Wi-Fi Alliance to Certify Hotspots

How many hotspots do you use on a regular or semi-regular basis? At this point in my wanderings I've amassed so many Wi-Fi hotspot log-ins that I don't really remember them all-to the point where I try to create new accounts for services that I already have patronized. And when I'm in an area with multiple hotspots, I'm not always sure which one I want to hop on. Is one going to cost me more than another?

Hang in there-the Wi-Fi Alliance is working on a cure for hotspot overload. Sometime in the first half of next year, if the current timetable stands, the Alliance-the trade group that certifies Wi-Fi networking gear from different vendors for interoperability-will start certifying hotspots, along with the devices that access them.

Among the benefits of the program for consumers will be streamlined network discovery, account setup and login: Your device will automatically figure out which hotspots you already have accounts with and log you in based on your preferences. Certification will also require use of the strongest available Wi-Fi encryption, WPA2.

The Alliance isn't doing this entirely out of the goodness of their members' hearts. As more devices support both cellular networks and Wi-Fi, carriers have a vested interest in simplifying or (even better) automating the handoff of data services from their increasingly bandwidth-strapped cellular networks to Wi-Fi hotspots. The more people use hotspots, the faster 3G and 4G will be for everyone else.

In fact, the Alliance's stated goal is to make moving between hotspots as transparent to users as cellular roaming is now. (After all, you don't have to log in to roam.) For many devices, the technology-once deployed-should be an easy upgrade via firmware.

My main concern is that all this seamless roaming doesn't wind up surprising me with a big bill at the end of the month. Using a public hotspot can cost upwards of $10 an hour. I would hope that somewhere in the process I get to veto hotspot use that charges more than I want to pay. Even AT&T sends me a text message when I am in a new country reminding me how much they are going to charge me for roaming data usage (a lot), which gives me a chance to buy a data roaming package (still expensive, but not quite as outrageously so).

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