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.
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— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile