Carrier WiFi

iOS 7: The Next-Gen Hotspot Game Changer

The recent Wireless Broadband Alliance WiFi Global Congress in London brought together international wireless and telecom leaders for intensive workgroups and research presentations designed to further codify Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) standards and hasten their roll out.

What the participants weren’t expecting was that one of the blockbuster announcements of the conference would come from 5,000 miles away.

Just as day one of the closed door executive sessions at the Global Congress concluded, Apple unceremoniously announced that the new iOS 7 operating system would support the Hotspot 2.0 standard -- an announcement that amounts to nothing less than a fundamental recognition of the NGH seamless roaming and offload protocols, and a potential accelerant for standards adoption.

Though included as only one of many new iOS 7 features announced at Apple’s WWDC, Hotspot 2.0 support could change the way that hundreds of millions of iOS users get connected. The OS update will be pushed this fall for devices going as far back as the three-year old iPhone 4, creating an immediate, massive install base ready to roam seamlessly when in a Passpoint-certified hotspot.

On Boingo’s international hotspot network alone, iOS devices constituted more than half of all traffic from mid-May to mid-June 2013 -- a share that could spike once NGH standards make it possible for mobile traffic to be seamlessly offloaded to WiFi networks.

With Apple upping the ante, the industry may well see renewed innovation and cohesion in readying for NGH:

Handset and hardware support to rev up:
Though hundreds of devices are now certified by the WiFi Alliance’s Passpoint program -- enabling them to auto-discover and connect to Passpoint-certified access points with WPA2 security -- full support for NGH has not hit critical mass among certified devices. With the notable exception of Samsung, whose Galaxy S 4 was among the first consumer devices Passpoint-certified, handset manufacturers have been slow to integrate NGH capabilities into their Hotspot 2.0 implementations. Apple’s iOS 7 news further validates the base standards, and may kick off a trend in protocol integration for NGH support in handsets.

Accelerated roaming agreements:
With iOS soon supporting Hotspot 2.0, carriers have greater incentive than ever to negotiate roaming terms that will allow mobile traffic to flow seamlessly from one network to another, and market attractive, competitive service packages to their customers that will enable revenue sharing that will buoy both parties. The WBA has established an Interoperability Compliance Program (ICP) to provide a set of technical and commercial frameworks for roaming partnerships, which are designed to fuel these alignments and accelerate integrations. Carriers that have achieved ICP compliancy level include AT&T, BT, Boingo, NTT DOCOMO, Portugal Telecom, and Towerstream, among others.

Network tune-ups and build-outs:
For these millions of soon-to-be-Hotspot 2.0-ready iOS devices to connect seamlessly to WiFi, they need to be in range of a NGH-ready network. Many carriers, including Boingo, are upgrading network infrastructure now at high-traffic venues like airports, stadiums and metropolitan hotzones to enable firmware updates timed to NGH's roll out in the wild. Upgrades to outdated networks will need to be accelerated to allow iOS users to take full advantage of their Hotspot 2.0 functionality, and let venues and carriers reap these new revenue sources.

“Carrier grade WiFi,” defined:
With widespread WiFi offloading now a very real possibility in the near term, roaming agreements and protocol adoption will also hinge on providing users with a “carrier grade Wi-Fi” experience. Defining this so-called marketing term was a key area of focus at the WiFi Global Congress. While the components are still being codified, the carrier grade experience will be marked by a suite of service capabilities, including QoS, service and policy controls, location-based services, and analytics. Look for the industry to agree upon a definition in a hurry to meet carrier requirements and get roaming agreements in place.

Many have been known to follow where Apple leads, so Apple’s iOS 7 Hotspot 2.0 support could create the domino effect that fuels faster, more widespread NGH adoption.

— Derek Peterson, Senior Vice President of Engineering, Boingo

Sarah Thomas 8/22/2013 | 11:48:13 AM
Worth the hype Thank you for the post, Derek! When I first heard about Hotspot 2.0, I wanted to dismiss it in part as overhyped, but, from everything I've heard, it seems like it really has the potential to vastly improve the WiFi handoff experience. And, I agree, that Apple's inclusion of it is huge for the industry. It tends to take new trends mainstream.

Ericsson recently announced new software to help with handoff, too. How will proprietary solutions like this affect the progress or ubquitity of Hotspot 2.0? Will it hamper it, or can the operators that use these platforms also tie in support for Hotspot 2.0?
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