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Wi-Fi roaming programs join forces

The Wi-Fi Alliance will certify products using a Wireless Broadband Alliance roaming standard. The technology lets one operator's subscribers use another's Wi-Fi network.

Wireless Broadband Alliance logo

Two groups have agreed to work together on a technology designed to making it easier for mobile network users to jump from one company's Wi-Fi network to another.

In the partnership are the Wi-Fi Alliance and Wireless Broadband Alliance, the groups announced today.

The technology in question is the WBA's Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) program, which sets out Wi-Fi roaming requirements--in other words, to make sure that somebody using Wi-Fi on one operator's network can also use it on another operator's network. A big part of that is authentication.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, in turn, will certify the equipment. That's the role the organization has played with Wi-Fi for years, providing some practical help in making the IEEE's 802.11 series of standards. The Wi-Fi roaming product certification should begin in mid-2012, the alliance said.

Roaming technology is common in the mobile realm where 3G rules the roost and 4G is arriving. Users often avoid it, though, given the substantial data fees roaming can incur. It's not clear how charges would work for Wi-Fi roaming, though.

"A trial launched under the program this week between leading operators and vendors will address seamless, secure auto-authentication on multiple operator networks," the groups said in their announcement.

The agreement also tackles hot-spot branding issues that crop up when people are looking for a Wi-Fi network to join, the groups said.

Today's 3G networks are often overtaxed, and Wi-Fi offers one way out by providing alternative data access at high traffic areas. To be effective, Wi-Fi hot spots still need adequate "back-haul" network capacity to link to the Internet and potentially also need good technology for handing off phone calls from the Internet to 3G when a mobile user moves out of the Wi-Fi hot-spot area.