Where's our ubiquitous Wi-Fi? (Updated)

Where's that everywhere Wi-Fi you promised?!
Credit: Boingo

Update: During Mobile World Congress this week, Boingo announced Passpoint Wi-Fi connectivity is now available in 21 U.S. airports including LAX, all three major New York airports, both Chicago airports, and BWI in Baltimore-Washington (see the complete list here). If you're a Boingo subscriber, get your secure Passpoint profile at https://nghtrial.boingo.com.

No matter where you go — there you are. More importantly, so is your cellular service.

Ramble as you will and your cellphone knows where you are and connects you to whatever cellular network is locally available. You probably don't even think about cell connectivity as you travel. You just whip out your phone, and, assuming you have battery power and you're somewhere near civilization, you're connected.

With Wi-Fi, not so much.

Outside your known hotspots, you have to first search for available Wi-Fi networks, input credit card numbers, passwords and security key codes, your social security number, proof of live birth and the name of your first dog before you can get connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot in a coffee shop, hotel, airport, park, or anywhere else.

And that's assuming you can tap all this required sign-in info into the tiny text window on your tiny smartphone or tablet screen or if your mobile Web browser can handle the stupid Wi-Fi connectivity pop-up pages — before you finally get connected for just a given period time. And once your hour is up, you have to go through the whole sign-in process all over again.

These ridiculous Wi-Fi connectivity issues should solved by Passpoint, the brand name encompassing the Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) and Hotspot 2.0 standards designed to make Wi-Fi as ubiquitous and as connectivity-brainless as cellular.

Except, it's been nearly two years since Passpoint was officially announced by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Nearly 80 percent of all global carriers are expecting to launch Passpoint — but not until the end of 2015 at the earliest.

So, we have another two years of unnecessarily putting up with the aforementioned Wi-Fi connectivity stupidity. WTF?!

What is Passpoint?

Passpoint is a simultaneous multi-front effort combining hardware, software, and (inevitably) bureaucracy, the last aided and abetted by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), which coordinates international cellular roaming and billing partnerships. Handsets and hotspots have to be certified to work under certified Passpoint specifications, which include additional security, encryption, authentication, and handshake protocols (802.11n, 802.1x and 802.11u), and deals have to be struck and testing done among Wi-Fi hotspot providers, cable carriers, cell carriers — anyone who sells Wi-Fi connectivity around the world.

So eventually, if you're (say) an AT&T subscriber and you want to use Wi-Fi somewhere, your Passpoint-compatible connected device (smartphone, tablet, digital camera, et al) will know what do to and who to do it with (your SIM card will be programmed) to create automatic secure Wi-Fi connections without you doing anything.

For instance, the graphic above illustrates a Passpoint-enabled international trip. In a Passpoint world, you leave your New York apartment or hotel room, ride the New York City subway, stop in at the Magnolia Bakery, take a taxi to JFK to hop aboard a Lufthansa flight to Berlin, take a taxi to the Berlin Grand Hyatt — and never be without a Wi-Fi connection.

Yes, you'll pay for Passpoint's automatic connectivity convenience. Future cell pricing plans likely will include Passpoint Wi-Fi data connectivity options just like the data and text options you sign up for now.

How much would you pay? No one really knows yet, but I can't imagine it'd be much more than $10 a month. To me, that's totally worth it for everywhere continuous brainless Wi-Fi connectivity.

What's the hold up?

I asked Derek Peterson, the senior VP of engineering for Boingo (the world's largest Wi-Fi hotspot provider with more than 700,000 affiliated hotspots and one of Passpoint's primary boosters) just what the hold up is, and didn't get a good answer. Last September, for instance, Boingo launched Passpoint at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Phase 2 of wider Passpoint ecosystem trials, testing SIM authentication, was wrapped up last October. A few weeks later, 13 Chinese carriers supplied Passpoint at the Wi-Fi World Congress in Beijing. Phase 3, testing additional connectivity policies, is due to start in May and last through the summer.

All of which sounds like elephantine corporate tip-toeing to me. For reasons I can't fathom considering the vast desirability and utility of Passpoint, not to mention the potential profit for ubiquitous Wi-Fi services and the weight Passpoint would lift from over-burdened cellular data networks, there seems to be no sense of urgency among the varying corporate entities to just light the Passpoint candle. If Boingo has already launched a Passpoint system in one location, what's stopping the company from just launching Passpoint, at least in the 2,000 hotspots it directly owns and operates?

It takes only one disrupter to spur the other bureaucratic Passpoint foot-draggers to speed up deployment. As the WBA noted in its November Wireless Broadband Alliance Industry Report 2013: Global Trends in Public Wi-Fi that "deployments like [O'Hare] will provide valuable testbeds of real world performance, which in turn will increase confidence." Once one or two Passpoint suppliers such as Boingo start supplying us Passpoint, its automatic and ubiquitous Wi-Fi connectivity benefits will be obvious and, hopefully, a groundswell of consumer demand will push deployments faster than the current 2015 target.

So c'mon, already. I want my everywhere Wi-Fi!

Via Passpoint

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