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WiFi Alliance pimping Passpoint

Make public hotspots easier to use, bake DRM into kit

The WiFi Alliance’s Passpoint program is finally set to arrive in devices, with the organization announcing that the first kit certified to use Passpoint will start shipping next month.

The Alliance will also begin certifying hotpsot providers in June.

Passpoint is designed to make public WiFi more easily accessible to users, by eliminating the irritating process of discovery, followed by a hotspot-specific login, required before the roaming user can access a network.

It’s a potential boon for mobile carriers, since today, a user roaming off a 3G network to a WiFi hotspot represents lost revenue.

The initial certifications will cover network discovery and selection, automatic connection based on different credentials – such as SIM-based authentication – and automatic authentication and security using WPA2-Enterprise. During 2013, the organization plans to certify specifications for instant account provisioning, and policy management specific to operators.

The aim, the alliance says, is to roll out Passpoint-certified hotspots that let users connect to public hotspots without having to go through the common browser-based interface. Instead, with certified kit in place – and as long as the hotspot operator and user’s carrier have an agreement in place – a WiFi-enabled smartphone user would be able to connect automatically and have their hotspot usage billed back to a carrier.

Supported EAP security measures will include EAP-TLS (using a trusted root certificate), EAP-SIM (user authenticated by their SIM credentials), EAP Authentication and Key Agreement (EAP-AKA, using the client’s USIM) or using Microsoft’s CHAPv2 (username and password using server-side certificates).

The Alliance says Passpoint will, in particular, make it easier to connect “browserless” devices to public hotspots – so, for example, a WiFi-enabled camera would be able to connect to a public Passpoint-supporting hotspot.

There is, as always, a sting in the tail: Passpoint is also designed to enable DRM over WiFi hotspots – so, according to the WiFi Alliance, that providers can verify the identity and access rights of subscribers so as to deliver them the right content. Oh, and guess what: as Passpoint-certified kit makes its way into homes, it will bring DRM enforcement with it. ®

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