AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile reap benefits of Passpoint deployment in Barcelona

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) is declaring its Wi-Fi Passpoint deployment in Barcelona a success after more than 2,200 Wi-Fi access points were installed at the Fira Barcelona conference center, railway stations, the airport and city attractions like Las Ramblas and Passeig de Gracia.

Cisco and Boingo, which are members of WBA, engineered the network with the Passpoint next generation hotspot (NGH) technology that allows people to automatically and securely connect to Wi-Fi networks. And WBA points out that while all of this takes place behind the scenes, there’s actually quite a bit that has to happen to make it all work.

For one thing, to enable roaming, the access network needs to accept credentials from a broad range of communication service providers. The city network, train stations, airport, and Fira are all run by different organizations, but to the consumer, it all looks like one large access network as authentication is done through a common set of roaming credentials.

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Nearly 20% of MWC attendees connected to Wi-Fi through NGH, a figure that significantly surpassed all previous NGH deployments in Barcelona, representing a 400% increase over 2017, according to WBA. U.S. operators AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile pushed the majority of traffic to the city’s NGH hotspots, with over 90% of NGH connections coming from their customers.  

“We deployed NGH in partnership with the WBA to ensure leading-edge connectivity for Mobile World Congress attendees not only at the Fira, but throughout the city of Barcelona,” said Xavier Michavila, director of ICT, Fira de Barcelona, in a press release. “From the airport to popular city centers, restaurants and transportation hubs, we covered people’s entire journey with fast, secure Wi-Fi—a monumental leap forward for smart city mobility and another reason that Barcelona is a world-class host city for world-class events.”

In 2015, the GSMA signed an agreement with the Barcelona City Partners to extend their contract for an additional five years, making Barcelona the Mobile World Capital and host city of the GSMA Mobile World Congress through 2023. The Mobile World Capital initiative includes programs and activities apart from the week of MWC and is designed to benefit citizens of Barcelona and other parts of Spain.

“The rollout of NGH at Mobile World Congress showcases how multiple groups from private, public and municipal sectors can successfully work together to drive smart city concepts forward,” said Tiago Rodrigues, senior director at the WBA, in the release. “Delivering a cellular like experience over Wi-Fi networks accelerates business opportunities and technology adoption. It is our hope to extend NGH to more international carriers and launch further deployments in large cities around the world.”

The NGH initiative at MWC 2018 had a lot of partners: The GSMA, WBA, Cisco, Boingo Wireless, City of Barcelona, Fira Barcelona, Eurotronics, Cellnex, Think Smarter, BSG Wireless, Accuris Networks, AT&T, T-Mobile US, Sprint, Mobily, Telecom26, Softbank, Shaw Communications, Spectrum (Charter Communications), ER-Telecom, iPass and several enterprises were part of the initiative.

One carrier obviously absent from the list is Verizon, which is not a member of WBA. FierceWireless reported last year that Verizon is the only major U.S. carrier that doesn’t support the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Passpoint program. As a result, Verizon customers aren’t automatically pushed onto Passpoint-capable Wi-Fi networks where they’re available.

RELATED: Editor’s Corner—Why Verizon is the only carrier to shun Passpoint Wi-Fi networks, and what that means for CBRS

For the other carriers and Wi-Fi players, the extended Wi-Fi in Barcelona was worth the effort. “Extending the Wi-Fi access network into the city, airport and train stations was a first this year for Mobile World Congress Barcelona,” said Matt MacPherson, WBA board member and senior director of wireless strategy at Cisco, in the release. “The sheer size of MWC means it’s a city-wide event and we wanted to provide a city-wide connected experience. Automatically connecting people to the network means more people on the network, higher traffic and a better experience. We also used our new network assurance software to monitor the network usage and user experience. This allowed us to proactively address network issues before they become user problems."

All told, the extended Wi-Fi network carried more than 2.3 TB of data and delivered speeds up to 25 Mbps, so it’s probably safe to assume it’s going to make an even bigger impact at next year’s show.