Imagine never having to fiddle with passwords to get your phone or tablet onto a hotel’s Wi-Fi. Imagine Pandora automatically jumping from 3G to a local hotspot without missing a beat.
These are some of the promises that Cisco is making with a new Wi-Fi technology it introduced today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Cisco is releasing a the first Wi-Fi access point to use a new technology called Hotspot 2.0.
Hotspot 2.0 is a specification that Cisco helped to write for the Wireless Broadband Alliance. But it’s got bigger support — for instance, Google and Samsung put it in Android phones for a trial.
It lets a user’s mobile device roam from a carrier 3G/4G network to a hotspot or from hotspot-to-hotspot in the same way your phone now jumps from cell tower to cell tower.
There are no SSID numbers to figure out. There’s no popping open your browser first to click connect. There’s no dropped calls or frozen applications when you go from one network to another, Cisco says.
Hotspot 2.0 taps into technology called “small cell networks” which works with licensed and unlicensed spectrum. Cisco says that enterprises will be able to get it, too, without buying new gear. Cisco is promising that most of its 12 million older access points will qualify for Hotspot 2.0 as a software upgrade.
Hotspot 2.0 helps carriers solve the problem of crummy network service on their 3G/4G. As more mobile devices come online, carriers are looking for ways to offload data traffic to Wi-Fi.
Therefore carriers like AT&T have been building out femtocell networks since 2009. AT&T now boasts the largest small cell network in the world, Cisco says. For instance, it powers the free Wi-Fi at Starbucks coffee shops. So when AT&T rolls out Hotspot 2.0 access points, Starbucks will be covered.
You don’t need to be an AT&T customer for Hotspot 2.0 to work for you. But the hotspot does need to have the technology installed as part of the Wi-Fi access point and the phone needs to support it too. So hotspot utopia won’t be here for a while.
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