The Constant Connectivity Conundrum

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If you have not figured it out already, the process of trying to stay connected on your iDevice when you travel is a continual pain in the you-know-what. If you travel for a living, it is even more difficult because you deal with it every day, sometimes multiple times a day.

Pax Trends Infographic.

Sure, you may have a data plan with your voice provider but they are often expensive, have limits, and sometimes just don’t work as well when using graphical or image related communications. In fact, that is one reason why Wi-Fi is so applicable… more bandwidth, more speed, more options than the telephone, period. With respect to calling, the process of leaving your phone on at all times really works but not so with Wi-Fi. At home or in the office the process is easy because in most cases you are constantly in touch (more or less) with one provider… if you don’t go too far. Because Wi-Fi has it’s range limitations (frequency and power based), you can go in and out of multiple coverage’s in a building, on a walk, or sometimes, even in a room. You can imagine as multiple paid and unpaid hotspot solutions are presented to travelers (think airport), the process of logging on to, and waiting for, connectivity providers can be onerous… not to mention the issues of multiple passwords, security measures and signal dropout.

So, the issue here is “seamless Wi-Fi” and one of the leaders in this industry is Boingo (offering both subscription and complimentary ad-supported Wi-Fi in airports) who has established new “Passpoint Secure” networks common solution in 26 airports in the United States and Brazil. We are already talking about going beyond just the airport and, as an example, some cars are now in production that help solve this portion of the “constant connectivity” problem. The industry, IFE included, is interested in the concept, and as one Panasonic official noted, “It’s part of our travel thread discussions — starts at home, carries over to the car, then the airport lounge, then aircraft, etc.” Be aware readers, this will be a big deal for us. Why? Because the airplane and its connectivity issues are inherently involved, and, you can take this to the bank – the problems of constant connectivity will plague (that’s a word that means money to some) our industry for years to come!

We are talking here about connecting all the dots in the entire travel thread, developing constant high level password security, passing along handshakes from one service provider to another, all while operating with the least amount of power and at a high speed on your portable device, possibly in private traveling vehicles… all without you noticing it. That’s a tall order.

The last few years have seen attention to this problem by the GSM Association, the Wireless Broadband Alliance, and the Wi-Fi Alliance and they have produced a set of standards and technical specifications designed to enable roaming, seamlessly link cell phones do over the nation. Your phone detects the nearest tower; it connects to the service or hands off from another tower, and it handshakes the access to it… all without your involvement or permission.

A new technology called Passpoint can bring a cellular-like roaming experience to Wi-Fi.“Passpoint is a standard for automating and securing most aspects of getting onto Wi-Fi networks. It can eliminate the need to enter a username or password to join a Passpoint Wi-Fi network, even the first time you get on. To join a network initially, users only have to use a one-time provisioning file. After that, they automatically get on that network and on those of all roaming partners.”

Could Passpoint’s Wi-Fi Standard be just what airports need to act more like on common wireless network? Just ask SFO, San Jose, and London! Beyond these installations, Boingo has installed this technology in some twenty six airports.

And it looks like the folks at Boingo have heard the Passpoint calling and we find them deeply involved in getting their airport service Passpoint compatible. It is important to note that the new standards-based networks like Passpoint certified hardware (Wi-Fi Alliance certification – Hotspot 2.0 specification) and Next Generation Hotspot network configurations (Wireless Broadband Alliance guidelines) both enable the phone to identify and negotiate with the network without an input from the user. The goal is, of course, to establish a robust, secure, WPA2-encrypted connection with the hotspot without any password or input… in other words, it just works! Again, Boingo told us the following when we asked about the various terms and what they mean:

“Passpoint is a revolutionary new wireless industry standard that enables seamless, secure, automatic Wi-Fi access, with no user action needed. As you may have seen in your research online, people sometimes conflate various industry terms such as Passpoint, Hotspot 2.0 and Next Generation Hotspot. In reality, these are separate but interrelated standards and technical specifications that make this seamless, secure and automatic Wi-Fi access possible. Each of these terms’ definitions and role in this new network technology can be explained in simple terms as follows:

Q: What is Passpoint? Passpoint is the Wi-Fi Alliance’s trademarked brand designating that a hardware device has passed interoperability testing against the Hotspot 2.0 technical specification. Any hardware devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops, access points) that pass the testing for the Hotspot 2.0 specification compatibility receive Passpoint certification. Those devices with Passpoint™ certification include the necessary technologies to enable seamless, secure connections.

