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Roaming between WiFi networks and cellular carriers will be getting easier, reports Marguerite Reardon at C/Net. The IEEE is developing 802.11u and the Wi-Fi Alliance has developed a Hotspot 2.0 initiative to enable easier roaming between hetrogeneous networks.

Wi-Fi Alliance’s Hotspot 2.0 is certification program. It drew largely from 802.11u, which enhances network discovery and selection by Wi-Fi clients.

The new WiFi standards provide WPA 2 security, with a similar level of security provided on a carrier’s cellular network, but provides a standard automated mechanism for signing on. It eliminates manually selecting a network or entering a password.

In 2010, Cisco and industry leaders formed the Hotspot 2.0 Task Group to bring a 3G-like end-user experience to Wi-Fi authentication and roaming. Hotspot 2.0 certification is expected in 2012 from the Wi-Fi Alliance to ensure interoperability for equipment vendors.

In addition to the IEEE’s 802.11u and the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Hotspot 2.0 initiative, the Wireless Broadband Association and the GSM Association are working on standards that build on the IEEE standards to define protocols that will allow carriers around the globe to roam onto each other’s Wi-Fi hot spots.

Ruckus Wireless will integrate support for the 802.11u protocol in its Smart WiFi system.

According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, about 200 million households use Wi-Fi networks and there are about 750,000 Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide. Wi-Fi is used by over 700 million people and there are about 800 million new Wi-Fi devices every year.

Other carriers utilizing “unlicensed” WiFi technology include Ruckus Wireless which was selected by The Cloud, the UK’s largest public access Wi-Fi provider, to supply indoor WiFi, expanding its nationwide Wi-Fi network.

The Cloud provides public Wi-Fi — for its subscribers.

Other carrier-controlled WiFi networks include:

With the development of 802.11n, one WiFi network can now hog ALL the available channels on the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band, effectively eliminating nearby “free” competition in a mall or other public place. Ruckus says beamforming is a solution.

Another solution would be to use the carriers’ own licensed frequencies – with femtocells.

According to a report by In-Stat Research entitled “Wi-Fi Hotspots: the Mobile Operator’s 3G Offload Alternative,” worldwide hotspot venues are projected to increase to over 1.2 million venues in 2015 from under 421,000 in 2010. Usage will follow similar growth, increasing from four billion connects in 2010 to 120 billion connects by 2015.

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