California cities support Hotspot 2.0 roaming

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The Hotspot 2.0 standard has been slower than expected to penetrate public WiFi net-works, but it is gathering pace in the US, where the cablecos, in particular, are driving massive deployments and see the benefit of seamless authentication and hand-off for mobile device users.

Time Warner Cable, one of the members of the huge CableWiFi alliance, was the first to deploy commercial Hotspot 2.0 locations, enabling users to move between cellular and WLan connections smoothly and to use common, automatic authentication. This makes it easier for mobile subscribers to rely primarily on WiFi when moving around, and in-creases the usage of the cablecos’ networks, and the value of their networks.

That, in turn, can enhance their hold over their customers, moving towards a full quad play which only peripherally involves the cellco (for wide area mobile coverage, when WiFi is not in range). Cable operators will be looking to level the scales when negotiating MVNO fees, trading their own WiFi capacity, which their mobile counterparts increasingly use to offload traffic.

Hotspot 2.0 will only really be part of the everyday communications landscape when there is a broad footprint and transparent roaming, and two California cities have taken the first step to that. The cities of San Francisco and San Jose have worked with WiFi equipment provider Ruckus Wireless to support a common service, and with Global Reach for device provisioning and unified authentication.

The two cities have added Hotspot 2.0 encryption and roaming capabilities to their exist-ing Ruckus-supplied networks, upgrading about 400 access points in San Jose and 90 in San Francisco so far.

Users can register for the free Bay Area Wi-Fi Hotspot 2.0 service, which will have its own unique SSID, or opt to remain on the existing, unencrypted service. Guests who register and are provisioned with a Hotspot 2.0 credential can automatically connect to either of the cities’ WLANs when in range. Currently, Apple devices are required for full Hotspot 2.0 support, however, with Apple supporting the feature on iOS7 and OSX Mavericks.

About 350 non-Apple devices also support Hotspot 2.0 Release 1, but Ruckus says there is no easy way to provision those with a non-cellular, non-SIM credential. It is likely that ma-jor Android device makers, once they see the standard gathering pace, will follow Apple’s example and update their mobile configuration profiles to support full Hotspot 2.0, which then automatically installs the new credential when a user links to the hotspot’s splash page and accepts the change. Release 2 of Hotspot 2.0, slated for release in early fall, spe-cifically addresses the provisioning issue as well as operator policy.

The CTO of San Francisco’s department of technology, Flavio Aggio, said security was the main reason why the city decided to upgrade its Ruckus APs. “Hotspot 2.0 enables open WiFi to become secure WiFi in a very transparent way,” he said. “The number two reason we chose it was roaming.”