“Excuse me, can you tell me how to get on the wi-fi?”
Several fellow journalists asked me that as I used my iPad in the press room here at the CTIA Wireless conference in New Orleans. Actually, it’s a question I get a lot when I’m using the iPad in public, as other people try to puzzle out which network to use and what password they need.
I usually can’t help them. I have an iPad with built-in AT&T wireless — an option I pay for mostly so I don’t have to waste time trying to connect to a hotspot.
If the Wi-Fi Alliance has its way, getting on public wi-fi is about to get a lot easier. At CTIA, the industry organization is talking up Passpoint, a new standard that aims to make connecting to wi-fi from a phone, laptop or tablet as seamless as roaming between cellular towers. Passpoint, which will require new devices that support it or software updates for old devices, will allow a gadget to connect to a hotspot without intervention from its owner, silently identifying the network, signing in with any necessary credentials and using WPA2 security. (Most public hotspots are currently unsecured and therefore risky when it comes to online banking and other activities you don’t want anyone snooping on.)
The Alliance says that wireless carriers will like Passpoint because it’ll increase the chances that roaming gadget owners will use hotspots, reducing some of the load on overtaxed cellular networks. It should also help consumers deal with an era of capped data plans, since hotspots let you get online without depleting your data allowance.
It sounds like a good idea, as does Next-Generation Hotspot, a similar concept being championed by the Wireless Broadband Alliance, another industry association. The Wi-Fi Alliance plans to start field-testing Passpoint next month, with a fuller roll-out starting later this year and additional features coming in 2013.