A recently concluded trial in London's Shoreditch neighborhood explored the use of OpenRoaming for Wi-Fi provision and mobile traffic offloading.

Tereza Krásová, Associate Editor

March 21, 2024

3 Min Read
St. Paul's Cathedral and Millennium bridge at dusk.
(Source: elroce/Alamy Stock Photo)

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has completed its trial of OpenRoaming technology, conducted in London together with CIN, Colt Technology Services and GlobalReach Technology. The solution was deployed in Shoreditch to grant free Wi-Fi access to people in the area and provide offloading capabilities, relying on street-side infrastructure from CIN.

OpenRoaming allows users to access separate Wi-Fi networks that have adopted the technology with a single ID. It relies on a federation of access network providers, which can include any organization with a Wi-Fi network, such as a hotel chain, airport or shopping center.

Identity providers can authenticate and authorize users on the network. This means a user will still need to provide details, but the ID can then be used automatically each time the device accesses the network. Identity providers can include device manufacturers, company-run loyalty programs and big Internet companies. Any user given an ID can connect to any participating network.

Originally developed by Cisco, the technology was transferred to the WBA as an open standard in 2020. The WBA also leads the OpenRoaming federation. Compared to a conventional public Wi-Fi network, users don't need to go through captive portals first, and the WBA also stresses there are additional security benefits.

Free Wi-Fi for all

During this year's MWC, Light Reading spoke to WBA's CEO Tiago Rodrigues, who said the federation has a privacy policy that governs possible uses of the data, restricting them to authentication, trouble shooting and law enforcement. In case data is misused, the liable party can be deregistered from the OpenRoaming Federation. Rodrigues also noted that each device is equipped with a unique ID to participate in the network.

The extensible authentication protocol (EAP) is used to log in to the network and also serves as a basis for encryption, which is said to be stronger than what's commonly used on public networks. 

The proof-of-concept (PoC) was part of an initiative launched by London's Mayor Sadiq Khan that seeks to establish a citywide free Wi-Fi network to improve digital access for Londoners and visitors. At the time of the announcement, OpenRoaming was touted as one potential solution, but it has not been selected yet. Results of a stakeholder consultation launched last year are still pending.

The technology has, meanwhile, already been trialled in other parts of London, including Canary Wharf and the London Stadium.

In Shoreditch, the PoC was deployed using CIN's street-side infrastructure designed to support both Wi-Fi and mobile networks. It can also allow mobile operators to partner with Wi-Fi providers and pay them to offload mobile traffic if the network becomes congested. Rodrigues argued that this can be leveraged by operators in areas like airports or sport stadiums where they see limited periods of heavy usage. He added that this practice is currently much more common in the US.

Offloading traffic

While offloading traffic to Wi-Fi is seamless, he admitted the WBA is currently working with mobile operators and Wi-Fi equipment manufacturers to be able to also reroute the traffic back to the mobile networks. At the moment, a device will only connect back to the mobile network once it is out of reach of the Wi-Fi network.

OpenRoaming can also be used by operators to densify their network, particularly indoors. Rodrigues noted that this is cheaper for operators than installing dedicated infrastructure for indoor coverage. There are, however, other technologies that can bridge the gap, such as neutral host networks, which also save telcos the hassle of large upfront investments.

Rodrigues said companies can have several motivations for deploying OpenRoaming. Some enterprises, he noted, need to comply with privacy restrictions or want to improve customers' experience. Companies operating internationally can also use OpenRoaming to prevent the need to use a different captive portal in each market.

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About the Author(s)

Tereza Krásová

Associate Editor, Light Reading

Associate Editor, Light Reading

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