Association spring show. Bye said Sprint will continue to monitor the evolution of Hotspot 2.0, but he declined to comment on whether Sprint would actively support Hotspot 2.0 connections.

The comments from Sprint are notable in light of the carrier's recent introduction of Wi-Fi calling. In February, Sprint said it would launch Wi-Fi calling via technology from Kineto and Taqua. Sprint said two phones would initially support the service, the Samsung Electronics Galaxy S4 mini and Mega. However, Sprint earlier this month discontinued the Galaxy S4 mini, leaving only the Mega to run Sprint's Wi-Fi calling service. Sprint has promised to bring the service to additional Android smartphones in the future.

Sprint's circumvention of Hotspot 2.0 support stands in contrast to Wi-Fi network operator Boingo, which announced that it now offers Hotspot 2.0 support in 23 airports and also now supports Hotspot 2.0 connections in computers running OS X Mavericks, as well as iOS phones. Boingo has been a vocal proponent of Hotspot 2.0 technology as a way for smartphone users to seamlessly roam onto Wi-Fi networks.

Hotspot 2.0 is an interoperable Wi-Fi authentication and handoff technology that enables automatic, 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. Devices that pass this certification testing can be referred to as "Passpoint devices." Because Passpoint certification is based on the Wi-Fi Alliance Hotspot 2.0 specification, one tends to see the terms "Passpoint" and "Hotspot 2.0" used interchangeably, though that is not technically accurate. Hotspot 2.0 has an access point technology counterpart called Next Generation Hotspot (NGH). 

No U.S. carrier has officially implemented a Hotspot 2.0 strategy, though some, including AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), have expressed support for the technology. Indeed, as GigaOM notes, the Wi-Fi Alliance started certifying Hotspot 2.0-capable devices under the Passpoint program in the summer of 2012, and hotspot providers have been installing NGH software into their access points since last year. However, at this point, Hotspot 2.0 networks supported by carriers are still in trial mode.

Hotspot 2.0 promises to allow smartphone users to roam onto Wi-Fi networks and obtain most of the same services they would be able to access through a cellular network. Proponents argue the technology will help offload data traffic onto Wi-Fi networks from overloaded cellular networks, though wireless carriers remain concerned about the quality of service users would be able to obtain through unlicensed Wi-Fi networks.

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