What does Hotspot 2.0 really mean for your business?
Wi-Fi connectivity is extremely important for businesses and is a key tool driving customer satisfaction across the retail, hospitality and transportation sectors, as well as cost control and employee productivity in the enterprise. Users simply want, nay expect, to be seamlessly and securely connected wherever they are and able to get on with whatever task they need to complete without participating in the plumbing, writes Blaz Vavpetic, the chief technology officer of iPass.
Historically, the Wi-Fi experience, especially in public venues, has been inconsistent at the best of times and unusable at the worst, with differing levels of security, network quality and user interfaces causing endless frustration for the increasingly mobile user. Enter Hotspot 2.0 – though adoption started slowly, the Hotspot 2.0 specification provides the capability to make Wi-Fi connectivity truly seamless and secure. But while most business leaders and IT teams will have at least heard of Hotspot 2.0 by now, what it really means and how it will impact businesses in practice is still not exactly common knowledge.
Simply speaking, Hotspot 2.0 is a new standard designed to make it easier and more secure for end users to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots. It is a technical specification developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) that uses 802.11u and 802.1x as building blocks to provide seamless Wi-Fi connection experiences, automating the process of network discovery, registration and authentication steps Wi-Fi users must currently go through when connecting to a hotspot.
To ensure consistency in the implementation and interoperability between devices, Wi-Fi hardware, both infrastructure and consumer devices, can be Passpoint certified, indicating compliance with the Hotspot 2.0 specification. In practice, this means that Passpoint-certified devices are capable of providing an improved, seamless connectivity experience to users. In the past year, a critical mass of devices carrying the Passpoint stamp of approval have landed in the hands of end-users. This has enabled network operators to justify their investment in their Wi-Fi service to bring it up to the level of Hotspot 2.0, aiming to provide seamless Wi-Fi connectivity to users and get the specification recognised as industry standard. As more people begin to adopt Hotspot 2.0 and improve their Wi-Fi offering, it will become accepted as a given and enterprises will be able to start looking at the opportunities it presents.
Practicalities of a seamless connection
Hotspot 2.0 presents an opportunity for a wide range of public and private sector organisations and businesses. As more people follow the standard, the benefits of having an automatic, secure and consistent connection will become a business norm. Not only will this enhance the workforce’s experience of the enterprise network and help businesses keep costs of cellular down, it will also enhance speed and flexibility, two things that on-the-go workers can hugely benefit from.
The uptake of Hotspot 2.0 presents an opportunity for all sorts of use cases, as demonstrated by a city-wide initiative undertaken at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Over 2,200 hotspots were made live across the city during the event, using Passpoint technology that complies with the Hotspot 2.0 specification and a specific SSID set up. End-users were delivered a cellular-like experience as a result – fully automated connection to the Wi-Fi hotspots as they moved around the city, with no manual intervention necessary.
This smart city initiative showed the world that implementation of the new Wi-Fi standard is possible on a large-scale and demonstrated how wide-ranging the beneficiaries of Hotspot 2.0 will be. It showed that it is possible for thousands of users to seamlessly authenticate onto reliable and functioning wireless networks, without having to spend extra time inspecting the various different networks available to choose the best connection.
While the benefits of the seamless Wi-Fi experience championed by Hotspot 2.0 are clear, and plentiful, there is still the question of why the specification hasn’t already been adopted as the industry standard when it comes to corporate connectivity.
The simple answer is timing. While the benefits of the technology are obvious, investment in network upgrades to support it were not. Only in the past year have Passpoint certified consumer devices reached critical mass and the remaining solution design points been addressed to give network owners the confidence to make the investment. The experience enabled by Hotspot 2.0 coupled with performance and security improvements of Wi-Fi 6 will raise the bar on consumer expectations, driving them and their devices to prefer the most seamless connectivity and creating the motivation for network providers to deliver it.