OpenRoaming, a Wireless Broadband Alliance, brings together broadband suppliers and manufacturers to create a more seamless end-user experience. To succeed, the organization needs to focus on small and mid-tier adopters to ensure their vision achieves timely implementation.
Traditional roaming on cellular devices remains expensive and using WiFi while traveling can be a dubious endeavor because of access and security. Enter the Wireless Broadband Alliance OpenRoaming initiative that brings together most of the top technology companies to attack the problem of providing a good user experience as people move about a 5G and WiFi 6 world. I recently attended one of the webinars being held by the Wireless Broadband Alliance as part of their June and July 2020 virtual conference. Here is an overview, along with
What is OpenRoaming?
At its core, OpenRoaming attempts to make moving around a wireless world a seamless experience. The standards body connects access providers, with identifying providers and service providers to build out their technology vision. As with all standards, there will be add-ons that provide additional value, at additional cost, which is a primary incentive for vendors to play. Cisco, for instance, will be offering DNA Spaces for OpenRoaming that includes user experience and analytics components.
OpenRoaming will require cross-industry adoption, migration away from all of the proprietary solutions. While it offers long-term benefits to the suppliers of WiFi who have to do the work of migration, the benefits really reside in the end-user value.
The benefits promised by OpenRoaming include:
- Higher quality of service
- No need to track or switch among SSIDs
- A single log-on experience
- Business incentives, primarily through simplicity, to adopters
- Ease of regulatory compliance
- Passive authentication
Observations and recommendations
Given the wide-ranging user experiences and inconvenience of current public WiFi solutions, and the siloed carrier centricity of LTE, 4G, and 5G experiences, the market needs OpenRoaming. And every sane vendor should sign-up
This Wireless Broadband Alliance talk was for a technical leaning audience. The organization needs end-user and small business-oriented messaging. The real value of OpenRoaming will be in public WiFi and small businesses. The Alliance needs to bring along cities and restaurants, second-tier coffee shops, museums, and zoos.
The slide on implementation status, for instance, would leave most small businesses scratching their heads about how OpenRoaming compares to their current service and what, if anything, they should be doing—and the How to Participate slide only provides top tier advice. Small business needs handholding, which means a consistent customer support model.
The problem with any open standard like this becomes the whole in the standard that questions its efficacy in certain situations. Commercial Wi-Fi supplier Boingo was on the call. I am a Boingo user via their agreement with American Express. When it works, it is great and I think of them and I appreciate their service. When I am in an airport without Boingo I actually think about them and the venue in a negative way. Why, I ask, can’t I get Boingo here?
The standards bodies usually serve technology companies. And for consumer technology embedded in devices, like Bluetooth, that is OK. It is also OK for large, infrastructure standards that don’t require much if anything from end-users. But OpenRoaming requires a large body of small businesses and other small organizations to get on board so they really need to create a business model for the association that addresses the migration need. Without it the technology will be another one of those, it works, but nobody is using it, efforts.
The OpenRoaming initiative should not overly rely on regulatory compliance as their foothold with adopting organizations. Perceptions that you NEED TO do this in order to COMPLY WITH THAT make for less than emotionally positive brand associations.
For the Wireless Broadband Alliance to really make this work, I think they need to concentrate on good customer experiences for smaller organizations, including medium-sized enterprises, that will require education, migration assistance, and on-going support. If that ends up being distributed by partners, fine, but the WBA needs to own the branding and the consistency of that material across their ecosystem.
The technology looks right. The benefits won’t come just from getting the technology right. They will also need to do better than most standards organizations at getting the marketing and adoption right as well. And means understanding not the customers of the WBA, but understanding the ultimate customers of the ideas they are developing—those who will say yes to switching their proprietary Wi-Fi with its chalkboard password to a new model, that while it may say it’s easier, doesn’t look that way today.
Gallery of screen captures from the WBA’s OpenRoaming Session on June 25, 2020
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