Building Smart Hotspot Access Points

By Eric Griffith

June 04, 2002

Agere Systems hopes that new 'smart access point' technology will lead the way to easier to create and cheaper to run hotspots.

Wi-Fi vendor Agere Systems of Allentown, PA, maker of the ORiNOCO line of 802.11-based WLAN products, today announced a new smart access point technology that combines Internet gateway software with Agere's existing Wi-Fi access points.

Agere hopes the new technology will enable subscribers using a roaming aggregator service like Boingo to easily connect to a hotspot regardless of their PC's network settings.

Rob Jansen, Product Manager for Agere Systems' Networking and Entertainment Division says Agere noticed the need for such a product by starting with a look at the market place: "We identified models in the market: roaming aggregator like GRIC or Boingo, and a hotspot operator like Verizon. The Roaming aggregator doesn't have an infrastructure except for billing, the others do."

Both types of hotspot providers want to do one thing: provide services to subscribers. The main target for subscription is still the mobile professional traveling around the country in large venues that might have a hotspot such as airports, but smaller venues such as McDonalds or Starbucks want to provide service, too.

"A venue owner doesn't want to sell internet access, he wants people in his hotel or to buy coffee," Jansen says. "This is just a value add." So it's important to make the process as painless as possible for the venue owner and the mobile professional. Enter the smart access point (AP).

All the venue owner needs is a broadband connection, the smart AP, and a relation ship with a roaming aggregator. Any 802.11b-user entering a hotspot area powered by a smart AP and launching a browser will be automatically connected, no matter what the network settings on the computer, then redirected to a portal page.

Smart APs will include a home page redirection/Web server feature that puts a subscriber at the customizable portal page the hotspot provider specifies. From here they'll be forced to log in via either a smart client from an aggregator (like Boingo or GRIC) or, eventually, using 802.1X authentication -- 802.1X will not be available on initial shipping smart APs. Logging users takes advantage of the built in access control and billing functions.

"The mechanism to redirect users is decentralized," says Jansen. The user "needs no client software, hotspot visitor launches browser and he's guided into the hotspot, as long as he has name and password to log on, or service is provide to buy a sub for that day, moment, or forever. The disadvantage -- the service provider has to make an additional investment [of buying the smart AP]."

The units will be remotely manageable using a mix of protocols including HTTP, HTTPS, SNMP, Telnet, and TFTP.

Jansen says the smart access points (which will eventually be marketed as part of the ORiNOCO line as well as by other vendor OEMs) will likely retail for less than $1000 each -- he says that's the price to meet for a broad rollout of such technology.

Agere's announcement follows on the heels of other instant hotspot creation products from Airpath Wireless, IP3 Networks, and Pronto Networks, with more likely to be announced as public access hotspot creation continues to grow.

Don't miss John Richey, senior technologist for the Agere Systems ORiNOCO product line, speaking at 80211 Planet Conference & Expo on Monday, June 10, 2002, on a panel regarding loopholes and patches in 802.11 security.



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