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WBA OpenRoaming promises seamless access for municipal Wi-Fi

Standard grants access to public hotspots without having to register each time

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has completed testing to prepare for the deployment of WBA OpenRoaming, a federation service built to give seamless access to Wi-Fi hotspots across Europe's municipal networks.

WBA OpenRoaming, described as a "Wi-Fi roaming standard," is intended to provide users with roaming access to Wi-Fi hotspots without having to keep registering with different operators or enter login credentials every time.

The WBA also claims that OpenRoaming offers enterprise-level security and protects user privacy while complying with European GDPR policies when roaming between Wi-Fi networks.

OpenRoaming was developed by Cisco, but transferred to the WBA after the US networks giant recognized it was best managed by a neutral organization focused on maintaining Wi-Fi roaming standards globally.

Testing for the successful phase two trials of OpenRoaming used Wi-Fi access point kit from manufacturers including WBA members Cisco and Ruckus Networks, as well as endpoint devices such as iOS and Android smartphones in addition to laptops and tablets. Credentials were also tested from identity providers including eduroam and Google, both of which are also WBA members.

Some devices, such as newer Samsung handsets and Google Pixels, have OpenRoaming natively installed, according to the WBA.

The tests were carried out across several municipalities in Belgium, using Wi-Fi networks that are also part of the WIFI4EU Program.

This is an EU initiative to promote free access to Wi-Fi in public spaces such as parks, squares, libraries, and health centers. WBA OpenRoaming, however, is a global program, and the WIFI4EU networks were simply used to validate that OpenRoaming functioned as intended.

OpenRoaming deployments are already in place around the world, according to the WBA, including at Canary Wharf, London; Adventist Health hospital campuses in the US and Australia; downtown Austin, Texas; and Brazil's São Paulo/Guarulhos International Airport.

WBA chief exec Tiago Rodrigues told us that OpenRoaming offers two levels of service: one for free networks, such as the municipal Wi-Fi in these latest tests, and another for paid services.

For free networks, users just need one access code on their device that gives them access to any network in the world that offers free Wi-Fi via OpenRoaming. Paid services use a different type of access code that is only used by WBA members operating on a monetization model.

Rodrigues said the European pilot demonstrated the benefit of using a standard like WBA OpenRoaming to make life easier for consumers, visitors and residents.

"From libraries to coffee shops, concert halls to sports facilities, WBA OpenRoaming creates a world where Wi-Fi users can move from one network to another without the hassle of being disconnected and having to sign in again. The phase two trial represents the latest step in the WBA's mission to close the digital gap and create a more connected world," Rodrigues said.

OpenRoaming is similar in principle to a service offered by iPass, now a subsidiary of communications service provider Pareteum. The firm established relationships with Wi-Fi operators and telcos around the globe to enable travellers to get data access wherever they went, via its SmartConnect application and a single subscription fee.

Pareteum is a member of the WBA, but SmartConnect is not apparently part of the OpenRoaming federated service.

According to Cisco, OpenRoaming is built on the Passpoint and Hotspot 2.0 standards and uses several authentication standards, including RADIUS, Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP), and OAuth v2.

Also according to Cisco, OpenRoaming makes use of secure authentication protocols including RadSec, EAP-Transport Layer Security (EAP-TLS), EAP-Tunneled TLS (EAP-TTLS), or EAP-Authentication and Key Agreement (AKA). OpenRoaming networks must be secured with WPA2-Enterprise or WPA3 over-the-air encryption. ®

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