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5G

OpenRoaming supporters continue promising 5G services over Wi-Fi

Networking vendor Extreme Networks said it installed a Wi-Fi network at the Polytechnic Institute of Viseu (IPV) in Portugal that supports the Wireless Broadband Alliance's (WBA) OpenRoaming standard.

And though Extreme Network officials acknowledge the deployment represents a relatively minor step forward for OpenRoaming, they nonetheless argue it's a step worth taking.

"It's obviously very early stage," Extreme Networks VP Markus Nispel said of the OpenRoaming specification. However, he said that "we do expect that this is going to get a lot of traction," otherwise Extreme Networks wouldn't be investing into the technology.

The comments are important considering Extreme is a major supplier of wide-scale Wi-Fi networks in the US and internationally. For example, the NFL recently said Extreme will remain its "Official Wi-Fi Network Solutions Provider" and "Official Wi-Fi Analytics Provider," and that the company will construct new Wi-Fi networks for several additional NFL stadiums.

Thus, Extreme's support of OpenRoaming signals yet another tentative step forward for the technology. And that's noteworthy considering the ultimate goal of OpenRoaming is to stream carriers' 5G services over a Wi-Fi network.

It's 5G, but with Wi-Fi

For example, 5G network operators using OpenRoaming can continue to supply dialtones, texting and other services to their customers on a Wi-Fi network when those customers are out of range of a 5G signal. Further, OpenRoaming users don't have to do anything; newer phones can be automatically connected to OpenRoaming Wi-Fi networks, no passwords required.

Nispel said that kind of a service is particularly tantalizing to customers like IPV in Portugal. Such customers want to make sure users remain connected even when they're deep inside a building where 5G might not reach. He said it's much cheaper for building owners to construct Wi-Fi networks indoors rather than 5G networks that generally need to transmit signals for multiple cellular network operators.

"There's an opportunity to integrate Wi-Fi and 5G," Nispel said, adding that Extreme Networks is working to supply cloud-based networking services to both enterprises deploying Wi-Fi as well as service providers deploying 5G.

If at first you don't succeed...

However, OpenRoaming is just the latest technology to promise a unification between cellular and Wi-Fi technologies. Previous efforts have centered around the WBA's Hotspot 2.0 Passpoint standards.

But Nispel argued that OpenRoaming may enjoy widespread success, partly because it can work on newer phones without any changes to the devices. The technology is also being deployed in a growing number of locations, from hospitals to airports.

However, there remains one missing element: 5G operators willing to push their services over Wi-Fi networks using OpenRoaming.

Tiago Rodrigues, CEO of the WBA, said that AT&T has tested OpenRoaming services in Austin, Texas. And he said that the group is working with a number of other 5G network providers to generate interest in OpenRoaming, including some of the big cable operators in the US that offer mobile services.

Nonetheless, it's slow going. Despite support for OpenRoaming from the likes of Google and the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), the technology remains mostly in the testing phase.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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