AT&T: Hotspot 2.0 a ‘critical requirement’ for Wi-Fi

AT&T sees Hotspot 2.0 as a “critical requirement” in its network and customer premises equipment, according to a network executive.

AT&T didn’t say what percentage of its network is compatible with Hotspot 2.0, but it's clearly on board with the technology that's designed to make Wi-Fi a whole lot friendlier for consumers.

“Since January 2015, the AT&T Wi-Fi – Enterprise networks that we’ve set up have been HotSpot 2.0 compliant,” said Sarita Rao, VP, In-Building Solutions and Wi-Fi, in a statement emailed to FierceWirelessTech. “It has been a critical requirement for both our network architecture and our customer premises equipment as we’ve transformed our Wi-Fi solutions. Moving forward, the new networks that we set up will also be 2.0 compliant. We’ll continue to see an increase in compliance as companies upgrade their legacy equipment and evolve their networks as well.”

Hotspot 2.0, Release 1 introduced basic concepts behind Hotspot 2.0, like automatic Wi-Fi network discovery, while Hotspot 2.0 Release 2, introduced in October 2014, included several improvements, such as standardizing the management of credentials.

Generally speaking, Hotspot 2.0 is a way for the Wi-Fi industry to make Wi-Fi usage more akin to cellular. The Wi-Fi Alliance offers a certification program for Hotspot 2.0 devices under its Passpoint program. Passpoint-enabled networks eliminate public Wi-Fi log-ins and browser redirects, providing automatic access to secure Wi-Fi networks using a Passpoint profile stored on a device. Wi-Fi proponents say eliminating that log-in or splash page experience is a big deal in terms of getting people to use Wi-Fi.

Passpoint-enabled networks use 802.1x to authenticate users onto WPA2 encrypted connections. Key benefits for end users include instant access to a network and security without the need of a VPN.

RELATED: AT&T likely offloading some cellular traffic to Boingo Wi-Fi hotspots: sources

AT&T, which found itself in an unfortunate predicament when the first iPhone took off and its network was overburdened with traffic, has been at the forefront of offloading mobile data traffic onto Wi-Fi. It purchased Wi-Fi hotspot provider Wayport in 2008 to expand its Wi-Fi footprint by adding thousands of hotspots.

While it always takes operators, both fixed and mobile, time to roll out any new technology, there are encouraging signs, including with AT&T's adoption of Hotspot 2.0. “Adoption is certainly picking up by major fixed and mobile operators,” Wi-Fi Alliance Marketing VP Kevin Robinson told FierceWirelessTech in a recent interview.

One big achievement: It’s now supported in all three major device operating systems: iOS, Android and Windows.

In 2014, Time Warner Cable started making Hotspot 2.0 technology available on most of its access points, saying it was offering the largest Passpoint-enabled network in the country at the time. LinkNYC is using gear equipped with Hotspot 2.0 throughout the boroughs where it’s adding Wi-Fi in New York City, and Boingo has deployed it in airports across the country. A lot of hotels also are offering seamless authentication for guests who are part of their loyalty programs.

RELATED: Time Warner Cable expands Hotspot 2.0 to Dallas, San Antonio, Raleigh

One of the Wi-Fi Alliance programs that’s likely to be talked about more in 2017 is called Wi-Fi Vantage, which builds on technologies like Wi-Fi Certified ac and Passpoint. The alliance describes Wi-Fi Certified Vantage as an ongoing evolution of Wi-Fi devices delivering an enhanced user experience in managed Wi-Fi networks and says Wi-Fi Vantage will continually evolve to deliver improved device performance, faster speeds and reduced network interference and network connection times.