Because the SIM is the main method of authentication on most cellular networks, using it to get onto a Wi-Fi hotspot owned or authorized by a carrier could simplify the process for both subscriber and carrier.
In the first phase of the program, in addition to authentication methods, the Alliance will certify products for network discovery and selection based on user preferences, what networks are available and other factors, using the IEEE 802.11u standard. The first phase will also establish security during the use of hotspots, mandating the Alliance's own WPA-2 Enterprise (Wi-Fi Protected Access) technology for every connection made through Passpoint.
In the second phase, the Alliance will expand Passpoint to include a streamlined process for setting up a new user account at the point of access. It will add in operator-specific subscriber policies, including for network selection.
Passpoint is also designed to help service providers set up roaming between their networks of hotspots. And with an increased ability to detect subscribers and their access privileges, carriers will be better able to distribute their own paid and protected content with DRM (digital rights management), according to the Alliance.
Vendors will have to have all the components of the specification to win certification, but Passpoint hotspots can be made compatible with older access points and devices. However, the benefits of Passpoint won't be available in those cases.
Having more information about and control over subscribers' use of hotspots could help to change the way carriers use Wi-Fi, Jarich of Current Analysis said. That technology might even start to displace cellular base stations where it makes more sense to use the other network, he said. Depending on how much value subscribers get from using Wi-Fi networks or how much of a carrier's data traffic ends up flowing over wireless LANs, a carrier might even start to charge for hotspot use, which today is typically thrown in for free because it offloads data from the licensed network, he said.