Mr. Guest

Mobile Technology

Understanding Wi-Fi Hotspot 2.0 and How to Leverage it for Your Business

By Jason Guest, Account Manager, Americas, Aptilo Networks

Hotspot 2.0 is a new Wi-Fi standard put forth by the Wi-Fi Alliance that will have a significant impact on travelers. Hotspot 2.0 is designed to make Wi-Fi as secure and easy to use as mobile networks. When entering a new mobile network, users will be able to simply turn on their mobile phone. Mobile services will work instantly and be billed by the home operator through roaming. With Wi-Fi today users often need to manually find available Wi-Fi networks, and then sign up and pay for it online. Hotspot 2.0 is designed to eliminate this hassle.

Hotspot 2.0 enables compatible mobile devices to automatically and silently discover Wi-Fi access points that have roaming agreements with the user's home network, then automatically and securely connect. This will open up new business opportunities for hotels when a critical mass of Hotspot 2.0-enabled Wi-Fi access points and devices have been rolled out.

Roaming agreements will no longer exclusively be between operators but also between operator and hotel and any other organization with a Wi-Fi network. More importantly, Wi-Fi traffic will skyrocket as usage will be as seamless as the mobile 3G/4G service. International travelers benefit as they will no longer need to pay costly 3G/4G roaming charges and therefore typically disable roaming by default. Hotspot 2.0 will also put pressure on hotels offering Wi-Fi services, as real carrier-class services will become a must in the highly competitive hospitality industry.

Understanding Wi-Fi Hotspot 2.0 and How to Leverage it for Your Business

Everybody talks about Hotspot 2.0 as the next big thing in Wi-Fi, but what will it mean for the hospitality market?

First of all, don't worry. Technology shifts tends to be hyped, but in the end it normally takes a longer time to roll out than most people expect. However, because the technology in Hotspot 2.0 is quite easy and cheap to implement, the rollout of new equipment will come quickly even if it will take some time before the features are in use everywhere.

What is Hotspot 2.0?

Hotspot 2.0 is a new Wi-Fi initiative put forth by the Wi-Fi Alliance that will significantly impact travelers, by making Wi-Fi as secure and easy to use as mobile networks. With mobile networks the user just has to switch on the mobile phone when arriving in a new country: mobile services will work instantly and users will be billed by their home operator through roaming agreements. It should be mentioned that even if the technology is this seamless it is rarely used for international data roaming as most people tend to have data roaming switched off due to costly roaming charges of mobile 3G/4G data services.

With Wi-Fi the user often needs to manually find available Wi-Fi networks, understand if they offer a public service and then connect and pay for the service online. This is not an easy task as there generally are many Wi-Fi networks to select from. In a busy downtown center there can be hundreds of Wi-Fi networks to pick through, including locked ones from enterprises and residents.

The way a user discovers an available Wi-Fi network today is a manual process. Wi-Fi access points broadcast their Wi-Fi service set identifier (SSID) over the Wi-Fi air interface; the SSID is then picked up by the device when it is in range.

The users need to manually select the available Wi-Fi SSID that they want to connect to from the Wi-Fi settings in the device. Modern devices will remember which networks they have been connected to and connect automatically next time the user is in range, but this doesn't help people who travel, people who show up in new locations all the time.

What if Wi-Fi access points and devices could silently agree on which Wi-Fi SSID to connect to without any user interaction and then select the one that make most sense according to the policies set by the home operator? This is exactly what Hotspot 2.0 is all about. The Wi-Fi Alliance has already begun certifying mobile devices and Wi-Fi infrastructure equipment using Hotspot 2.0 technology. This certification is called Passpoint™.

When a Hotspot 2.0-capable Wi-Fi device - for instance a mobile phone - comes within the range of a Hotspot 2.0-capable access point, it will automatically start a dialog with that access point to determine its capabilities. This is a dramatically more intelligent dialog than just broadcasting the SSID as the access points do today. Some of the more important data that is exchanged include:

  • The name of the Wi-Fi network operator / service provider
  • List of roaming partners that are supported
  • Other things related to the service such as backhaul bandwidth, current load etc.

With this information available the device will automatically connect to the network if it is preferred by the home operator. Users will also be allowed to specify that some Wi-Fi networks should always have priority, for instance Wi-Fi networks at home and at work.

