Hotspot 2.0 or Hotspot Oh.No: My Carrier Wi-Fi Experience at MWC

Posted on March 7, 2014

Wi-Fi—and its Carrier Wi-Fi subset—has become a critical component of mobile network operator strategy.  Carrier Wi-Fi has undergone several redefinitions, but the next generation vision focuses on Hotspot 2.0, also known as “Passpoint.”

Theoretically, Hotspot 2.0 provides a seamless connection experience for smartphones by utilizing the SIM card for authentication and leveraging 802.11u to advertise services and roaming partner availability at a particular hotspot. Hotspot 2.0 has been slow to gain traction, and it’s generally been complex to deploy.  Given this history, I was excited to hear that Hotspot 2.0-enabled services would be made available at Mobile World Congress (MWC)—the yearly Telecoms industry confab held in Barcelona’s Fira Gran Via—and that I would be able to roam seamlessly using my AT&T Samsung Galaxy S4, one of the first Passpoint-certified handsets.

I was looking forward to just turning on my phone and connecting; however…

Here’s what actually happened.

Prior to arriving at the show, I set my Galaxy S4 for “Passpoint” mode.  On arriving at the Fira, my phone couldn’t find any surrounding Passpoint hotspots, so I opened up the Wi-Fi settings and took a look around.  These were the two hotspots I could see in my phone’s scan list:

Hotspot list

I decided to click on “MWC HS 2 Setup”, which then resulted in my being presented with a web page of instructions that indicated my phone was supported and how to connect.

Connect Instruction

Based on these instructions, I should have auto-connected upon entering the Fira, but this was not the case. So I went back and toggled my ‘Passpoint’ slider a few more times. Still nothing. My excitement waned as I reverted back to the “guess the SSID” method.

I next connected to “MWC Hotspot 2”, figuring it was the right SSID. My screen displayed the following:

Hotspot 2.0

Being a technical guy, it was clear to me that this wasn’t really Hotspot 2.0 in the 802.11u/ANQP sense. (Let’s face it, my AT&T handset doesn’t have the right configuration provisioned  to know about “MWC Hotspot 2”, but I only know that because I‘m an engineer.)

Based on this screen I guessed I should select “EAP-AKA”, at which point traditional SIM-based authentication took place, and I was—at last!—authenticated. Sadly, the Wi-Fi network was low in signal strength inside our hospitality suite, so I couldn’t actually use it.  And since neither my handset nor Hotspot 2.0 consider real time QoE, I was left to manually disconnect and go back to cellular.

Clearly, this was not the finest hour for Hotspot 2.0.  Other comments and conclusions:

  • It seems as if the Hotspot 2.0 implementation at MWC was just SIM-based authentication.  It eventually provided a seamless experience, but only after I had selected two different SSIDs and applied some prior technical knowledge.
  •  I’m still a little confused as to why my Galaxy S4 didn’t even find any Passpoint networks, even though “MWC Hotspot 2” was advertised as being one.
  • Subsequent pilot rollouts will likely be much better, and the industry will get this right in the end.
  • Hotspot 2.0 will, when correctly implemented and deployed, greatly improve the Carrier Wi-Fi experience to be as seamless as the cellular experience with SIM-based authentication and a secure connection into the packet-core. But this is only for carrier-deployed Wi-Fi, or for Wi-Fi providers that have the means and desire to implement Hotspot 2.0 and integrate roaming authentication via technical and business relationships with the carriers. Most won’t do this.

In the meantime, the massive and growing space of free and amenity Wi-Fi is greatly outpacing Carrier Wi-Fi.  And because Hotspot 2.0 isn’t going to appear in the long-tail world of amenity Wi-Fi, it cannot help broadly.  As a result, the need for other client-based solutions to enable an “always best connected” experience using a variety of authentication schemes will remain likely for as long as there is Wi-Fi.