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Carrier WiFi

Mobile Operators Push for Wi-Fi Roaming

The GSM Association (GSMA) has joined the Wireless Broadband Alliance in a project aimed at simplifying how smartphones connect to Wi-Fi hotspots.

The idea is to bring the ease and consistency of cellular roaming and authentication to Wi-Fi hotspot access so it will be easier not only to move among Wi-Fi access points but also to roam between cellular and Wi-Fi networks. And the plan for achieving that is to automate Wi-Fi connectivity by using the device's SIM card for authentication.

For mobile operators, this effort will also mean they will be able to secure and identify users when they are on Wi-Fi networks as well as on cellular networks.

The scope of the cooperation covers technical and commercial aspects. The groups will identify where standards are needed and will draw up a framework for international roaming contracts so carriers and Wi-Fi service providers may have an easier time setting up those commercial agreements.

But this work won't result in hassle-free Wi-Fi logins overnight. It will take 12 to 18 months for the vision of a consistent Wi-Fi roaming experience to become a reality, says Dan Warren, senior director of technology at the GSMA.

Why this matters
Mobile operators are eager to integrate Wi-Fi access more deeply into their service offerings in a way that aligns with their existing cellular offers, and SIM authentication is viewed as an important first step in that direction. An industry initiative like this one, which is intended to drive SIM authentication for Wi-Fi access, should make life easier not only for wireless users but also for mobile operators when it comes to billing and applying consistent policy control.

The WBA completed a trial last month of its next-generation hotspot initiative, which tested SIM authentication and radio-link encryption. Now, with the GSMA on board, this program has more impetus, according to one industry analyst.

"This adds momentum to the WBA's next-gen hotspot initiative," says Gabriel Brown, senior analyst at Heavy Reading and author of the report, Wi-Fi Strategies for Mobile Operators. "The involvement of the GSMA brings some needed 'heft' to the project and indicates broader support from operators than those that have been visible so far."

Service provider Wi-Fi is a hot topic at the moment. If you're in London, don't miss Light Reading's conference, Strategic Opportunities in Service Provider Wi-Fi, on April 24.

For more


— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

Michelle Donegan 12/5/2012 | 5:38:58 PM
re: Mobile Operators Push for Wi-Fi Roaming

With the mention of interconnect contracts and agreements here, wonder how much all this simplicity and ease for Wi-Fi roaming is going to cost us eventually?


 

macemoneta 12/5/2012 | 5:38:58 PM
re: Mobile Operators Push for Wi-Fi Roaming

Isn't this what Republic Wireless is all about?  It's how they are driving consumer cost down to $19/mo for (really) unlimited voice/text/data.  Their data during the beta phase indicates that WiFi access is more prevalent than expected (more that 60% of the time), so cellular offload is not only cost effective for the consumer but profitable for the carrier.

jepovic 12/5/2012 | 5:38:57 PM
re: Mobile Operators Push for Wi-Fi Roaming

Very good point. What are the fundamentals that would make WiFi cheaper, long-term, than LTE? After all, it is just radio communications which both obey the same laws of physics. The volumes will be there for both. WiFi is using free spectrum, and can easily be provided by non-operators. However, as the LTE prices drop and the coverage improves dramatically, which will happen the next 2-3 years, so will the amount of time and effort end users are willing to spend in finding low-cost WiFi.


After all, pretty much everyone will have an LTE subscription in a few years. WiFi will never have the kind of coverage offered by wireless networks, and few people will be willing to risk being without coverage. SIM authentication for WiFi has been done before, but it's not a technical problem.


Coming from an operator, I think interconnect contracts stinks of red tape, massive BSS development, and lawyers. As the saying goes, base stations are cheap but lawyers are expensive.


Why not revamp LTE for free spectrums instead?

Flook 12/5/2012 | 5:38:57 PM
re: Mobile Operators Push for Wi-Fi Roaming

I not sure LTE prices will drop--the current love of data caps would not seem to indicate that. On the other hand, ATT/VZ would squeeze customers more anytime they think they can get away with it.

kaps 12/5/2012 | 5:38:57 PM
re: Mobile Operators Push for Wi-Fi Roaming

Seems like "what it will cost us" is the point -- figuring out how to authenticate and identify isn't being done so that users have an easier time of things. It's so carriers can charge for the bandwidth they are now largely giving away for free.


It's not hard to see a day when you just purchase a "wireless bandwidth" contract that includes whatever mix of cellular, satellite and Wi-Fi is available. Will that be a better deal? Right now there is so much FUD in cellular contracts it's hard to say. But I doubt the days of "free" Wi-Fi will be with us much longer.

kaps 12/5/2012 | 5:38:57 PM
re: Mobile Operators Push for Wi-Fi Roaming

Seems like "what it will cost us" is the point -- figuring out how to authenticate and identify isn't being done so that users have an easier time of things. It's so carriers can charge for the bandwidth they are now largely giving away for free.


It's not hard to see a day when you just purchase a "wireless bandwidth" contract that includes whatever mix of cellular, satellite and Wi-Fi is available. Will that be a better deal? Right now there is so much FUD in cellular contracts it's hard to say. But I doubt the days of "free" Wi-Fi will be with us much longer.

jepovic 12/5/2012 | 5:38:56 PM
re: Mobile Operators Push for Wi-Fi Roaming

This has happened with every new generation of wireless. At the moment there are more customers and demand than the networks can handle, so there is really no reason for the carriers to lower prices. But this is only temporary until the networks have been built out sufficiently, and it is quite likely that this will soon change into a price war in order to win market share. Volumes leads to lower equipment prices which leads to lower prices etc. In a few years every new cell phone in the world will have LTE, and then LTE will have the volume and cost advantage vs WiFi.


How long will it take before we see the first LTE base station intended for domestic use in free spectrum? 3 years?

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 5:38:56 PM
re: Mobile Operators Push for Wi-Fi Roaming

 


Anybody ever looked at the contract between say Starbucks and AT&T around the Hotspots?  I am sure that AT&T and Starbucks have but I am curious to what the costs are there and if Starbucks would support AT&T charging for the Hotspots.  That is (I think in the US at least) one of the things I don't really understand.  I get the idea for Starbucks (and McDonalds for AT&T) to keep people in the store longer.  I think that this will have a huge play onto this whole WiFi charging and roaming bit.


seven

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