Hotspot 2.0: The Future of Guest Wi-Fi?

Hotspot 2.0 is a technology that leverages 802.11u and service provider authentication systems to connect clients to WLAN’s securely and automatically. For example, an owner of a Verizon Samsung Galaxy S5 with Passpoint enabled who comes within range of a Hotspot 2.0-enabled SSID which can serve Verizon customers will automatically connect to the WLAN, secured by WPA2, with no user interaction.

At least, that’s how I understand the most common use case for Hotspot 2.0 and 802.11u. Personally, I have other ambitions for the program and currently it isn’t at all clear what else Hotspot 2.0 is capable of.

I’m encouraged to see that Hotspot 2.0 Release 2 provides a public key infrastructure and pre-installed trusted root certificates on clients for use when forming secure connections to WLAN infrastructure components.

What I’d really like to see if that PKI infrastructure used in a manner similar to HTTPS, so that clients securely connect to an “open” SSID, use EAP-TLS to evaluate the server certificate against its trusted roots, and establish a WPA2 protected connection without any client-side credentials or cumbersome captive portal registration process. 802.11u data can be presented to the client for use in evaluating the certificate. To me, that is the holy grail for WLAN guest networks.

Authenticating users through carrier AAA isn’t important because very few WLAN operators want/need to know the identity of users on their guest networks (with the exception of retail, I suppose).

I must say that I cringed when I read that Release 2 includes “portal based signup.” Hopefully this is substantially different from the extremely mobile-unfriendly process of current captive portal technology. Either way it will be an obstacle to onboarding users. Guest Wi-Fi should be frictionless.

I’m not interested in authenticating guest users on the WLAN, but I do want them to have a secure connection. It would be awesome if WLAN operators could opt-out of all that AAA integration complexity required by Hotspot 2.0 and just use the PKI infrastructure to run an open, encrypted WLAN for guests. This would allow more clients to connect securely as well, rather than only smartphones with with carrier agreements and users that suffer through a portal-based signup process. Will this be possible? I certainly hope so.

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