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CTIA 2011: Wi-Fi Alliance Unites Carriers on Hotspots

ORLANDO, Fla. -- International CTIA WIRELESS 2011 -- Mobile Wi-Fi hotspots could be ingraining themselves in wireless operator networks to the point that soon it may be hard to tell the two apart. That's what the Wi-Fi Alliance is hoping, at least, and its announcement Tuesday of a carrier-wide hotspot initiative is a step in that direction. (See Wi-Fi Alliance Forms Operator Hotspot Initiative.)

The initiative, which the Alliance says is one of the most broadly supported activities in its history, is coming out the gate with a formalized set of industry market requirements for a Wi-Fi certified testing program that will address authentication and provisioning of service for public Wi-Fi networks.

Put simply, it will allow consumers to connect to Wi-Fi without the need to sign in, regardless of which carrier owns the hotspot. For wireless operators, it means a more secure, efficient way to dump users off their networks.

"With this program, we're envisioning that your one account with your cellular provider or with a hotspot service account will be honored as you go place to place, even if it's from another service provider," says Wi-Fi Alliance Executive Director Edgar Figueroa.

This means equipment vendors wouldn't have to support multiple standards but could implement one suite of protocols to apply globally.

The Wi-Fi Alliance plans to have the certification program up and running in the first half of 2012.

Why this matters
End users have been expecting a service like this for a long time, Figueroa says. Right now, Wi-Fi usage is becoming more prevalent, but it's also a very fragmented market. Every hotspot requires its own authentication and often a new credit card to sign on.

Even so, wireless operators have been leaning more heavily on Wi-Fi offload as their networks are overwhelmed with data traffic. And, they've been slowly improving the services too. Because of consumer expectations, advances in Wi-Fi technology and exponential data growth, an interoperable service like this is looking increasingly necessary. (See Wireless Operators Embrace Wi-Fi as Their Own.)

"There's been a lot of frustration from end users, so now is the perfect time to come out with a solution to this," Figueroa says. "Service providers took to Wi-Fi. It’s a core service offering, and with this effort, it will bring everyone together."

For more
For more on wireless operators' evolving relationship with Wi-Fi, check out the following stories.



— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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