Wi-Fi Roaming – are we there yet?

Hotspot 2.0, Passpoint and Next-Generation Hotspots are various standardisation initiatives already undertaken by GSMA and WBA. These are designed to make it easier for SIM-based authentication on Wi-Fi networks, as well as enabling mobile operators to uniquely and securely identify users.

SIM-based authentication is an operator requirement as they need to off-load traffic onto Wi-Fi networks due their own congested infrastructure and the cost of rolling out further capacity.

By putting WRIX (Wireless Roaming Intermediary Exchange) standards into the mix with the existing GPRS Roaming Exchange architecture, mobile operators are well placed to offer SIM-based authentication and strike roaming agreements between different industry players.

WRIX standards cover areas such as roaming onto public Wi-Fi hotspots, as well as financial aspects, such as settlement and clearing.

The Goal: to allow mobile users use of Wi-Fi networks without having to log-on or worry about security whilst providing lower cost data access which will appear on the users mobile phone bill.

Standardisation work, however, is far from complete. The focus for 2013 is on seamless session continuity between Wi-Fi and cellular. There are however no commercial deployments of this and appear a way off.

To help drive roaming standardisation, the WBA announced yesterday at the Wi-Fi Global Congress its inaugural ‘Wi-Fi Roamfest’, with over 145 organisations participating.

The event provided an environment where operators and service providers could connect and reach agreements for Wi-Fi roaming and related services. Interest in the area, says WBA, has recently been fuelled by its Interoperability Compliance Program, an initiative launched in 2012 that is designed to streamline the way members work together on a common set of technical and commercial frameworks for Wi-Fi roaming.

It seems the list of standards is growing, yet much has to be done before the mobile user will see any benefits or reduction in roaming bills.