Hotspot 2.0 Spreads its Wings
By Barry Manz
There’s plenty of excitement in the wireless industry these days as LTE slowly moves toward LTE Advanced and even beyond to the world of 5G. But for the first time in many years there’s another flavor of wireless emerging or perhaps evolving that is most interesting of all: Wi-Fi and in particular Hotspot 2.0. It’s not a new service in the sense that it operates at different frequencies, uses different modulation techniques, or for that matter provides data rates higher than those available by IEEE 802.11n or carrier wireless.
And unless you’ve been watching very carefully, you may never have even heard of Hotspot 2.0, but it’s about to make your life easier and safer when you’re trying to connect to Wi-Fi networks not just in the US but ultimately throughout the world. In short, Hotspot 2.0 has the potential to significantly change the wireless landscape, turning mom-and-pop shops into service providers while simultaneously helping wireless carriers offload traffic from their already overloaded networks, and providing revenue-generating opportunities for a wide range of businesses.
The benefit to carriers is significant, as they are frantically grabbing every possible means for offloading data traversing their networks, and for good reason. Not only does it provide an integration path to the small cells that it is rapidly deploying to extend coverage (Figure 1), it provides an excellent solution for offloading network traffic. The density of this traffic is best defined by the Cisco Visual Networking Index, which is an authoritative source on global mobile data.
Among its alarming statistics include the fact that in 2010, global mobile data traffic nearly tripled for the third year in a row despite a slow economic recovery. Cisco projects that traffic will increase 26 times by 2015, a 92% compound annual growth rate. And by next year, global mobile data traffic will reach an annual rate of 75 exabytes per year, which translated into something comprehensible equals 75 times more data than all IP traffic generated in 2000, or 19 billion DVDs, or 536 quadrillion SMS text messages. Gulp.
Wi-Fi, with its 600 MHz of available spectrum, is currently the most likely candidate for offloading some of this gargantuan amount of data, and in many cases it’s already been deployed. For example, data density is the greatest in places where people congregate in large numbers such as stadiums, arenas, airports, convention centers, colleges, and transportation hubs. As many of these places are indoors, and is Wi-Fi is already provided in many of these areas, it can function somewhat like a distributed antenna system without the cost and complexity of actually having to create one.
Wi-Fi Hotspots: They’re Great But…
Let’s face it, Wi-Fi hotspots are terrific if you frequent the same Wi-Fi-enabled places all the time, you know your password and don’t have the login every time you show up. However they don’t give you the ability to seamlessly roam the land and the login process is truly painful if you frequent many places. Finally, your credentials are typically time-limited by the system and must usually be reentered manually every time you want to log on.
Not only that, but security is always in question, as you will never know precisely how secure the network is or whether there is any encryption employed at all. Consequently, you may be exposed to several types of cyber threats such as the “evil twin attack” in which an attacker sets up a rogue access point whose SSID is set to the same one as used by the system you’re planning to log on to, which exposes you to identity theft.
Then there’s session hijacking, in which the miscreant mimics the access point to which you are connected and causes your phone, laptop, or tablet to disassociate itself from the true Wi-Fi network allowing the attacker to take over your session. Another trick called session hijacking allows an attacker to access your communications and intercept the sessions cookie, which then provides open access to all your personal information, passwords, and assorted other important information. Finally, there’s eavesdropping in which the attacker intercepts your communications, with the similar results.
Hotspot 2.0, also referred to as HS2 and Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint, is designed to solve these and other problems that result from the fact that Wi-Fi was never really intended to perform the functions and offer the broad-based coverage that it now provides. Hotspot 2.0 is an entirely new approach created under the auspices of the Wi-Fi Alliance that lets you roam just like you do today with carrier wireless and access Wi-Fi via hotspots offered by many entities not only throughout North America but ultimately throughout the world.
Any mobile device with Hotspot 2.0 capability can be seamlessly authenticated and virtually any entity can become a roaming partner within Hotspot 2.0, including cable and telco MSOs, and public venues, to name just a few. There are already at least 90 smartphones and other wireless-enabled devices available globally, including any iPhone running iOS 7 and Samsung’s Galaxy S4 (and S3 with a software update).
Virtually any entity can become a roaming partner within Hotspot 2.0 including cable and telco MSOs, and public venues, to name just a few.
When you’re device is equipped with this capability via a SIM card, username/password combination, or X.509 certificate, it will “ask“ every hotspot it encounters whether it is a Hotspot 2.0 partner and if so securely connect the device to the network. A key part of Hotspot 2.0 is the Passpoint certification program that just like all services that operate in compliance with a wireless standard, ensures that access points as well as user equipment complies with relevant technical requirements.