Hotspot 2.0 will also improve mobile data security making all of your public Wi-Fi activity as secure and seamless as 3G/4G mobile data services (for example, when you see "3G data" or "LTE" on your smartphone). The automatic login of users must use the standard 801.1x authentication with the Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP). Supported EAP methods include:

  • EAP-SIM/AKA which uses the SIM card credentials in e.g. a mobile phone
  • EAP-TTLS using username / password that have been provisioned in the device
  • EAP-TLS using a certificate that has been provisioned in the device

Against common belief Hotspot 2.0 is not a prerequisite for SIM-based authentication. It is used already today by mobile operators in order to automatically and securely login users to their own Wi-Fi networks.

The need for 801.1x support in the Wi-Fi networks brings an additional benefit when it comes to security. The Wi-Fi airlink will be encrypted making the data secure from eavesdropping and tampering.

What Will Hotspot 2.0 Mean for the Hospitality Industry?

Becoming a Wi-Fi roaming partner

Even if the roaming settlement aspects are beyond the scope of Hotspot 2.0 it will facilitate roaming between a wider range of Wi-Fi providers which means new business opportunities for hotels to monetize their networks better through roaming arrangements with other Wi-Fi providers. Currently, roaming agreements are exclusive agreements between mobile operators. With Hotspot 2.0, roaming agreements can be made between mobile operators and hotels, or any other organization that has a Wi-Fi network. Just as in the mobile world there will be specialized companies offering settlement services between roaming partners.

Leveraging Hotspot 2.0 for your hotel business

As Hotspot 2.0 brings a totally seamless user experience, making is a breeze to roam between networks, the penetration (percentage of guests using the service) of Wi-Fi usage at your hotel will skyrocket. On the other hand hotels may not be able to charge as much per user as before with large service providers as roaming partners.

Hotspot 2.0 will also allow hotels to showcase their superior Wi-Fi services, giving themselves a "quality stamp" which for business travelers can be the deciding factor in selecting a hotel.

Of course, it is possible to stay the course with your own portal-based Wi-Fi service, and since Hotspot 2.0 is still in its infancy this business model can still be viable for a time. However, when a critical mass of hotels adopt Hotspot 2.0 and a smooth mechanism for roaming settlements is in place you risk being almost as off the mark as a hotel without any Wi-Fi is today.

It will also be possible to maintain a "premium business" model. It is true that a portal-based authentication method is not part of Hotspot 2.0. But, with a next-generation Wi-Fi service management system (such as Aptilo Service Management Platform™) it is quite possible to offer a basic Wi-Fi service as part of a roaming agreement with an operator and then forward a user to a portal in the authentication process and offer a premium service with a higher bandwidth.

Even if you do not have a premium service you may want to combine the automatic login process of Hotspot 2.0 with a portal the first time a user connects for branding purposes of your hotel and give information about the venue etc.

What Will Hotspot 2.0 Mean for your Wi-Fi Infrastructure Investments?

Within a few years' time it will most likely be impossible to buy anything other than Hotspot 2.0-compatible Wi-Fi access points and devices, so the radio technology as such will not be a problem.

The real challenge will instead be to manage users' expectations in quality of the Wi-Fi service and to manage roaming agreements. The pure increase in usage means that you will need to invest in higher bandwidth capacity more than ever before. You will also need to put efforts into roaming agreements even if there will be companies that will facilitate roaming and settlements between different providers.

Your Wi-Fi service will need to become more "carrier-class." What is "carrier class?" Think of just a few years ago, when coffee shop and hotel Wi-Fi hotspots were just starting to pop up. The idea was fantastic; the bandwidth capacity, the service itself, was not. It was nowhere near the speed or reliability of the kind of wireless service provided by your carrier.

Large hotel chains will now have the opportunity to invest in and stand up to this challenge and become a carrier-class Wi-Fi service provider. Smaller entities may be better off outsourcing these services to a Wi-Fi service provider, and there will not be a lack of choices. Large service providers are investing heavily in Wi-Fi right now and hotels are very attractive venues for their Wi-Fi rollouts. A mobile operator for instance can save a great deal of money and provide a better mobile broadband service by offloading their 3G/4G users to Wi-Fi while they are staying at the hotel.

Jason Guest is an Account Manager for Aptilo Networks, the global leader in pre-integrated management solutions for control of billing, user services and access in Wi-Fi, WiMAX™ and LTE networks. Mr. Guest is responsible for sales in North America, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Prior to joining Aptilo, Mr. Guest was responsible for information technology sales at Regus plc., the world’s largest provider of workplace solutions. While there he helped to introduce and implement the sales strategy for a new information technology products and services division. Mr. Guest can be contacted at 917-414-9262 or jason.guest@aptilo.com Extended Bio...

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