Integration of cellular and WiFi networks lies at the heart of many important business models, including the mobile operators’ HetNets and the cablecos’ WiFi-first services. However, these rely on completely seamless authentication and hand-off as users move between the different connections.
This is currently mainly supported by third party software, but the base-level functionality is standardized in a series of specifications – the WiFi Alliance’s Passpoint, the Wireless Broadband Alliance’s Next Generation Hotspot, and the 3GPP’s ANDSF. However, these have been slow to see large-scale adoption, something which will only change if they are supported in the most popular mobile devices. WiFi hotspot aggregator Boingo, and early deployer of Passpoint and NGH in its networks, says it is making progress in this direction, working with Apple, Google and Microsoft.
The bulk of smartphones which are currently certified under the Passpoint program are from Samsung and LG, although Apple has announced the intention to support the specification, along with its embrace of WiFi Calling in the latest release of iOS. Now, according to Boingo CEO David Hagan, the major mobile OS platform providers are all stepping up their efforts and companies like his own are helping to ease the path for them.
“All of that work in the Passpoint, work that we’ve been doing industry-wide, really makes it easy for carriers to move forward when they want to,” Hagan said, according to the earnings call transcript. “We feel like we’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting and lot of the kind of the industry infrastructure work to make it quicker to market and from a technology perspective. So it really just becomes a business strategy perspective more than a roadblock on having a commercial agreement or from a technology perspective.”
During a conference call following the aggregator’s most recent earnings announcement, Hagan said wide handset support for Passpoint will help more operators follow in the path of Sprint, which this month signed a WiFi offload deal with Boingo, giving up to 40m Sprint cellphones seamless access to Boingo hotspots, initially at airports.
The biggest breakthrough for Passpoint, and its infrastructure-side companion NGH, came last year when Time Warner Cable started to deploy the technologies. Boingo then agreed a Passpoint roaming deal with TWC, which covers over 70,000 Passpoint hotspots in the US.