Boingo Wireless, a DAS and Wi-Fi provider, has announced a the launch of Boingo Passpoint, a new wireless network available at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and the first commercial Next Generation Hotspot in the world.
This is an ideal location to run the trial for the Passpoint-enabled network, as it's one of the busiest airports in the world with more than 67 million passengers every year. Boingo Passpoint is now live at the airport and available for end-to-end testing by mobile carriers, handset manufacturers and Wi-Fi operators.
The new network allows for seamless roaming and carrier offload, automating network identification, authentication and encryption, without user intervention.
David Hagan, CEO of Boingo commented on the new network's launch: "We believe that carrier offload will be an important growth driver for Boingo and the Wi-Fi industry at large, especially as standards-based seamless offload methods like this become more prevalent in market. The sheer volume of users in high-volume, high-traffic locations like O'Hare Airport creates data demand thresholds that can tax traditional mobile networks; Wi-Fi offload via Passpoint creates additional data capacity for carriers without forcing users to jump through hoops."
CBR spoke to Christian Gunning, the vice president of corporate communications at Boingo Wireless, giving us more information on the infrastructure, security and progression of the network.
How does the network function?
It's Passpoint, which is a Wi-Fi alliance certification process. What passpoint does, is it leverages two IEEE standards. One of them is 802.11u. That one describes that the radios themselves have the ability to identify who the running partners are and to negotiate the process of identifying whether the handset is supported. Basically the access point broadcasts our list that says, 'I'm a Passpoint network and I support roaming from Boingo and company A, Company B, Company C and Company D'. The handset with the Passpoint profile would be provisioned for Company C. So when it sees that Wi-Fi radio that says I support roaming for company C, the handset basically says ' well I'm from Company C' and then the access point challenges it and says 'well what are your credentials?' and they hand them, via certificate, user name and password, or however the profile is provisioned, the access point passes it to us, we pass it on to the roaming partners, they identify it and hand it back to us and we tell the access point its okay to let that person on. At which point it creates a WPA2 encrypted session. That authentication process leverages another IEEE standard, known as 802.1X. It is basically the authentication function that is used in enterprises to allow your corporate laptop onto the corporate network. A seamless ability for your handset to establish an enterprise level secure connection to a public network without the user having to anything. Because the network identification and negotiation happens at the radio level, it's while they're talking to each other and the user doesn't have to launch a browser or launch a special software. So when you walk into an airport and you pull out your phone, the Wi-Fi network is already identified and negotiated and authenticated to you, so you have an active connection.
Is it a secure network?
Yes, in fact if you go into Chicago O'Hare there are two networks side by side. You'll see one called Boingo Hotspot which is not secure - it's a standard open public network. You click on that one, we'll give you an IP address, you launch a browser and then there's a page for you to make a choice of how you want to get online. Next to that is a second network called Boingo Passpoint and that's a secure network, it's locked and so if you don't have a Passpoint phone and you click on that, it will challenge you for a username and a password. It's a secure network, you have to identify who you are to let you on. If you have a Passpoint enabled phone that's been provisioned with a profile from your carrier, such as your cell phone provider or home broadband provider, or maybe your handset provider is giving you access. We had an announcement recently from Samsung, that their latest version of tablets all come with a year of Boingo for free. Today that's done through software application, in the future that kind of thing could be enabled through Passpoint roaming.
Were there any issues when implicating the network?
Not really, I think that's one of the advantages of extensive trials over the course of a couple of years. As you are working in the lab, you get the kinks ironed out.
Have you had any user feedback on the network?
At this point it's not really accessible to users at the airport, it's really designed for testing.
Are there plans to roll out the network to any other destinations?
Yes, there are certainly long term plans to roll it out to all of our managed operated networks. Boingo gives access to more than 700,000 hotspots around the world, the majority of those come through roaming agreements, but there are a thousand networks or so that we physically run, and all of those have been in the process of being updated to Passpoint enabled hardware. Certainly as carriers start to request this as an authentication process, we will have the ability to roll it out to additional locations.