April 25, 2012
LONDON – Strategic Opportunities in Service provider Wi-Fi -- BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) has been testing international Wi-Fi service roaming with other major operators to show how various technologies can be used for seamless and automatic authentication in overseas markets.
Chris Bruce, who is director of business development for BT Wi-Fi and the current chair of the Wireless Broadband Alliance , told delegates at the London conference Tuesday that Alliance members have been developing and testing new secure authentication and discovery capabilities that will enable users with Wi-Fi enabled devices (smartphones, tablets and so on) to seamlessly connect to networks in their home markets and overseas. These tests are part of the Alliance's work towards the creation of HotSpot 2.0 (or Next Generation HotSpot) specifications for carrier Wi-Fi technology. (See Mobile Operators Push for Wi-Fi Roaming.)
In fact, BT has undertaken tests on its live network in the U.K., which boasts 4 million public Wi-Fi access points, with two other operators: Testing inbound connectivity with a U.S. operator (believed to be AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)) using SIM-card authentication; and an outbound test with another European operator using EAP-TTLS (Extensible Authentication Protocol - Tunneled Transport Layer Security) authentication.
He said that devices from two Korean manufacturers -- not identified but believed to be LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) and Samsung Corp. -- had been used in the trials, adding that getting the support of device companies for the new specifications was critical.
"Driving the device manufacturers to get on board is key to success. [Integrating] provisioning credentials on devices is one of the major issues, along with security," said Bruce, who stressed the importance of developing authentication capabilities that do not rely on mobile SIM cards.
Bruce explains what the Alliance is trying to achieve in the video interview below at about the 1:55 mark.
"The data crunch has been driving a lot more interest" in what the Alliance is trying to achieve, said Bruce during his presentation, adding that "Wi-Fi is now becoming part of the mobile data network."
Why this matters
The development of user-friendly Wi-Fi connectivity technologies is now of major importance to mobile operators, which want to enhance their users' service experience and reduce the stress on their own macro wireless networks by enabling their customers to seamlessly connect to secure, available Wi-Fi access points whenever possible.
But there are plenty of challenges to overcome, as Bruce noted, not least in terms of packet core and back office integration as well as the thorny issue of security.
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