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AT&T pushes for Wi-Fi roaming standards


Ken Wieland

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LIVE FROM WI-FI GLOBAL CONGRESS: Expanding the number of international Wi-Fi roaming agreements is a priority for Bill Hague, EVP at AT&T, and he is backing the standardisation work of the WBA (Wireless Broadband Alliance) and GSMA to make it easier for AT&T’s cellular customers to log on to carrier-grade Wi-Fi networks securely and facilitate roaming settlements between operators.

“Roaming agreements will increase revenue for everyone, and far more than anyone could do individually,” he said. “In much the same way as GSM standardisation secured its international success, so we need to do the same with Wi-Fi.”

Hague added that AT&T customers want access to the higher connectivity speeds of robust Wi-Fi. It’s a complementary and necessary technology to ubiquitous cellular, he said, which is under growing strain from exponential growth in data traffic.

“We can’t be protective about the cellular network,” said Hague.

There have been various standardisation initiatives already undertaken by GSMA and WBA, including Hotspot 2.0, Passpoint and Next-Generation Hotspots. 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, whether they are on a mobile or Wi-Fi network.

SIM-based authentication is invariably an operator requirement. “We want to off-load traffic onto Wi-Fi networks, not the customer,” noted Alex Sinclair, GSMA CTO.

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

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

Standardisation work, however, is far from complete. “The focus this year is on seamless session continuity [between Wi-Fi and cellular],” said Sinclair. “There are no commercial deployments of this, so we’re not there yet.”

To help drive roaming standardisation, the WBA announced yesterday (12 June) 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.

As well as AT&T, WBA says seven other global operators have achieved compliancy level: Boingo Wireless, BT, NTT DoCoMo, Shaw Communications, Portugal Telecom, Towerstream, True Corporation.

Coinciding with the Wi-Fi Global Congress event, Juniper Research announced that as much as 50 per cent of traffic generated by phones, tablets and other 3G and 4G-enabled devices will be offloaded to Wi-Fi networks by 2017.

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