Even though equipment providers such as Ruckus Wireless are expected to show support for Passpoint technology at CTIA this week in New Orleans, analysts said there's not much incentive for a wide number of carriers to move ahead with the technology right away, nor are there many devices that support it.
Passpoint is "pretty much a future dream at this point," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates. "It's unlikely there will be universal networks that you can roam against. There are probably no phones out there right now that do this ... I don't think it can happen quickly."
Gold noted it took years for roaming between carriers to occur over cellular networks.
AT&T operates nearly 30,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in the U.S., and its customers can use those hotspots at no added charge without having to enter a password. Regarding Passpoint, a spokesman said AT&T "can't speculate on the future."
A Verizon Wireless spokeswoman said, "We do not have Passpoint on our phones today, but are aware of the Wi-Fi Alliance and its ongoing work." Verizon customers can "easily find, connect and use a Wi-Fi network when desired," she said, and can set phones to make automatic connections to a Wi-Fi network (once a password, if needed, is provided) or can be notified each time to provide consent.
A Sprint spokesman said: "We are exploring all the options available to maintain our networks' performance at optimal levels, but have nothing to share at this time about specific services." Sprint's phones have similar Wi-Fi capabilities to those of the other carriers.
Passpoint poses a dilemma for Sprint and other carriers around the globe that have wireless spectrum capacity and want to attract more customers to their networks. These carriers would not see much value in having their customers roam to free Wi-Fi, analysts noted. Sprint is the only major U.S. carrier to offer unlimited data plans today.
But Sprint falls into a distinct minority, some experts said, since most carriers are interested in finding ways to relieve cellular network congestion, such as by offloading traffic to Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi Alliance CEO Edgar Figueroa said Passpoint is popular among the 30 carriers in the alliance, which includes AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, but not Sprint.
"A number of carriers are tracking Passpoint and adopting trials, preparing to roll it out," Figueroa said, although he wouldn't name specific carriers. "Operators have every incentive to support Passpoint. They'd rather use Wi-Fi than wireless spectrum."
Figueroa said Passpoint's greatest potential is in providing users with smooth Wi-Fi handoff capability, regardless of the carrier, when roaming in another country or in the U.S.