Hotspot 2.0 guru talks Wi-Fi roaming, new job at Ruckus

Dave Stephenson has been a leading light in efforts toward Wi-Fi roaming on mobile carriers

By , IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

Dave Stephenson is at the center of one of the most important efforts in mobile networking, the move to shepherd smartphones and other devices among Wi-Fi hotspots safely and automatically.

Stephenson has been a key player in the development of Hotspot 2.0, a set of specifications for how users can move among Wi-Fi networks operated by different service providers without having to look up network names and enter passwords. He remains chairman of the Wi-Fi Alliance Hotspot 2.0 Technical Task Group even though he just changed day jobs: After almost 14 years at Cisco Systems, Stephenson has joined Ruckus Wireless as a senior principal engineer.

Ruckus is something of a Wi-Fi upstart, a fraction of the size of Cisco, the dominant player. Stephenson heard the company's name come up frequently with carriers, talked to its top executives and was impressed with the leadership team, he said. He'll help Ruckus form a system architecture group to make sure all of the company's products work together as an overall architecture. But with its focus on wireless LANs for service providers, Stephenson said, Ruckus was also a good place to keep up his work on Hotspot 2.0.

"I do like to finish what I start, so that was a really good opportunity for me," Stephenson said.

What the Hotspot 2.0 group started working on in mid-2010 was nothing less than a way for users to roam from one Wi-Fi hotspot to the next just as easily as they can from one carrier's mobile network to another's. "We wanted it to be as automatic and secure as cellular," Stephenson said.

Mobile users can already move automatically onto Wi-Fi networks operated by their own carriers, but getting onto the many hotspots run by other service providers is usually harder. Beyond just the technical issues, carriers want Wi-Fi roaming agreements to work like cellular roaming deals, meaning that they get paid when another service provider's customers use their networks. Hotspot 2.0 is one of several initiatives aimed at making practical Wi-Fi roaming work.

Today, Hotspot 2.0 is in trials in labs and on carrier networks, and Stephenson expects to see commercial deployments with it in the second half of this year. A service provider group called the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) and the GSM Association also are working to make it easier for service providers to set up commercial Wi-Fi roaming agreements.

Stephenson is optimistic about the future of Wi-Fi roaming, which should help carriers offload the growing volumes of data from their cellular networks and keep offering the roaming capability that subscribers are used to. He knows how much work has been required to make that possible, having been involved in several parts of the effort.

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