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Home Networking Ruckus Hotspot 2.0 heats up Public WiFi with Release 2

Ruckus is making some noise with its redefinition of ‘secure and seamless’ Release 2 of Hotspot 2.0, helping operators and enterprises simplify, secure and transform WiFi connectivity.

The first commercially available products supporting Hotspot 2.0 Release 2 have arrived - from Ruckus Wireless, announced today at the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) Wi-Fi Global Congress

It is the industry’s first commercially available products to be Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) Passpoint certified for Hotspot 2.0, Release 2, which Ruckus says ‘effectively transforms how organisations offer and users securely connect to new public WiFi network services.’

Ruckus says its Smart WiFi products enabled with Hotspot 2.0 Release 2 now provide a ‘standardised framework for how user credentials are created, configured and administered to client devices in a secure manner—streamlining and securing the client provisioning, and delivering the industry’s first integrated Hotspot 2.0, Release 2 online signup and provisioning server wireless LAN (WLAN) solution.’

Now, while there are already proprietary methods to load credentials onto WiFi enabled devices, these sadly often come with additional cost and complexity, without providing airlink encryption.

Hotspot 2.0, Release 2 makes a big difference, fundamentally changing this with WPA2 encryption, while providing a way for users to know they are connecting to a trusted entity.

So, what are the benefits to operators and enterprises?

Ruckus says they can ‘now offer users the ability to easily sign up to connect to Wi-Fi services in a simple and secure fashion using a standards based method for automatically loading credentials and mobile configuration parameters onto WiFi devices, while enabling vital airlink encryption.’

And, despite WiFi’s popularity, connecting to public networks or hotspots can still often be frustrating and subject to security concerns, due to the lack of encryption and the inability for a client device to validate the public network or hotspot.

The aptly named Richard Webb, research director for mobile backhaul and small cells at IHS’s Infonectics Research said: “Several strong growth factors are feeding the rapid acceleration of the WiFi market and Hotspot 2.0 is clearly one of them.

“By simplifying and securing the client connection experience while providing seamless roaming between disparate WiFi networks, we expect that Hotspot 2.0 will have a profoundly positive impact that will drive a new stage of WiFi deployments.”

IHS Infonetics’ biannual Carrier WiFi Equipment report from H2 2014 noted Ruckus as ‘the global carrier WiFi market share leader by revenue, which was also the case in the first half of 2014, making Ruckus the leader overall, by revenue, for all of 2014 with 21% market share’, and forecasts this market will reach over $2.6B (USD) by 2019.

Clearly, Ruckus is chuffed to be creating such a commercial kerfuffle by setting the market leading cat amongst a cadre of competitive pigeons.

How does this transform Public Wi-Fi access and mobility?

Ruckus notes ‘the exploding demand for wireless data is driving the increased use of public WiFi networks, creating new challenges to improve security and seamless mobility between different WiFi networks.’

The original Hotspot 2.0 standard was developed to effectively automate the user process of connecting to, authenticating against, and roaming between different WiFi networks.

But Hotspot 2.0, Release 2 improves on this, introducing new capabilities that standardise the provisioning and lifecycle management of user credentials, such as how they are securely provisioned, stay valid, and are used in network selection and service policy enforcement.

Naturally, that’s not all. Release 2 also provides flexible and automatic remediation of client devices that enables the ongoing management of user subscriptions, and any other policy changes that may be necessary.

Until now, says Ruckus, ‘there has been no standard methodology to perform these functions, and no standard format for managing Hotspot 2.0 credentials on client devices.’

Release 2 of the Hotspot 2.0 specification changes this, bringing a higher level of WiFi security for public access, and more robust authentication, along with the ability for WiFi operators to optimise the WiFi user experience through better control of service policy preferences that can be automatically pushed to the client devices.

Additionally, explain Ruckus, once associated to a WiFi network, users are protected against eavesdropping and forging through WFA Passpoint certified WPA2 protected management frames (802.11w) and airlink encryption of user traffic.

This also covers the on-boarding process that now can occur over a 802.1X network using anonymous-EAP, removing the need for an Open WLAN for provisioning.

But wait - there’s more!

With Release 2, the WiFi network, for the first time, can now advertise that it supports online sign-up (OSU), a standards-based mechanism that lets users signup for a credential that is automatically downloaded to their device.

A new Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is also being put in place by the Wi-Fi Alliance to ensure that clients only signup for a credential if the OSU server is validated.

These same checks are used for the policy update and remediation functions of Release 2 as well.

It can’t be Wi-topia as there’ll presumably one day be a Release 3 or a Hotspot 3.0, but until then, we’re surely getting close. Shangri-Fi, perhaps?

In any case, Ruckus says Hotspot 2.0, Release 2 is ‘ready for prime time’, with several of its indoor and outdoor access points (APs) and its SmartCell Gateway (SCG) 200 all demonstrating interoperability with other Passpoint-certified equipment.

Ruckus also integrates ‘within a single software solution, a WLAN controller as well as an online signup and provisioning server to deliver all the essential services to support Hotspot 2.0, Release 2’ - unlike competing offerings which require multiple pieces to solve the puzzle.

Almost ridiculously, there are still more benefits. It’s not quite the everlasting gobstopper yet, but the Ruckus online sign up system enables the next generation of ‘Bring-Your-Own-Device’ (BYOD), with what Ruckus says is the ‘unique ability to use social media logins, including Facebook, Linkedin and Google, with Hotspot 2.0, Release 2 protocols, as well as support for enterprise-class authentication methods using LDAP, Active Director and AAA servers.’

This allows social login or any enterprise credentials to be automatically provisioned to the device, so users don’t have to continually login when connecting to a Hotspot 2.0, Release 2 capable network. With this support, Ruckus says it is able to provide a single solution that supports legacy (Hotspot 2.0, Release 1) as well as emerging (Release 2) devices on the same network.

But hey, all of this isn’t just for the benefit of operators, but businesses and enterprises, too.

Ruckus says that many businesses allow employees to use their own devices, instead of a company provided device, to access the network and network services.

However, there’s a problem - getting these myriad devices and users securely connected and authenticated to the network has presented many challenges within organisations.

And, with the insecurity of today’s WiFi hotspots having been identified as putting enterprise data at risk when employees connect to WiFi hotspots, or fraudulent hotspots designed to collect users’ details - Hotspot 2.0, Release 2 has a solution.

Ruckus says its specs ‘address this concern by enforcing tighter authentication principles and enabling support for digital credentials – a mobile device’s SIM card, a conventional username and password, or a full X.509 certificate that must be validated for access to be granted.’

Is anyone saying ‘shut up and take my money!’ yet?

Ruckus COO, Dan Rabinovitsj, pulls the final ritzy rabbit out of his hat and says: “Hotspot 2.0 effectively democratises public WiFi access on a global scale, fundamentally changing how WiFi services will be used and offered going forward. Leading this new revolution in WiFi services is something to which Ruckus remains strongly committed."

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

 

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