Offloading cellular users' data needs onto Wi-Fi hotspots may be an appealing option for mobile carriers, but it can be a less-than-ideal solution for the end user, often requiring special logins and authentication pages. A company called Stoke is hoping to streamline that process with a new gateway called the Wi-Fi Exchange. The system works simply enough in concept: a given user connects to an enabled Wi-Fi hotspot, which then creates a secure Internet Protocol Security connection directly to the Wi-Fi Exchange, which is plugged into the carrier's own mobile network core. For the user, it provides easy, automatic authentication; for the carrier it allows it to essentially turn a Wi-Fi hotspot into an extension of its own network that it can monitor and control. The system utilizes WPA2 security protocols on the mobile device side, allowing it to work out of the box with most modern smartphones.

Stoke sees its system as a straightforward solution that carriers can use with hotspot providers and in heavily-trafficked public areas like shopping malls. While it's not the giant leap to IP calling that we'd like to see, any system that streamlines the integration between mobile and Wi-Fi networks has the potential to reap great usability benefits for consumers. Stoke will be formally announcing the product this Monday, with demonstrations planned for Mobile World Congress. It plans to ship the Wi-Fi Exchange gateway in the third quarter of this year.