Passpoint is the key to streamlining access to networks to avoid the annoyance that currently makes finding and connecting to Wi-Fi networks frustrating. That is, finding the network, authenticating yourself, and entering and reentering authentication credentials every time you log on. The goal of Passpoint is to eliminate the entire issue by seamlessly connecting Hotspot 2.0 networks with mobile devices, all of which will have the current standard in Wi-Fi security (WPA2). Looking at the concept at a high level, Hotspot 2.0 and Passpoint essentially turn any partner organization into a service provider.
Until recently, there were only two Hotspot 2.0 networks places in the U.S. one at O’Hare airport in Chicago and another in New York City. However, deployments at 21 U.S. airports and at two smaller sites in Europe recently went live including Los Angeles International Airport and the three major airports serving New York City: JFK, La Guardia, and Newark. No doubt new networks will have appeared by the time you read this, and at the pace this service is growing, the number is likely to grow every week well into the future.
So to summarize, Passpoint gets you connected and the Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) being developed by the Wireless Broadband Alliance in conjunction with the Wi-Fi Alliance delivers a public Wi-Fi experience that is as easy and secure as that experienced on cellular networks while also providing levels of security similar to those of carrier wireless networks including end-to-end radio link encryption and SIM authentication. As Hotspot 2.0 is developed and more networks become partners it will ultimately be possible to roam just like you do today and carrier wireless networks no matter where you are.
The Root of All Innovation
As always, the speed at which Hotspot 2.0 becomes widely available will depend on how quickly various organizations figure out ways to make money from it, and most of this work remains to be done. However, the potential is truly enormous. For example, we now think of Wi-Fi has not just a service provided at a specific location or even a few locations but rather a seamless network of interconnected partners whose reach can be global. Just think of what that means for advertisers, from retailers to restaurants and so on. With Hotspot 2.0, a business of any kind can cash in by building its own web of business relationships (Figure 2).
Another question that comes to mind is: Will Hotspot 2.0 be free, like most Wi-Fi hotspots are today? There’s currently no answer to this question but when you’re offering a true customer convenience, history shows that the answer is usually yes. And Hotspot 2.0 definitely is convenient, eliminating the unpleasant task of finding and logging on to Wi-Fi networks manually and ensuring that no matter what Hotspot 2.0 partner network you’re using it is secured with the latest encryption technology.
The benefit of carrier wireless roaming is that no matter where you are and whose network you using you still only pay a single fee per month, which is typically about $30. Using that figure as a reference point, how much would you be willing to pay to access a network with thousands of roaming partners and millions of access points that you can connect to as easily as you do with a carrier wireless network: $2 per month, $5 per month, or even $10 per month? This may be a tough sell as people are used to paying nothing for access to Wi-Fi networks, even though they are painful to connect to and are not integrated like Hotspot 2.0.
Hotspot 2.0 obviously represents the first global addition to wireless communications since the first cellular services emerged in the late 1980s. The reason for its likely success has as much to do with benefits to carriers as it does to providing convenience for consumers. That is, with a global seamless network of potential customers, a broad array of companies ranging from retailers to restaurants, hotels, and dozens if not hundreds more can avail themselves of customers they might otherwise have never been able to approach. It also provides carriers with an almost ready-made solution for providing coverage in hard-to-reach places along with integration with small cells and the ability to offload massive amounts of data that it will increasingly be much more difficult to deal with by other means.
For consumers, Hotspot 2.0 truly does provide a level of convenience far beyond what is currently possible using Wi-Fi. It also provides security that simply does not exist on a wide basis, as every Wi-Fi hotspot must always be suspect, even though it might be operated by a large organization. As Hotspot 2.0 mandates the highest level of security for all of its partners, issues of easy access to your personal information is, if not eliminated, certainly dramatically reduced.
All this being said, there is no certainty that Hotspot 2.0 will be the slam dunk that it appears to be. There is a vast amount of work that still needs to be done before the relationships between carriers, businesses, partners, and other entities are established. In addition, changes will have to be made to the infrastructure of carrier wireless networks to accommodate Hotspot 2.0. Finally, it will only be a success if every smartphone, tablet, and laptop is compatible with this new feature. But as there are already nearly 100 devices already available so equipped, it’s safe to say that when within the next generation of user devices all will have this capability.
- A network in which Wi-Fi is integrated with small cells. Source: Wireless Broadband Alliance
- The many ways in which Hotspot 2.0 and generate revenue. Source: Ruckus Wireless
Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., a technical media relations agency he founded in 1987. He has since worked with more than 100 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, test and measurement, semiconductor, embedded systems, lightwave, and other markets. Barry writes articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. He is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.