OpenRoaming

Wouldn't it be nice to turn up at a new location and your mobile phone seamlessly connects to the local Wi-Fi Hotspot?

What if you could have a mobile-phone-like roaming experience, but with your Wi-Fi devices? There's been a lot of work to enable just this functionality - enter the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) OpenRoaming standard.

OpenRoaming

The OpenRoaming framework allows you to connect once, and from this point forward to roam seamlessly, across hotspots.

Connecting to hotpots can be inconvenient (who wants to provide more personal details for the  umpteenth time), and can present a security risk. OpenRoaming solves these problems with secure and seamless roaming and the use of the new(er) encryption standard, WPA3.

Before we take a deeper look at OpenRoaming, let's take a quick look at the problem OpenRoaming is seeking to resolve..

What problem does OpenRoaming solve?

It's a major drag to continue to have to put in your details each time you connect to a hotspot and that tends to mean you don't bother. OpenRoaming is all about making the ability to connect to hotspots seamless and more usable - so, well, you'll use them more.

For a business, why would you want to implement OpenRoaming? The Wi-Fi Alliance has handily provided a good shopping list for this:

  • Network Discovery: Automatic discovery and connection to new hotspot networks

  • Sign Up: Make the online signup simpler

  • Roaming: Seamless roaming and access to networks

  • Increased Security: Use of enhanced WPA3 security (and this is a big one)

OpenRoaming Key Components

The Wireless Broadband Alliance has three main components to the OpenRoaming standard:

(The following text is a summarisation of the text from this link)

  • Cloud Federation: OpenRoaming introduces the concept of the Wireless Roaming Intermediary Exchance (WRIX), which is used to allow the OpenRoaming model to operate.

  • Cyber Security: Built in to the standard are the capabilities to support seamless roaming, but also secure connections and encrypted communications

  • Network Automation: Another new acronym - Roaming Consortium Codes Framework (RCOI), which supports the policies required to allow for automatic roaming.

I couldn't have a blog on Wi-Fi, though without mentioning some basics. Of course you will need to implement your Wi-Fi network correctly in the first place, or you'll deliver a poor end-user experience, which could be really counterproductive, as you seek to attract new customers.

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Pre-Requisites to Support OpenRoaming

To be able to sign up as an OpenRoaming partner, the end organsiation needs to manage a Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint-Enabled network.

This pre-requisite is required prior to signing up for the OpenRoaming federation.

Passpoint is supported on both the Wi-Fi access points and the end clients. This allows for clients to connect to new hotspots without the need to re-enter their credentials each time.

After a user has initially connected to a Passpoint hotspot, they will be able to connect seamlessly next time (for this reason, Passpoint is commonly deployed in airports, coffee shops and locations with high traffic).

WBA OpenRoaming

Hosting WBA OpenRoaming

To sign up for hosting OpenRoaming (for you to provide the service to your customers), you can contact the Wireless Broadband Alliance on membership@wballiance.com

Note that there are fees - there are initial sign up and some ongoing fees also, so you'll want to take these into account. The exact fees will depend on which level you sign up for (options are Principal, Contributor, Industry Partner or Implementer).

OpenRoaming: Summary

The summary for OpenRoaming is pretty simple: people want to seamlessly connect to Wi-Fi.

No one likes repeatedly sharing personal details to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots and the implementation of WPA3 not only makes the experience seamless, but also makes it secure.

The ability to seamlessly offload voice traffic (when your mobile phone automatically connects to the hotspot and starts routing your traffic over Wi-Fi, rather than 4G / 5G) is a real plus point - this allows Telco's to provide a wider coverage for mobile phone support, and offload traffic from the core network - users and the Telco are both winners.

There are fees though, so this isn't going to be a solution for everyone - you will need to see the business benefit of providing OpenRoaming and work out the ROI for your business.

In the end, OpenRoaming is really about a coming of age for Wi-Fi. Users now have the opportunity to have a much better, seamless (yes, that word again) experience and this means more users will vote with their feet and use Wi-Fi as a priority.

OpenRoaming is a big move forward, and as we know in the world of Wi-Fi, things don't stand still for too long.

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