A few years back, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs got a makeover for the modern age. Alongside the familiar needs of self esteem and safety, it was no surprise that connectivity was listed, with mobile and Wi-Fi being essential elements of our lives today.
Wi-Fi today is pervasive and internet connectivity is an essential part both for business and leisure but, the absence of enforceable standards for interoperability and roaming has held it back from ubiquitous use in the same way that cellular connections have become the norm. That is set to change.
Last week, the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) announced that it now owns and manages the OpenRoaming federation initiative previously set up by Cisco. The federation will make Wi-Fi roaming simpler to implement and operate for enterprises and operators through a framework of common industry guidelines and technical standards. The WBA is now responsible for setting the standards and overseeing the international roll-out.
The difference that OpenRoaming will make is to open up access to underutilised Wi-Fi networks in enterprise locations. Through the standards-based approach operators will easily be able to connect their subscribers (and millions of consumer and industrial devices) to these places, so that visitors, guests and passersby can easily get online using a secure profile on the user’s SIM card.
It’s a game changer, notably at a time when cellular networks are often congested in dense urban areas, where it can be difficult for cellular networks to penetrate indoors and offer a consistent user experience. By joining the federation, OpenRoaming allows networks to benefit from under-used fibre backhaul at venues from corporate offices to shopping centres and stadia, where their customers will get an automatic connection to high quality Wi-Fi.
In turn, this will open up new user journeys and experiences. Retailers will be able to reward loyal customers, fans, frequent flyers and VIP customers, and customers and contractors will be automatically online when they visit an office building – importantly freeing up front of house, reception and security staff to focus on other elements of the business, rather than the Wi-Fi.
The role of the identity provider within OpenRoaming
GlobalReach is among the first group of Wi-Fi SaaS providers that is prepared to serve as an identity provider (IDP) for OpenRoaming, enabling brands to offer seamless access to multiple participating Wi-Fi networks in a secure and seamless manner.
As Cisco notes, it’s free, secure, and fast. As simple for users as cellular but without the data fees. Further “OpenRoaming will also help accelerate the adoption of other emerging wireless access technologies that will help 5G and Wi-Fi 6 networks work better together. With the ability to access more applications through more bandwidth and reliability, users will gain an enhanced wireless experience as they move between 5G and Wi-Fi 6 networks” (Cisco).
The federation is an essential step toward delivering a completely connected journey for wireless broadband users. It creates an improved and trusted Wi-Fi experience, by solving the industry problem of onboarding. Networks can now join the federation with a simple, self sign-on process.
OpenRoaming extends the benefits of Hotspot 2.0, which allows subscribers to automatically and securely connect to enabled hotspots without the need to reauthenticate. The outstanding problem has been linking the patchwork of networks together in an efficient way. Now OpenRoaming creates that simple process model.
As an identity provider (IDP), GlobalReach verifies, on behalf of operators, that network users—be they guests or employees—are who they claim to be. With this verification, roaming users are given the right kinds of access at the right times, maintaining the user experience.
In an enterprise scenario where this capability is built and managed in-house, the company has to dedicate resources to make changes or remedy problems as they arise. In a highly regulated industry, the risk of data privacy and GDPR is also handled by the IDP.
OpenRoaming is long overdue. The announcement this week of predetermined standards and technical enablement builds on the excellent work of the Wireless Broadband Alliance and Wi-Fi Alliance is a huge step toward accelerating the growth of convergent roaming and a seamless user experience.
Chris Bruce is Managing Director, GlobalReach Technology, an expert in secure Wi-Fi authentication solutions and services, Ex-Chair / Co-Chair and current Board Member of the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) and previously CEO BT Openzone Wi-Fi.