Adopting the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA)’s OpenRoaming standard was an easy choice for the Telecom Infra Project (TIP)’s upcoming OpenWiFi initiative. According to Chris Busch, Co-Chair of TIP’s Open Converged Wireless Group, it was the only one, really.
“You can either do a carrier-offload style of roaming as it were from the cellular network into the Wi-Fi network or frankly you could do OpenRoaming[…] but we think that the OpenRoaming path is a highly efficient path, because it just works with all Wi-Fi,” Busch said of OpenWiFi, which seeks to empower Wi-Fi service providers to deploy access points and cloud controllers with greater ease through open-source development.
OpenWiFi Use Cases
Talking to 6GWorldTM, Busch clarified the statement by calling the group’s partner base a broad ecosystem of players. He said, as a result, the potential solutions to be deployed through OpenWiFi run the gamut from residential and municipal-wireless solutions to ones of the service-provider variety. OpenRoaming meawhile aims to facilitate a single secure, yet seamless Wi-Fi network across the world, allowing users to freely jump to and fro without signing in every time. Busch said the marriage just made sense, looking at it from the perspective of that base.
“So, they’re looking at the Wi-Fi that they can gain from OpenWiFI as an infrastructure story and, so, therefore, they’re not just doing one thing with Wi-Fi. They’re doing many different, diverse services. So, it was sort of natural for us to choose OpenRoaming, because you can then immediately inherit the ability to work with identity partners, network operators, and federate that for scale so you can build out national networks of service from that,” he continued.
As an example of a use case, Busch pointed to an overall increasing level of investment in infrastructure. In the U.S., he sees municipalities potentially controlling broadband assets to a greater degree than they have in the past.
“So imagine if your municipality[…] sought to have their street furniture equipment and other assets[…] become part of that seamless mobile broadband infrastructure,” he said. “OpenWiFi can directly plug into those needs and, by enabling OpenRoaming in that infrastructure, that municipal network operator with a registered identity and OpenRoaming terms can become part of that seamless experience where it’s just like mobile.
“You turn your phone on and you’ll be on Wi-Fi anywhere you are in town. Similarly, when you get on the highway and you go down to the next town, you’ll end up back on your 4G or 5G experience and again this conversation can repeat itself in the next town over. So, there are business implications there that could be monetisation strategies that emerge in the market where chargebacks, tariffs, roaming, all these opportunities could exist.”
Pushing the Easy Button with OpenRoaming
Also on the call was Bruno Tomas, Program Director at the WBA. He agreed with Busch, envisioning the partnership as enabling what he called an “easy button” concept.
“Today, when you go to an enterprise, even if you have tech-savvy IT engineers, they take from a couple of weeks to months to really have a fully operational Wi-Fi network that is not only geared towards the attendees, but, if they want to have some interoperability or enable some use cases, it’s a very complicated process. I think the vision for me, it’s this easy button concept that you install OpenWiFi and from that point on you are immediately enabled to receive any customer anywhere in the world in a secure manner,” he said.
Tomas also gave additional context to the situation at hand, how the likes of Google and Samsung have already announced they support OpenRoaming “off the shelf.” As a result, he said if you were to buy a Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy S9 or S10 phone you’d be able to securely roam into the previously alluded to Wi-Fi networks.
“So, that was the problem No. 1 that we were also looking to solve and now that everyone can get enterprise-grade [access points] on a more affordable OpenWiFi, it’s the perfect combination to really make a good business case if you want to have some coverage locally and you don’t have the money to invest in other technology,” he said.
Ongoing Projected OpenWiFi Support
OpenWiFi will officially launch on May 12. The initiative will be ongoing in nature, according to Busch, with support for Wi-Fi 5 and 6 platforms. He said TIP will be bringing on Wi-Fi 6E (Wi-Fi 6 in the 6GHz band) later this year. Tomas went a step further, foreseeing it being utilised for a long time to come.
“A big trend that we are seeing is even the mobile operators deploying 5G core, they want to use the best radio access that you find in the industry,” he said. “A big advantage of OpenRoaming is that we leverage Authentication Framework and [3rd Generation Partnership Project; 3GPP] decided that one of the supported mechanisms is in fact this same framework. So, 5G, 5G Advanced that is now coming with [3GPP] Release 18 and even 6G, whatever you do today with this combination, you can use it for the foreseeable future.”
Busch added the variety of platforms adds to the subscriber experience. In his opinion, that’s more so what Wi-Fi is about today rather than simply providing access to the internet.
“From the standpoint of working together with WBA and OpenRoaming, we can make the OpenWiFi stack a mobile offload-friendly platform,” he said. “So now it’s just a transformative moment where suddenly you’ve got this diversity in platform choice in cloud and the ability to be a first-class citizen in the mobile world. That to us is a really big moment.”
Feature image courtesy of Photographee.eu (via Shutterstock).
With journalism credits spanning several sectors including finance and tech, Ryan joins 6GWorld with wide eyes looking onward. He aims to lend his experience to the site, covering the latest generation of cellular advancements as it unfolds, leading into 6G.