This blog was submitted to WBA by Hughes Systique Corporation (HSC).
In today’s era of rapid digital innovations, guest Wi-Fi is among the most desired amenities across geographies and communities, and therefore, is a critical component of the digital experience for any company. A frictionless Wi-Fi experience is defined by various factors which play an important role in the end-user experience such as accessibility, speed, coverage, and security of the network. Though much has been done for improving the speed and coverage part, however when it comes to providing seamless guest access to Wi-Fi there is still a long way to go.
Challenges in Current Wi-Fi Experience
Finding the right network
Considering the Wi-Fi journey of a guest today, the struggle begins right at the first step of finding a valid network and figuring out ways to connect and access the internet. Enterprises today manage and broadcast multiple SSIDs (Service Set Identifier) for various purposes, which may be as generic as “Guest Network”, which in most cases confuse the end-users as they are required to manually select the valid SSID first. In several cases, end-users even end-up joining any rogue network in the vicinity with potential security threats.
Connecting to the right network
The next step is the authentication of end-users to access the internet. Enterprises today offer a full gamut of ways to offer guest access. Some companies just have open access on a network, and some may have placards all over the place with the Wi-Fi password printed on it. If the password is something cryptic like “R*9a%h$u8l.” that can be hard to remember and get rightly typed in the first time.
Another approach is to offer self-provisioned access via the traditional captive portal method, but it is sometimes way too complicated and makes it even more difficult for the end-users to get onto the internet, leaving them with no option but to opt out of this process. In addition to the above fears, end-users go through this painful experience of joining the Wi-Fi network every time they visit the network.
Even if the user successfully authenticates and connects to the network, they have their own concerns regarding the safety and security of their data onto these networks.
Inconsistent Experience across multiple sites
Another challenge that the enterprises are facing today is to provide a consistent Wi-Fi experience to their guests across their multiple venues having different SSIDs e.g. in case of multiple brands owned by a hotel chain but having one consolidated loyalty brand or in case of a retail chain with multiple brands, either the loyalty program SSID needs to be configured at every hotel or the user’s phones must be configured with several SSIDs.
Making Wi-Fi Experience Frictionless
One of the industry’s innovations which eliminates these challenges and makes the Wi-Fi experience as seamless and intuitive as in cellular networks is Hotspot 2.0. It enhances the process of finding, gaining access and roaming in WiFi networks to provide a frictionless experience and ensures the security protection to user connections via WPA2 security protocol.
Effortless Wi-Fi Onboarding
Unlike traditional Wi-Fi networks, this standard decouples the service advertising from the network SSIDs and enables the network to advertise much more information to the end-user devices.
For the end-users, it just means that instead of choosing the right SSID now, they need to select the service provider whose Wi-Fi network they want to join. With a simple sign-up process, a Wi-Fi profile gets provisioned onto their device which stores the information related to credentials and partner networks opening new possibilities for Wi-Fi roaming too.
The provisioning of Wi-Fi profiles is done with an online sign-up (OSU) server and is automated over the network in HS2.0 release 2 devices. However, in release 1 devices, the provisioning is done by OSU via out-of-band methods such as scanning a QR code, link-based via email or SMS or APP based. Currently all OS families—iOS, macOS, Android, Windows support HS2.0 release 1, and all the above scenarios are technically possible.
Always-on Wi-Fi experience
In HS2.0 enabled networks, the device becomes intelligent enough to automatically scan unknown APs, query the service providers supported and start authenticating when it finds a match. When a device starts authentication, the access point relays to the respective service provider’s authentication server, then provides an internet connection. And, all this happens without any intervention required from the end-users!
In our above example of the hotel chain owning multiple brands, if the Wi-Fi network is Hotspot 2.0 enabled, end-users would need to sign-up for the first time to install the Wi-Fi profile that identifies the Wi-Fi networks to which they have access to (not specific to any hotel SSID). Now, whichever property the end-user subsequently visits, the phone will automatically identify the network and connect. Thus, enabling uniform authentication across many venues and providing a frictionless experience to the end-users.
Seamless Wi-Fi Roaming
For enterprises, it also opens the door for partnerships with other enterprises and even service providers for seamless Wi-Fi roaming (and mobile data offloading) across their Wi-Fi networks to provide a frictionless “Always-on Wi-Fi experience” to their guests. e.g. if a hotel enters into partnerships with T-Mobile and AT&T to support Wi-Fi roaming for their subscribers, the network can advertise roaming capabilities for all these service providers and would allow their subscribers to connect to the Wi-Fi using their SIM credentials without any manual intervention required from them. The hotel would in-turn would get additional connected users to target for proximity marketing and can even earn roaming revenues for their unused bandwidth. Addition of any new roaming partner is easy and can be done with minimal changes required.
At HSC, we help you to successfully mitigate the challenges in current WiFi experience with our indigenous Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) solution, which is a cloud-based solution that complements the access points, conforms to the Hotspot 2.0 specifications and can help businesses achieve their goal of providing frictionless experience to the end-users. It also opens new monetization opportunities for businesses. Visit our website to learn more.