If you've been paying even a slight bit of attention to carriers over the past year and change, you'd know that a number of 'em are resorting to citywide WiFi networks in order to relieve some of the stress being placed on their 3G networks. It's definitely a viable solution for a problem that requires oodles to time (and far too many signatures) to plant new cell sites, but there's a looming issue: compatibility. Naturally, the Wi-Fi Alliance is all over it, today launching an initiative to transform the user experience in hotspots. The Wi-Fi Certified hotspot testbed will address authentication and provision of service for public WiFi networks, essentially acting to "facilitate the seamless handoff of cellular traffic from smartphones, tablets and other portable electronics to WiFi, helping service providers manage demands on constrained licensed spectrum." We're told that the program will allow devices to "discover and automatically choose networks based upon user preferences, operator policies and network optimization," and in many cases, they'll be automatically granted access to the network based upon credential mechanisms, such as SIM cards. Hard to say what this will mean for limits and structuring, but we're bound to find out more as the 1H 2012 target launch date draws nearer. Full release is after the break, per usual.
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Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ Hotspot Program to Ease Subscriber Connectivity in Service Provider Wi-Fi® Hotspots

AUSTIN, TX, March 22, 2011 – An initiative to transform the user experience in hotspots is underway in the Wi-Fi Alliance®. Service providers and device manufacturers in the organization have formalized a set of industry market requirements that will lay the foundation for a new Wi-Fi CERTIFIED testing program that addresses authentication and provision of service for public Wi-Fi networks.

"Ensuring end users can easily access hotspot networks from various providers is a win for subscribers, service providers and device makers alike," said Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance. "We envision an automated, cellular-like experience for Wi-Fi users around the world in security-protected service provider hotspots."

"As a member of the Wi-Fi Alliance, France Telecom-Orange has actively contributed to the development of Wi-Fi hotspot certification, which is set to significantly improve user experience by facilitating connectivity in hotspots," said Rida Zouaoui, head of access networks standardisation of France Telecom-Orange. "By developing carrier-grade certification, this new generation of hotspots will allow Orange to provide Wi-Fi services that are both reliable and user-friendly. In addition, SIM-based authentication will enhance security and accessibility to Orange Wi-Fi hotspots, especially when roaming."

The Wi-Fi Alliance hotspot program will also facilitate the seamless handoff of cellular traffic from data-hungry smartphones, tablets and other portable electronics to Wi-Fi, helping service providers manage demands on constrained licensed spectrum. Data volume over cellular networks is forecast to nearly double from 2011 to 2012, reaching 4.56 million terabytes[1]. In an effort to address this trend, many service providers have recently announced expanded Wi-Fi hotspot deployment plans. As a result, the number of hotspots worldwide is expected to more than double by 2014, from the current estimate of 750,000.

"We are proud to participate in the Wi-Fi Alliance hotspot certification initiative", says Andrew Bocking, VP, Handheld Software Product Management, Research In Motion. "The program will provide users with a simpler and more standardized way to discover, subscribe and securely connect to hotspots around the world, than is possible today."

The key benefits of the hotspot program include:

* Network Discovery and Selection: Devices discover and automatically choose networks based upon user preferences, operator policies and network optimization
· Streamlined Network Access: In many cases, devices will be automatically granted access to the network based upon credential mechanisms, such as SIM cards, which are widely used in cellular devices today
* Immediate Account Provisioning: The process of establishing a new user account at the point of access will be streamlined, eliminating user steps and driving a common provisioning methodology across vendors
· WPA2™ Security: Over-the-air transmissions are encrypted using the latest-generation security technology

"Wi-Fi's performance and ubiquity make it a compelling solution for data offload, and service providers are leveraging Wi-Fi as an important part of their strategies," said Philip Solis, research director for mobile devices at ABI Research. "Having an industry-wide solution for provision and authentication enables service providers to take those strategies even further. It enables the development of roaming agreements and ready access to Wi-Fi for subscribers of numerous service providers."

"Cisco is dedicated to supporting open standards across all of our innovative Wi-Fi technologies," said Ray Smets, vice president and general manager, Wireless Networking business unit, Cisco. "By supporting the Wi-Fi Alliance certification, service providers can more easily optimize their networks by offloading data traffic to Wi-Fi and help deliver a better mobile experience to their end customers."

The planned launch of the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED hotspot certification program is targeted for the first half of 2012. To learn more about Wi-Fi Alliance and see a list of member companies, visit www.wi-fi.org
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