San Francisco and San José are providing common access to their respective networks of public Wi-Fi hotspots.

The two cities are working with Ruckus Wireless and Global Reach Technology to create a service based on HotSpot 2.0, which will visitors and residents to automatically and securely connect to and roam – seamlessly when moving from adjacent public access points, the vendors said.

HotSpot 2.0, aka Passpoint, is based on yet another variant of Wi-Fi, IEEE 802.11u. Once someone has subscribed to a Passpoint network, their compatible devices will connect automatically (this can include smartphones switching from a wireless network to the Wi-Fi network).

Currently, the only devices compatible with the Wi-Fi network set up by San Francisco and San Jose are Apple products running either iOS 7 or OS X Maverick. Devices running other operating systems will gradually be added.

San Jose has a network of approximately 400 access points around its downtown area. San Francisco set up a network that runs several miles down Market Street.

Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi equipment, which has been Passpoint Certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, is being used to power the new Hotspot 2.0 service across both the San Jose and San Francisco Wi-Fi networks. Device provisioning and unified authentication services are being provided through a cloud-based system operated by Global Reach.

The Global Reach software platform includes the AAA servers (authentication, authorization and accounting), Hotspot 2.0 device detection, and landing pages with the Hotspot 2.0 token. The Hotspot 2.0 provisioning feature, developed by Global Reach, configures devices with an ‘anonymous’ credential which is used to automatically connect to any network honoring the credential and is also a component in the process used to generate the encryption keys for the secure connection.

Users click to connect. Global Reach then provides each user device with a one-time provisioning file that automatically configures the requisite Wi-Fi settings and encryption. Once a guest registers and is provisioned with the Hotspot 2.0 credential, they can automatically and securely connect to either of the cities’ WLAN infrastructures whenever they are in range.

“With the adoption of Hotspot 2.0, we are literally transforming the user Wi-Fi experience,” said Vijay Sammeta, chief information officer for the City of San José. “Hotspot 2.0 makes our infrastructure smarter by eliminating tedious and cumbersome device configuration. Now people can securely connect to and roam using our networks in a transparent fashion. Things don’t get much easier.”

Using Hotspot 2.0, information advertised by Smart Wi-Fi infrastructure tells devices how to automatically connect to the Wi-Fi network if they possess a credential accepted at that hotspot. The credential itself can be a SIM card, a security certificate, or a username and password that Wi-Fi operators agree to accept for authenticating users on their networks.

According to San José and the City of San Francisco, the new Hotspot 2.0 service may also be made open to other organizations looking to establish Wi-Fi roaming agreements with either or both cities.

The new Hotspot 2.0 infrastructure gives users the option to register for the free Hotspot 2.0 service if they choose, or if they decline, the ability to stay on the existing, unencrypted service.  

To ensure complete user privacy, the two cities are using anonymous credentials. Each user who elects to use the Hotspot 2.0 service for either Wi-Fi network is issued a credential without having to provide any information such as an email address or name.