Wi-Fi Easy Connect, WPA3, and ZipKey for Connected Products

Published by Rob Conant June 26, 2018

Today the Wi-Fi Alliance announced the new Easy Connect technology, and last month they announced WPA3, both of which will start rolling out in the coming months. At Cirrent, we’re really excited about the ease of use and security this new capability will bring to connected products.  This blog post describes how we are integrating Easy Connect with ZipKey to rapidly bring these new capabilities to connected products.

You can read more about the core technology here.

At Cirrent, we’re obsessed with ease of use and security for connected products, so we’ve been following WPA3 and Easy Connect closely and are excited that they’ve announced it publicly. As the trusted provider of Wi-Fi connection technology to the largest brands of TVs, appliances, home security systems, smart home, and the IoT, we’ve built our platform so all of our customers will automatically get the benefits of WPA3 and Easy Connect as the technology becomes available in the infrastructure. Cirrent’s app SDK and embedded agent are both architected to take advantage of WPA3 and Easy Connect, so companies using Cirrent’s system will have the new capability as soon as it’s available without dedicating any engineering resources.

Product companies already face a lot of complexity around Wi-Fi onboarding, dealing with iOS and many versions of Android, a wide variety of routers, different network configurations (open, WPA2-personal, WPA2-enterprise, and some hidden networks), etc.  Managing a common app and device agent across these different versions -- and when new technologies like WPA3 become available -- is a big expense for product companies.  Cirrent's solution lets companies stay at the forefront and manage all of that complexity without the engineering cost of managing a homegrown solution. 

This blog post outlines how ZipKey, WPA3, and Easy Connect are complementary, and how together they will further improve ease of use and security for connected products.

Cloud (ZipKey) and Local (Easy Connect) Onboarding

The Wi-Fi Alliance has done an amazing job of continuing to evolve Wi-Fi technology, with more than a billion Wi-Fi homes today and speeds beyond what we could have expected even 10 years ago. The Wi-Fi Alliance has done this while being constrained by the perspective of the LAN -- all of these innovations have been done between devices in the field without taking advantage of cloud capabilities, which enables a totally new set of use cases.

Cirrent and the large internet service providers developed ZipKey technology in the era of the cloud. By facilitating onboarding using the cloud, Cirrent’s ZipKey is able to bring new capabilities that aren’t possible with just the LAN, including:

  • Automatic reconnect. When the SSID or password changes, or when a new Wi-Fi router shows up in the home, products automatically reconnect.  This is only possible with the cloud.
  • Automatic setup. In some cases, ZipKey products can automatically connect without the user doing anything at all -- this is also possible only because ZipKey uses the cloud rather than just the LAN.
  • Background connection. ZipKey products can connect to the cloud even before a user goes through a setup process -- this is almost like a cellular connection for a connected product.  We’ve found a variety of use cases that benefit from the background connection
  • Fallback connection. Unlike an iPad, a Wi-Fi doorbell has to be in a particular location.  When the product can’t connect to Wi-Fi, ZipKey allows it to fall back to another network to connect to the cloud.  
  • Product without QR code. ZipKey authenticates products at the cloud -- there’s no QR code needed on the product.  For many connected products (I’m thinking lightbulbs!) a QR code isn’t viable. ZipKey products don’t require QR codes, and make the onboarding process easier for consumers.

Cloud-facilitated Wi-Fi onboarding provides some substantial benefits over local-only approaches, but together they can make products even more secure and easy to use.

ZipKey + WPA3 + Easy Connect = Even Better

The combination of ZipKey, WPA3, and Easy Connect provides additional value to product companies and consumers. Customers / homes that have a Easy Connect will get these additional benefits with ZipKey products:  

  • Higher security.  WPA3 provides per-device passwords, so devices won’t have access to the user-provisioned password for the network. Easy Connect makes distribution of the per-device key to a headless product easier.  ZipKey can support WPA3 with or without Easy Connect.
  • Password-free onboarding.  ZipKey makes it possible to get products connected to private Wi-Fi networks without requiring the user to type in a password.  ZipKey will extend that capability to customers with Easy Connect.
  • Elimination of SoftAP.  The Wi-Fi SoftAP process, where the product turns on a Wi-Fi hotspot and the user connects the phone to that hotspot, is buggy, insecure, and hard to use. Products using Cirrent’s platform can totally eliminate SoftAP where Easy Connect is available.

How to Integrate WPA3 and Easy Connect

For consumers to use WPA3 and Easy Connect, the device and the mobile phone OS must -- and the router preferably should -- support the new technology. It will take time for home routers to support WPA3 and Easy Connect, and as of now iOS and Android don't have the the technology built in yet, but we expect both to start changing in 2019.

We encourage product companies to have a Wi-Fi onboarding architecture built to support both WPA3 and Easy Connect. The Cirrent platform - the embedded agent, the mobile app SDK, and the Cirrent cloud - are all built to support WPA3 and Easy Connect. By integrating the Cirrent platform into your product, your product and your customers will be able to take advantage of WPA3 and Easy Connect as Wi-Fi routers enable the capability over the coming years.

The Future Looks Bright

Connected products are rapidly becoming the norm, and continuing to improve ease of use and security is critical for the adoption of connected products by mainstream customers.  We are delighted to bring the benefits of ZipKey to consumers worldwide, and to be adding in the new capabilities of WPA3 and Wi-Fi Easy Connect to the Cirrent platform so our customers can do what they do best: make great products.

Learn more about WPA and Easy Connect