Q. What is Hotspot 2.0? Hotspot 2.0 is a technical specification from the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) — the global organization that oversees Wi-Fi interoperability certification. Hotspot 2.0 serves as the foundation for seamless, secure connections to Wi-Fi networks using a combination of Wi-Fi standards that can fundamentally change public Wi-Fi access. The Hotspot 2.0 technical specification requires several key technologies (primarily IEEE 802.11u and IEEE 802.1x) to enable seamless, secure access.

Q. What is Next Generation Hotspot? Next Generation Hotspot is an initiative within the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) — the global organization for Wi-Fi network operators — to enable public Wi-Fi networks for seamless, secure connections using Passpoint-certified hardware, and network integration best practices defined by the WBA and its members.

As we were told by Boingo: “Passpoint networks, like Boingo’s “Passpoint Secure” networks, have the power to fundamentally change the way consumers connect to Wi-Fi. These Passpoint networks have the potential to do away with public Wi-Fi log-ins and browser redirects forever. They provide automatic access to a secure Wi-Fi network using a Passpoint profile stored on your favorite device, dramatically improving the experience of getting connected to public Wi-Fi.”

“Passpoint Secure” networks provide three key benefits to users:
Instant Access: With a properly installed profile, a phone or tablet will recognize the network immediately and log a user in. It’s just like the experience you have when you walk into your home or office, and automatically connect to a private secure network.

Simple Access: People with a properly installed Passpoint profile won’t have to open a browser, enter a password in a login screen, or hunt for a network – they’ll be connected before they pull their phone out of their pockets.

Secure Access: Passpoint-enabled networks use 802.1x to authenticate users onto a WPA2 encrypted connections. Or in layman’s terms: the networks enable an enterprise-level secure connection, with no VPNs needed.

Passpoint networks have just begun to roll out worldwide. Boingo was one of the first Wi-Fi operators in the world to launch commercial Passpoint networks in Q1 2014.

The Boingo “Passpoint Secure” networks are currently available to Boingo subscribers with a Passpoint profile installed on an applicable device. Passpoint credentials are available to Boingo subscribers and can be easily installed in a couple of simple steps.

“Currently, Passpoint connectivity is available only for users of late model iOS and Macintosh devices, such as iPhone 5 and 6, late model iPads, and Macintosh laptops running the Mavericks or Yosemite operating systems,” they said.

Lastly, we wanted to see what is driving this upgrade:

Q: Why do you folks believe in it?
“Passpoint by definition provides the best connectivity experience that there is. Customers can connect with instant, secure and seamless access, without having to do anything, provided that they are on a compatible device with a Passpoint profile installed. Boingo has been a believer, supporter and contributor to seamless Wi-Fi connectivity standards for years now. Boingo has been a leading contributor to the development and implementation of the Wireless Broadband Alliance’s Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) and the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Passpoint standards since their inception nearly four years ago.

In Q1 2014, Boingo became the first operator and WBA member to launch Hotspot 2.0 networks for consumer use in the United States, at more than 20 airports serving more than 450 million travelers each year.”

But don’t take our word for it, check this out from Elliot’s Newsletter – “When it comes to phones, perhaps the most irritating travel problem is connectivity. One of my favorite Wi-Fi networks is Boingo (subscription required). This fall, it’s deploying a new network that it says re-imagines public Wi-Fi based on usage profiles. It’s one of several connectivity apps bringing us closer to a day when you don’t have to rely on expensive cellular networks to phone home.”

We note, that this challenge ends with the airplane and the connectivity solution there. We will be watching to see if any of the aforementioned technologies shows up on an aircraft so we suggest that our readers Stay Tuned!

Lastly, if you fear that the existing 802.11 a, b, g, n, ac will get congested with all the  traffic, you have a point. So did retired IFE’er Bill Baltra and judging by the link, there is a possible solution – it’s worth a look and it runs at 60 GHz!

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