The most widely anticipated, but least understood, “next big thing” in the networked world is Hotspot 2.0 (HS 2.0), according to Ruckus Wireless.
As a multi-industry initiative or framework for automating many of today’s manual WiFi tasks, the shared vision for HS 2.0 is compelling: turn the WiFi user experience into one that mirrors the cellular phone by establishing a WiFi connection experience that is secure, automated, and conforms to user/operator policy. With Hotspot 2.0, it’s now possible to seamlessly link to a limitless network of WiFi access points so users can just as seamlessly move between cellular and WiFi networks from any location. It achieves this through a truly revolutionary overhaul of the WiFi connection procedure.
“Automating the current manual configuration and decision-making process eliminates huge hassles for both users and network operators by making it much easier to use WiFi. Another important benefit of HS 2.0 is the implementation of advanced automated security,” says Michael Fletcher, sales director for Ruckus Wireless sub-Saharan Africa. “But while HS 2.0 has been developed and promoted predominately by carriers and equipment suppliers, this new technology actually looks to have a great impact and appeal within the enterprise.”
Here’s why: people use WiFi mostly indoors; and when they are indoors they are typically inside a building, which is owned by somebody else and most often, they own the network infrastructure inside. That somebody else is usually an enterprise. A more recent phenomenon is the widespread and growing use of WiFi across public venues, such as hotels, schools, malls, retail outlets, and public transport hubs like train stations.
In these locations, service providers want to automatically connect their subscribers to their own “branded broadband” service using the venue’s available high-speed WiFi network, which they typically neither own nor operate. Hotspot 2.0 makes this connectivity possible by allowing user devices to automatically connect to any WiFi network that has an interconnection with their “home” service provider. These back-end connections might be direct, but more likely will be indirectly provided through third-party “hubbing” services.
What does this mean? This scenario presents an unprecedented opportunity for enterprises to wholesale their existing wireless LAN capacity to myriad operators by charging them recurring fees for WiFi network access. Enterprises can effectively turn their WLANs, often challenged with large capital and operational expenses, into profit centres, while underwriting the costs to build more industrial-strength wireless networks that can improve their own users’ experience.
“Where it gets really interesting is when Google, Facebook and come into the picture as home providers, using HS2.0 to authenticate users anywhere against their own databases,” adds Fletcher.
The ability of the mobile device to “learn” about WiFi network capabilities pre-association will completely transform the WiFi user experience, making connecting to a WiFi network effectively transparent. It will also completely change the nature of a WiFi SSID (Service Set IDentifier).
In the past, users and devices had to “remember” SSIDs that have provided connectivity in the past, so that they can be accessed again in the future. These are typically SSIDs for which they have credentials or which provide open access. With HS2.0 the importance of and need for SSIDs is greatly reduced. What’s more, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets will be able to select the “best” visited WiFi network, based on roaming agreements, service level agreements or any number of other criteria that have been set up between carriers and enterprises. Even better, the enterprise involved doesn’t need to immerse itself in a lot of IT to make this happen as the infrastructure is now smart enough to figure it all out.
“Equipment vendors are already supporting HS 2.0 in software that can literally be turned on with new and existing equipment, and most handset vendors are either supporting the technology or are preparing to within their operating systems. In other words, enabling Hotspot 2.0 will require only software upgrades to existing infrastructure and user devices,” continues Fletcher. “With HS 2.0, there looms a massive opportunity for enterprises to create agreements with carriers of all shapes and sizes to wholesale WiFi capacity. But doing this will dramatically change how enterprises need to build out their wireless LAN networks – driving new requirements for higher capacity and more industrial strength equipment.”
Hotspot 2.0 does put much more pressure on enterprises to build WiFi networks that can handle more user capacity, as venue owners can expect to see up to a 10-times increase in the number of sessions as mobile devices join their WiFi networks, while carriers will see a triple bonus of offload, keeping customers on “their” networks, and providing their customers with automatic access to the WiFi networks they (the customers) want to be on.
With HS 2.0, enterprises venue owners and operators can now begin to better monetize their WiFi network investments through these roaming arrangements and the settlements that they entail.
“Now the big question is when does all this become real? The answer is more muddy than clear. While the technical aspects of HS 2.0 have been proven and demonstrated, the business models and framework for implementation still need to be fleshed out. Most expect that this will happen in late 2013 and early 2014. But get ready, with Hotspot 2.0, enterprise WiFi will never be the same,” Fletcher says.