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Wireless industry works on simplifying hot spot access

The GSMA and Wireless Broadband Alliance say that they're working together to make it easier for smartphone and tablet owners to connect to and move between Wi-Fi networks.

Connecting to Wi-Fi hot spots from your smartphone or tablet might become much easier in the coming years.

The GSM Association, which represents mobile carriers all over the world, along with the Wireless Broadband Alliance today announced a partnership designed to simplify the way in which smartphones and tablets connect to Wi-Fi hot spots. The basis of that initiative will be "technical and commercial frameworks" industry stakeholders will use to achieve the organizations' goal.

"The proliferation of smartphones and tablets around the world, as well as consumers' huge appetite for data means innovative solutions need to be explored to make using the Internet as convenient and as accessible as possible," Dan Warren, senior director of technology at the GSMA, said in a statement. "Through combining the proven capabilities of Mobile Broadband and Wi-Fi technologies, users will have the freedom to move between networks with ease."

For current mobile device owners that connect to Wi-Fi hot spots, that's music to the ears. Connecting to Wi-Fi hot spots in many cases requires configuring settings, having the right device to access a particular service, and trying to determine how to finally get on the Web. The option proposed by the GSMA and WBA--which will be based on the organizations' Passpoint certification and Next Generation Hotspot technologies, respectively--uses the SIM card for automatic authentication and will "enable mobile operators to uniquely and securely identify users whether they are on a mobile or Wi-Fi network."

If this all sounds familiar, it's because several organizations are trying to accomplish the same goal. The IEEE technical standards body is currently working on 802.11u and the Wi-Fi Alliance has outlined its Hotspot 2.0 initiative to define how Wi-Fi hotspots are discovered and ultimately employed by mobile devices.

"This will make using Wi-Fi as easy as when you arrive in another country and turn on your phone, and your phone automatically discovers a new network for you to use," Niels Jonker, chief technology officer of Boingo, a company that sells consumer Wi-Fi service and wholesales Wi-Fi access to operators, told CNET in an interview last month. "Subscribers don't really need to know nor do they care what network they're on. They just want it to work."

The carriers will also benefit from such an initiative. Mobile networks are currently buckling under increased data use, prompting carriers to push subscribers to Wi-Fi connections. By taking out of the equation the barriers that limit access to Wi-Fi hotspots, the wireless industry believes more consumers will choose the Wi-Fi options, where available.

Even so, there's no end to the data crunch in sight. The GSMA said today that there are currently 6 billion mobile connections worldwide. Within the next decade, that figure is expected to more than double.