Apple plays market leader again with Hotspot 2.0

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Seamless offloading of cellular data traffic onto WiFi networks is a big step closer. Apple announced that version 7 of iOS and the next generation of iPhones will support the Hotspot 2.0 standard. The new capability should start appearing this fall.

The idea is to allow users to automatically authenticate on a WiFi hotspot blessed by their carrier when it’s available. Data traffic would then be routed via WiFi until the user moves out of range. At that point, it would switch back to the cellular network.

AT&T is already moving ahead with establishing compatible WiFi capacity, as it struggles to move traffic off of its mobile network. It needs support from handset manufacturers, and Apple’s decision to do so makes it a lot more likely that others will follow suit. Apple has a history of playing the market leader role when it comes to popularising standards – it was originally the first to get into WiFi in a big way. The calculation for other manufacturers will change, as they weigh the risk of letting Apple have a lock on what could be a very popular feature against the cost of integrating the new technology.

Having a widely accepted standard for integrating WiFi authentication and payment with mobile traffic management makes it easier for carriers to use third party capacity, and it gives hotspot operators a financial incentive to expand coverage. With a third of smart phone traffic already going via WiFi and overall bandwidth consumption continuing to boom, that kind of flexibility is a necessity.

About Steve Blum

Steve Blum is president of Tellus Venture Associates, a management, planning and business development consultancy for municipal and community broadband initiatives. He is a 30-year industry veteran and an expert in developing new broadband infrastructure and services, including wireless, fiber optic and satellite systems. His career includes playing key roles in the launch and growth of DirecTv in the U.S., as well as other satellite broadcasting platforms around the world. For the past ten years, he has helped build municipal wireless and fiber optic broadband systems. His client list includes many California cities, such as San Leandro, Palo Alto, Oakland, Los Angeles, Lompoc and Folsom. He’s a member of the executive team for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and has worked with other regional consortia in California. Steve is the author of seven books on the Internet and satellite broadcasting and is a frequent contributor to professional journals and industry events. He holds an A.B. in History from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. in East Asia Studies from the University of Washington, and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas. He is a triathlete and multiple Ironman finisher, and is currently ranked in the top 100 of the Challenge Triathlon world rankings, out of more than 30,000 athletes.