HB Exclusive: What is Passpoint?

By Richard Wagner

Passpoint is gaining popularity in all areas of travel, and the use cases and discussions are popping up at hospitality events and throughout the industry. But what is it, and how will it benefit hotels and the hospitality industry as a whole?

Passpoint is a protocol developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) that allows WiFi-enabled devices to discover and authenticate to WiFi hotspots that provide access to the internet and internal networks.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the primary functionality:

  • Secures access to WiFi networks by encrypting the traffic sent over the wireless infrastructure.
  • Provides the user with seamless connectivity to the WiFi infrastructure without any user interaction.
  • Offers seamless roaming between locations where the user’s device is configured to access the network.
  • Allows optional cellular carrier roaming where the user’s device has been configured to interoperate with the specific carrier.

Passpoint is designed to operate in the same manner as cellular in that it provides seamless roaming between different carriers, while at the same time providing the user with a secure connection. There are a few differences though. Here’s what you should know:

  • Passpoint is already supported on most WiFi-enabled devices; whereas cellular roaming utilizes the SIM card to authenticate the user to access the cellular network.
  • Passpoint requires the user to register by installing a profile on the user’s device. For cellular, this is already set up with the device and the carrier.
  • As with cellular roaming, Passpoint does allow the user to roam between locations where the user’s device is configured.
  • Passpoint resolves the pending MAC address randomization issue by remembering and recognizing the user’s profile to get onto a previously accessed guest WiFi. This will only apply in some use cases.

Now that we covered how it works, what is the current availability of Passpoint?

It’s supported by most enterprise-class access points on the market today. In addition, it’s natively supported by the major mobile operating systems, as well as the most popular computer operating systems.

Finally, Passpoint provides some additional key benefits:

  • Offloading of mobile data in locations where cellular coverage is limited
  • Enablement of WiFi roaming agreements with business partners
  • Ability to provide users with WiFi calling
  • Streamlining of enterprise-class device provisioning

Passpoint and the travel journey
Today, connectivity to the internet is a given for most people. Studies show that in many cases, a guest would not stay at a hotel that did not have a reliable WiFi experience. In addition, many travel-related businesses require the use of secure WiFi to access their business applications. The figure above depicts a typical traveling guest journey where the outer ring illustrates the guest location, and the middle ring shows the possible internet connectivity mechanisms.

Let’s explore a travel use case when Passpoint is deployed at each stage of the traveler’s journey:

Home: Most people have WiFi connectivity in their homes. Secure connectivity can be provided either by WiFi Protected Access 2/3 (WPA 2/3) or Passpoint. Support for Passpoint is provided by many of the current internet service providers.

Airport: Many airports, including London Heathrow, Newark Liberty and Eurico de Aguiar Salles, already provide support for Passpoint via partnerships, which allows the traveler to seamlessly connect to the internet via their preconfigured Passpoint device every time they step into that location.

Airplane: Connection doesn’t have to be lost getting into the air. Major airlines, such as Delta, have partnerships with hotel chains or car rental companies that also support Passpoint in their locations. Once again, travelers can seamlessly connect to WiFi during their flight.

Hotel shuttle: If a property is providing guests access to the hotel shuttle, internet connectivity would most likely be provided by a guest using their cellular device. However, if the hotel has deployed 5G with multi-access edge computing (MEC), then the guest may have access to the hotel’s WiFi Passpoint-enabled network while en route. This means guests could remotely access the services that are available to them at that hotel. Food ordering or booking spa appointments after a long day of travel come to mind?

Hotel: If the hotel has deployed a Passpoint-enabled WiFi network, then once the guest arrives at the hotel, the guest would automatically be connected to the hotel WiFi network with no login required. In addition, once a guest steps into any of the other affiliated or partnered venues (e.g., restaurants, coffee shops, gift shop) at or near the hotel, he or she would be able to seamlessly connect to the WiFi in these venues as well. Hyatt, for example, is implementing Passpoint at their properties worldwide. This means, any time a guest steps into any Hyatt property, they will be instantly and securely connected.

Convention centers and stadiums: Similar to the affiliated restaurants and coffee shops mentioned above, the same goes for connected or affiliated convention centers and large venues like stadiums. The San Jose Convention Center and Morumbi Stadium are great examples.

Upon returning to the hotel, the guest would once again be seamlessly connected to the hotel WiFi network. And when the trip is over and the guest takes the journey back home, they will stay connected to the internet throughout the remainder of their journey.

While the above example requires that all venues visited during the journey enable the deployment of Passpoint, it demonstrates how transformational this technology already is and can be for hotels. People are getting used to 24/7 connectivity, and there is a huge opportunity to change the experience for hotel guests. Not only is Passpoint easy and secure, it also allows for true personalization, upsell/advertising and numerous other benefits that can be realized once the technology is in place.

Richard Wagner is director, certification and compliance at Nomadix, a provider of patented internet gateways, wired and wireless infrastructure networks, in-room TV casting, Passpoint, in-room voice assistants and cloud-based PBX phone service for hotels.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.