September 07, 2011, 3:27 PM — Although vendor-written, this contributed piece does not advocate a position that is particular to the author's employer and has been edited and approved by Network World editors.
Why can't connecting to a Wi-Fi network be as easy as connecting to a cellular network?
It's not uncommon for people living in a major city to be able to "see" tens if not hundreds of Wi-Fi networks with their smartphone or laptop. But how does the device select the right network? And often the device doesn't recognize available Wi-Fi networks (SSIDs) or know if they have the proper security credential to even connect.
Also unknown is whether Internet access is provided through a given SSID or whether email or other services the user desires will function properly. For many, selecting a Wi-Fi network -- having to fiddle with the phone to enter credentials, encryption keys and everything else -- just isn't worth it. But soon it may be much easier if the IEEE Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) and Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) have anything to say about it.
BACKGROUND: Wi-Fi group plans to simplify hotspot access
A little-known protocol extension from the IEEE, 802.11u, stands to have a huge impact on the user experience of emerging mobile Wi-Fi networks being built by operators. The key for widespread adoption of 802.11u ultimately rests in the hands of the WFA and its industry certification process as part of Hotspot 2.0, as well as the WBA and its Next Generation Hotspot interoperability program.
Who's doing what?
Driven largely by vendors and network operators, Hotspot 2.0 is an industry initiative that will use 802.11u to provide seamless automatic Wi-Fi authentication and handoff, allowing mobile users to roam between the networks without additional authentication.
While Hotspot 2.0 uses 802.11u as a fundamental building block, it extends beyond the 802.11u protocol to effectively automate the network discovery, registration, provisioning and access steps a Wi-Fi user must manually go through today when connecting to a given hotspot.