The Wi-Fi Alliance--the group charged with certifying and promoting IEEE Wi-Fi standards--is making headway with its Passpoint initiative. The program was announced last year as a way to certify routers and hotspots to handle seamless handoffs between cellular networks and local Wi-Fi. This would ease the bandwidth burden on cellular networks in dense metropolitan areas, where getting a signal can be more frustrating than getting a taxi. For example, if you're on AT&T, your phone could potentially transfer to a certified hotspot at a nearby Starbucks (which uses AT&T's land line broadband connection to serve its Wi-Fi) without having to log in using a browser-based landing page or even an SSID/password combination.
Instead, a phone's SIM card could be used to authenticate Wi-Fi hotspot access, hiding the log-in process entirely from less tech-savvy users. Public Wi-Fi access is an especially confusing system, with providers each offering different pricing, log-in, and restriction rules. Just think about the way you log into Wi-Fi provided at your local airport--some airports require logging in and watching a pre-roll ad before granting access while others just ask for an agreement to the terms of service. Automatic and seamless Wi-Fi access will also be useful internet-connected devices without convenient log-in interfaces, like e-books or digital cameras.
The Wi-Fi Alliance will begin testing and certifying Passpoint hardware this July, with a 2013 rollout dependent on carrier cooperation and support. T-Mobile is the only carrier committed to Passpoint at the moment, and has been assisting with development of Passpoint since 2009. AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint have acknowledged interest in the standard, but have not indicated whether they plan to be on board. It's even possible that the networks are actively developing their own automatic Wi-Fi authentication standard, since Passpoint not only relies on Wi-Fi Alliance certification, but implementation in the existing network of public hotspots. AT&T, as an example, operates 30,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in the US.