Cisco hands OpenRoaming over to WBA

Cisco’s decision to donate its OpenRoaming technology to the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) should lead to better Wi-Fi roaming in the future.

Cisco had been working on OpenRoaming for more than two years. It’s built on the foundation of Passpoint, also known as Hotspot 2.0, which allows people to automatically and securely connect to Wi-Fi networks, acting more like a cellular network in that regard. 

Specifically, OpenRoaming allows a Wi-Fi device to automatically and securely connect to any Wi-Fi access point that’s supported by the OpenRoaming Federation, according to a blog by Cisco CTO of Wireless Matt MacPherson. Federation members include wireless access providers, such as service providers, managed service providers and property owners with guest Wi-Fi services; identity providers like MVNOs, social networks, and consumer brand companies; and handset makers and networking companies such as Cisco.

With OpenRoaming now becoming an open standard via WBA, it will create a world where Wi-Fi users will be able to move seamlessly from one Wi-Fi network to another without re-registering or signing in, which is a big impediment to getting people to use services.   

The process of handing the technology over to the WBA started before the coronavirus outbreak, but it will have future implications to improve communications when people need remote connectivity, according to WBA CEO Tiago Rodrigues.  

Cisco has already rolled out OpenRoaming to a number of its customers. However, “we are at the early stages of adoption where WBA will take the leadership and drive to scale globally, working with our Roaming members,” Rodrigues said via email.  

“So whilst OpenRoaming today will have limited impact on our current direct situation, in the future the ability to connect automatically to a Wi-Fi network will significantly enhance the ability to work remotely, connect with family and friends, wherever you are in the world,” he said. “In addition, policies can be applied to give priority to emergency services in challenging situations. This will not only help offset some of the challenges of global or national emergencies but more generally enhance productivity of the global workforce and help to support a positive work/life balance.”

Some of the benefits for cities, enterprises and venues include extending relationships with customers beyond their own city, enterprise and venue; securing new revenue streams not previously possible; and providing seamless and secure Wi-Fi roaming with other WBA OpenRoaming members, according to Rodrigues.  

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Industry support for the OpenRoaming platform comes from a variety of players, including AT&T, Boingo Wireless, Cisco, Comcast Communications, GlobalReach, Google, Intel and Samsung. Cisco said it will stay involved as a board member and workgroup contributor of the WBA, actively participating in the deployment and growth of the OpenRoaming Federation.

The WBA suggested applications of the technology extend beyond just smartphones. Companies are already are conducting trials with OpenRoaming for autonomous and connected vehicles, and commercial developers can use OpenRoaming and location analytics tools to better understand how shoppers, patrons or employees use their spaces.