Smartphone users rarely have to think twice about staying connected, with convenient cellular coverage nearly anywhere they go. But tablet users aren’t as lucky, often relying on Wi-Fi hotspots when using their devices away from home. However, Hotspot 2.0 technology could allow tablets to act more like smartphones, connecting automatically to Wi-Fi while on the go.
Currently, the average hotspot requires users to manually connect by accepting terms and conditions or logging in with credentials. But with the emerging Hotspot 2.0 standard, authentication isn’t necessary, which means users can go straight from the library, to Starbucks, or to the airport without manually connecting to Wi-Fi at each location.
The Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint standard comes from the 802.11u wireless standard for public wireless. This means whenever an 802.11u-capable device enters the range of a Hotspot 2.0 access point, it will automatically detect it and connect. The entire process is automated with Hotspot 2.0, allowing users to have a cellular-roaming experience on Wi-Fi. The goal is for users to be able to seamlessly travel throughout their day, staying connected as they go.
Besides convenience for tablet and smartphone users, Hotspot 2.0 will also mean that more users will be connected to Wi-Fi, rather than cellular data, which will take some of the burden off carriers’ 3G and 4G networks. With fewer people reliant on cellular data for browsing the Web or using apps, there will more bandwidth freed up for those without available Wi-Fi.
Tablet users will undoubtedly benefit the most from Hotspot 2.0 access points as they become more pervasive. With a marked increase in available Hotspot 2.0 locations, tablets will begin to act like smartphones, always connecting to the nearest Wi-Fi network. By abandoning the need for an authentication process, users can pull out their tablet and immediately begin to surf the Web, check email, use apps, and more.
Phones, tablets, and even notebooks will able to connect automatically after the first time users choose an available Hotspot 2.0 network. The device will store a profile, which will automatically connect to the various Hotspot 2.0 Passpoint Wi-Fi access points. Every time a device automatically connects to a wireless carrier’s Passpoint-certified Hotspot 2.0 access point, the signal will be encrypted with WPA2 security, which offers more security than original portal-based Hotspots. The certification process carriers have to go through to get a certified device helps ensure consistency, giving users privacy on par with their home Wi-Fi network (assuming they have secured their home wireless).
In terms of device compatibility, Apple iOS 7 supports Hotspot 2.0 (802.11u) as long as the user is running iOS 7.0 or higher. Google Android does not have support built into its devices, but Samsung has jumped on board with its tablets and phones. As of this writing, Windows does not fully support Hotspot 2.0.
Big Names on Board
Currently, a number of internet service providers (ISPs) are increasing their Hotspot 2.0 availability, including Time Warner and Comcast.
Time Warner recently began a large-scale deployment of Hotspot 2.0 locations, releasing a national network dubbed TWCIWi-Fi Passpoint SSID. Time Warner subscribers will now be able to connect to these Hotspot 2.0 networks wherever they are available. The company’s original hotspot service, TWCWi-Fi SSID, will remain available for users without a Hotspot 2.0-compatible device.
Comcast is also expanding its Xfinity coverage with Hotspot 2.0 public Wi-Fi access. In addition, this company has proposed a $45.2 billion dollar takeover of TWC, which would presumably expand its Hotspot 2.0 coverage.
According to the Wi-Fi Alliance industry group, users today are more likely to connect to Hotspot 2.0 coverage, even if they never connected to a provider’s previously-available hotspots. Whether the increased usage is due to a growing knowledge of hotspot availability among the general public or the tremendous growth in the popularity of tablets, both users and providers are taking note of Hotspot 2.0. This is creating more competition between ISPs.
The future of Hotspot 2.0 will involve more widespread locations for the public to access Wi-Fi on the go, with ISPs vying to create national networks. This is great news for tablet users who aren’t interested in investing in a more expensive tablet model that supports cellular data. With Hotspot 2.0, tablet users will enjoy easy access to all of the features their tablets have to offer, without having to rely on a small smartphone screen and potentially expensive data packages.