A companion initiative to Hotspot 2.0 is the Next Generation Hotspot program developed by the WBA. Unlike the WFA, which is primarily focused on vendor certification, the WBA is a collection of network operators interested primarily in interoperability. The WBA's Next Generation Hotspot program defines interoperability requirements for hotspot, cable and 3G/4G mobile operators. The program includes development of comprehensive operator guidelines and an ecosystem trial to facilitate migration to Next Generation Hotspots.
Given the explosion of data traffic on cellular networks and desire for operators to offload this traffic to Wi-Fi networks, Hotspot 2.0 and Next Generation Hotspot are widely viewed as critical components to accelerating the adoption of Wi-Fi as a complementary technology to high-mobility broadband wireless options.
And it couldn't come at a better time. The number of Wi-Fi hotspots are expected to triple by 2015 with some 1.2 million venues Wi-Fi ready, according to a recent report by In-Stat. It's anticipated that usage will follow suit, increasing from 4 billion connections in 2010 to 120 billion by 2015. It's these connections and streamlining the connection process where 802.11u comes in to save the day.
802.11u and you
An emerging protocol, 802.11u, automates what is now a cumbersome and tedious process for users trying to connect to Wi-Fi networks and services. Completed by the 802.11u task group in mid-2010 and approved by the IEEE for publication in February 2011, 802.11u was developed to effectively automate how Wi-Fi devices connect to available Wi-Fi networks.
The MAC-layer enhancement assists the advertising of and connection to remote services by providing information to client devices about the external networks that are accessible via a particular hotspot prior to association. 802.11u enables Wi-Fi hotspots to advertise their capabilities and then allows devices to connect to them automatically rather than requiring the end user to manually select an SSID. Within the 802.11u specification, the primary interworking functions covered include:
• Network discovery and selection: The automatic discovery of suitable networks through the advertisement of access network type, roaming consortium support and venue information (implemented as part of Hotspot 2.0).