T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) is gearing up to test a Passpoint-capable Wi-Fi roaming service with cable operator Bright House Networks in Tampa and Orlando. Documents on T-Mobile's website said the test will include up to 50,000 customers and will allow them to roam onto Bright House's 34,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots in the cities using the Passpoint standard, which the documents said provides "extended coverage by seamlessly connecting calls, messages and data through T-Mobile Preferred Wi-Fi access points."
Importantly, the documents said that data used through the hotspots will not count toward subscribers' monthly cellular data allotments.
T-Mobile also said its Voice over LTE (VoLTE) service will work over the Passpoint hotspots in the trial: "If you are not using VoLTE, you will experience dropped calls when transitioning from the T-Mobile network to Wi-Fi and vice-versa," the carrier advised in the documents.
T-Mobile said the service is available across almost 10 different smartphones, including the iPhone 5, 5S and 6, and Android phones including newer ones from HTC, LG and Samsung.
Passpoint, also called Hotspot 2.0, is a new standard from the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) that essentially smooths the login process for Wi-Fi users. Instead of having to log in to each new Wi-Fi access point, the Passpoint standard allows users to automatically connect to any Passpoint hotspot as certified by their provider. "When Wi-Fi is turned on you will be automatically connected to Wi-Fi HotSpots throughout the city provided by Bright House Networks," T-Mobile said in its documents.
Indeed, T-Mobile noted there appears to be little downside to customers using the service. The carrier even said that users' phone batteries would last longer on the Wi-Fi networks. "Passpoint reduces the typical Wi-Fi related strain on the battery by eliminating the need to search for networks," T-Mobile's documents said.
A Bright House representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A T-Mobile spokesperson confirmed the test, saying "Yes, we are looking to conduct a technology trial in the Tampa-Orlando, Florida market focused on Passpoint technology and access. We continue to look at ways to drive a better, more differentiated wireless experience for T-Mobile customers."available to comment on the documents."
The test is an important step forward by T-Mobile. The company has signaled its openness to teaming with cable operators and others for various services, and the carrier's test with Bright House Networks may be T-Mobile's first significant agreement with a U.S. cable operator for commercial services. Bright House bills itself as the nation's sixth largest cable operator with 2.5 million customers. Bright House is also a member of the CableWiFi Alliance, which was formed in 2012 by Bright House, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable and Comcast to support roaming among the cable companies' public Wi-Fi hotspots. T-Mobile's test appears to indicate the wireless carrier's intention to tap into that public Wi-Fi network to improve its coverage.
Cable companies including Comcast and TWC have indicated plans to support the Passpoint standard.
T-Mobile has already made significant moves to embrace Wi-Fi technology. Last year the company announced its Wi-Fi calling service, which allows customers to make calls from their smartphone using only a Wi-Fi network. In March, T-Mobile said it counted 7 million users of its Wi-Fi calling service.
But T-Mobile isn't the only major U.S. wireless carrier moving into the Wi-Fi scene. Sprint in April announced its customers will be able to roam onto Boingo's public Wi-Fi networks, describing Wi-Fi as the "fourth layer" of its network.
CEO: Boingo is working with Apple, Microsoft, Google to get Passpoint on handsets
Time Warner Cable, Boingo lead the way in Passpoint roaming
The top 5 reasons cable operators are making big bets on Wi-Fi
T-Mobile counts 7M customers using Wi-Fi calling
Article updated August 9 with comment from T-Mobile. Article updated August 10 with clarification from the Wi-Fi Alliance.