Secure, password-free Wi-Fi networks are one step closer today. The Wi-Fi Alliance is announcing plans to start tests for Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint devices and infrastructure equipment. Once deployed, Passpoint will let wireless networks authenticate users solely through SIM-based and non-SIM-based hardware methods. Carriers want to use the new Wi-Fi tech to offload cellular traffic from their crowded, spectrum-constrained networks. Likewise, the plus for customers is a smoother alternative to the annoying splash screens on public hotspots in airports and cafés.

The first Next Generation Hotspots should be coming in early 2013

Later, in Q4 of this year, carriers will begin trials on the first crop of Passpoint-enabled Next Generation Hotspots, says the Wireless Broadband Alliance. The list of participants includes everyone from AT&T and Deutsche Telekom to Telefónica and China Mobile, and pending successful trials, the WBA forecasts deployments to start sometime in the first half of 2013. Key to the success of the new hotspots are roaming agreements that let users jump on whatever network happens to be close, regardless of which carrier it belongs to, and testing of the operator-to-operator billing procedures will happen concurrently with the trials.