Feature Article

December 18, 2012

Wi-Fi Roaming Guidelines

In a lot of areas today, you can sit in the park with your laptop or tablet and connect to the Internet. The reason that you can do this is because several carriers have set up an array of wireless routers known as hotspots. Your wireless device connects to the Internet over a Wi-Fi connection. As you move from one end of the park to the other your device senses the next closest wireless router and establishes a new connection in a matter of milliseconds. As you move from one area to another the Wi-Fi enabled device keeps a constant connection to the Internet. This is Wi-Fi roaming. While this is very convenient, it also has the potential of allowing access to your wireless device.

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) was established in 2003. It was founded as a global forum for the wireless broadband ecosystem. According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.16-2004 standard, broadband means “having instantaneous bandwidths greater than 1 MHz and supporting data rates greater than about 1.5 Mbit/s.”

Wireless broadband is technology that provides high speed wireless Internet access or computer networking over a large area. The Wireless Broadband Alliance is a group that is driving the next generation Wi-Fi experience. Their goal is to enable seamless, secure Wi-Fi roaming and data offload for operators.

In Singapore, the WBA announced on December 18, 2012 an initiative that will streamline the way WBA members work together on a common set of technical and commercial frameworks for Wi-Fi roaming. Some of the key global players that have confirmed their participation include AT&T, Boingo Wireless, China Mobile, NTT DoCoMo and several others.

The initiative is called the Interoperability Compliance Program (ICP). The ICP will make it easier for operators globally to work together on a common set of technical and commercial frameworks for Wi-Fi roaming.

Public Wi-Fi is becoming essential for mobile connectivity. Unfortunately, there are no standards and consistency in the way that wireless devices connect and roam on to Wi-Fi networks. The ICP will help operators overcome these challenges on a global level. The operators will work together to align guidelines on security, data offload, device authentication, network implementation, network selection, charging models and billing mechanisms.

Promoting and advocating a common set of requirements and procedures for Wi-Fi roaming will make it easier for operators to enter into roaming agreements. The operators will have a much better understanding of how to integrate their networks to support roaming.

The CEO of the WBA, Shirkant Shenwai is quoted as saying, “With public Wi-Fi emerging as a key component of operators’ offerings, it has never been more essential for the WBA to encourage interoperability and collaboration with the Wi-Fi community. Our new ICP provides a framework for operators to assess their own network capabilities and make it easier to create bilateral Wi-Fi roaming agreements.”

The need for this can be seen by the increase in Wi-Fi usage this past year. China Mobile saw a 102.5 percent increase in Wi-Fi traffic in 2012. Japan’s NTT DoCoMo plans to grow its hotspots by as much as 105 times before the end of the year. There is a steady growth in Wi-Fi enabled devices and that by default creates a steady growth in the need for Wi-Fi roaming.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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