AT&T supports international Wi-Fi roaming
New deals for subscribers support access to Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide, with seamless authentication
Published: 18 January, 2013
AT&T has led the field in including Wi-Fi in the heart of its network capacity, and now it is waving the flag for Hotspot 2.0 standards. These emerging technologies will allow users to connect automatically to Wi-Fi access points when roaming internationally or from cellular networks. The US carrier's new roaming deal is the first to support SIM-based authentication for automatic Wi-Fi sign-up abroad.
This will become commonplace in carrier strategies from later this year as the main standards to underpin seamless authentication are commercialized. The Wi-Fi Alliance's Hotspot 2.0 and Passpoint initiatives, increasingly integrated with the WBA's Next Generation Hotspot platform, will enable operators to move on from simple data offload to WLans, and towards managing 3G/4G and Wi-Fi as a single pool of capacity, from a common core, and transparently to the user.
The standards are not quite ready for the commercial prime time yet, so most early movers will rely on specialist partners with a degree of proprietary or pre-standard technology. AT&T's supplier is Accuris Networks, whose AccuRoam system underpins a new international roaming program unveiled for mobile subscribers last fall. This offered customers on selected plans 1Gbyte of free Wi-Fi access per month at AT&T's international hotspots. Hardly unusual, since many cellcos are including WLans in domestic and international offerings, to add value and to encourage the offload of some data from pressurized cellular networks. However, AccuRoam adds a more important feature, seamless access using SIM-based data, avoiding cumbersome sign-ins to hotspots.
"We see this as the beginning of a big trend of mobile operators leveraging Wi-Fi not just for domestic offload to ease congestion but in a roaming scenario as well to give better roaming rates to their end users and a better user experience," David Reeder, Accuris' VP of sales and business development in north America, told FierceBroadbandWireless.
Such initiatives will gather pace with the Wi-Fi Alliance's Passpoint program to certify equipment that supports Hotspot 2.0 and therefore seamless authentication. The WBA (Wireless Broadband Alliance) recently released the results of a survey, which showed that 19% of operators expect to deploy Next Generation Hotspot carrier Wi-Fi standards, which are based on Passpoint. "Large operators are already seeing a significant increase in Wi-Fi usage. China Mobile, for example, saw a 102.5% year-on-year increase in Wi-Fi traffic in H1 2012, and Japan's NTT Docomo plans to grow its 14,200 hotspots by as much as 1.5 times before the end of the year," said the organization.