GSMA Backs Mobile To Wi-Fi Roaming
Operators could make it easier for users to switch between 3G and Wi-Fi
The mobile operators’ club, the GSMA, has backed a standard which could use Wi-Fi hotspots to provide cheaper mobile data.
The Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) standard was demonstrated last month, and is relatively straightforward, allowing phones and tablets to authenticate to the cellular networks through Wi-Fi (most likely using an existing SIM card). Approval from the GSMA is a big step though, as the process will now be billable.
The end of free Wi-Fi, or big roaming charges?
The arrangement should make it quicker and easier to use Wi-Fi networks, without the need to search for networks and enter passwords, said Dan Warren, senior director of technology at the GSMA. “If I am an O2 customer, with roaming to AT&T when I go to the States I will be able to use Wi-Fi automatically.”
The technology has been in progress for some time, in various standards bodies, including the 3GPP – the standard body behind GSMA, which proposed the Interworking Wireless LAN (IWLAN) in 2003. Other work included the WISPr group, and the IETF’s Internet RFC 4372.
“It’s an unfortunate word, but to the core network, Wi-Fi is considered ‘untrusted’,” said Warren. Allowing a third-party network to access the core would open up the possibility of roaming to other networks which have better coverage indoors or better data rates.
Will operators go for it?
Some users might be sceptical that operators are really prepared to hand over a paying customer to a third party offering cheaper services, but Warren says they are ready to accept the inevitable: “Operators are increasingly cognisant of the fact that there are plenty of customers out there who are not prepared to do roaming because of the cost.” Offering cheap roaming to more people is better than having expensive roaming rejected.
At this point, there are no deals in place. It will take another nine months to finish the standards. The 3GPP has to agree with the Wireless Broadband Alliance on the technical side, while the GSMA and the Wi-Fi Alliance have to sort out the commercial aspects.
After that, Warren expects up to another nine months of commercial wrangling: “It is down to the competitive market. Pairs of operators will sit in a room and work out their contract between themselves. What is offered to the consumer is quite literally their business.”