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Wireless Trends, HotSpot 2.0

Last week’s industrial spotlight shined on the wireless community, which convened in New Orleans for its annual show: CTIA, for Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association.

Perhaps not surprisingly, what’s hot in wireless parallels what’s hot in wired: That giant slurping sound that is consumer broadband usage.

On the eve of CTIA, Sandvine, a consistent counter of bandwidth, released its latest data on wireless broadband trends. It shows that we cellular subscribers (meaning here in North America) are chewing up 309 Megabytes of broadband every month. Half is streaming video, 21% is Web browsing and 10% is Facebook and social networking.

(People in the Asia-Pacific region are eating up 602 MB per month. Heartening! One area of life exists where we are not the most gluttonous!)

Also hot in wireless: Wi-Fi advancements, particularly the body of work called “Hotspot 2.0.”

Which isn’t to say there was an official “Hotspot 1.0.” More that a community of people, including Shaw Communications and Cisco Systems, among others, got to wondering: What could you do with Wi-Fi, if you could fix its current shortcomings?

That’s why HotSpot 2.0 is mostly focused on getting rid of that big nuisance of Wi-Fi: finding signal and authenticating in. If you’re like me, your iPad pesters you constantly to sign up for a cellular package with your carrier - which is tempting, because otherwise finding signal involves the ordeal of authentication.

HotSpot 2.0 works in the background to automatically authenticate you and your gadgets, and to keep you connected to signal, without having to logon every time you move. In that sense, it’s like roaming, for Wi-Fi.

Hard to imagine, at this stage of the game, but operators like Shaw Communications are into it as a way to attract new broadband customers, and keep those they already have.

Businesses with waiting areas are an active target for HotSpot 2.0, for instance, to keep all of us happily heads-down while passing time.

What’s the technology of HotSpot 2.0? It’s a roundup of extant stuff, and shepherded by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Remember the IEEE 802.11 series? This one is 802.11u, which provides all the protocol-level “hooks” for infrastructure vendors to link up with back-office services (proxy servers, user databases). It also enables client devices (our stuff that needs signal) to “learn” what roaming is available - which, over time, is what obviates the logon.

Other HotSpot 2.0 components: the impressively nerdy duo of “EAP-SIM,” and “EAM-TTLS,” where “EAM” stands for “Extensible Authentication Protocol,” “SIM” for “Subscriber Identity Module” and “TTLS” for “Tunneled TLS Authentication Protocol.” (That nested “TLS” stands for “Transport Layer Security.” Iy-yi-yi.)

They’re all about those back-end handshakes that happen so that we can keep using our digital stuff. In the immortal language of Caddyshack: So we got dat goin’ for us. Which is nice.

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