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GSMA and WBA team up to develop WiFi roaming framework for cellphones, tablets


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Many phones have WiFi, and there are hotspots in all sorts of places these days, so wouldn't it be cool if you could use them for roaming, regardless of provider? Well, if a new collaboration between the GSMA and the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has any say in the matter, one day you might be able to do just that. The goal is to simplify how cellphones can connect to those hotspots, by developing a technical framework for seamless WiFi roaming. The new standard will be based on the WBA's "Next Generation Hotspot" initiative and the WiFi Alliance's "Passpoint certification" system, taking cues from the GSMA's established roaming experience. The basic principles have already been laid down, and just require network formalities such as security and billing to be taken care of. No peep on when we might start seeing dividends, alas, so for now your subway ride can continue in (relative) peace.

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Initiative Will Enable Automatic Authentication of Mobile Devices on Wi-Fi Networks

20 March 2012, London, UK: The GSMA and the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) today announced they are working together to simplify connectivity to Wi-Fi hotspots from mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. The joint initiative is developing technical and commercial frameworks for Wi-Fi roaming, which will bring together the benefits of mobile technology and Wi-Fi networks for the first time, creating a far simpler consumer experience.

"The proliferation of smartphones and tablets around the world, as well as consumers' huge appetite for data means innovative solutions need to be explored to make using the Internet as convenient and as accessible as possible," said Dan Warren, Senior Director of Technology at the GSMA. "Through combining the proven capabilities of Mobile Broadband and Wi-Fi technologies, users will have the freedom to move between networks with ease."

Wi-Fi is increasingly emerging as a feature on smartphones and tablets, but today there is no consistency in the way these devices attach to Wi-Fi networks. This process includes device configuration, the use of access keys and the various mechanisms for acquiring and paying for connectivity. Wi-Fi roaming will allow mobile devices to seamlessly connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot using the SIM card for authentication, as well as enable mobile operators to uniquely and securely identify users whether they are on a mobile or Wi-Fi network.

Wi-Fi roaming will be based on the WBA's 'Next Generation Hotspot' programme and the Wi-Fi Alliance's 'Passpoint certification' technology. It will also build on the GSMA's successful roaming principles that have propelled the mobile industry to more than six billion mobile connections worldwide, a number that is expected to more than double within the next ten years.

"The combination of Wi-Fi and mobile technologies extends the power of broadband for consumers," said Shrikant Shenwai, CEO, WBA. "The work by the WBA and the GSMA will expedite the availability of a new generation of Internet access for the benefit of consumers everywhere. Key to this is Wi-Fi being able to replicate the success of mobile technology and allow users to roam seamlessly between different networks."

To date, the Wi-Fi roaming initiative has identified and agreed to the basis for a common approach to authenticating mobile devices on Wi-Fi hotspots, automatically and securely. It will now work towards aligning guidelines on security, billing, data offload, device implementation and network selection to create a consistent solution for GSMA and WBA members. This work will build on the GSMA's GPRS Roaming Exchange (GRX) and the WBA's Wireless Roaming Intermediary Exchange (WRIX) roaming models, which combined, will enable billions of consumers around the world to enjoy straightforward Internet connectivity.

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