It is no secret that I recently moderated the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) Wi-Fi event in San Francisco. What I did not mention in my coverage of the event was the sneak peak I and others got of the industry association’s Interoperability Compliancy Program (ICP). This effort, designed to streamline the way WBA members work together on a common set of technical and commercial frameworks for Wi-Fi roaming, is now up and running. In fact, WBA has revealed that key global players in the Wi-Fi ecosystem including AT&T, Boingo (News - Alert) Wireless, BT, China Mobile, KT, NTT DOCOMO, PCCW, Shaw Communications, Smart Communications and True have confirmed their participation.
The ICP outlines compliancy guidelines for service providers with different support levels. These range from simple integration requirements for roaming partners to delivering support for the latest in session security, to more complex charging models and billing mechanisms required for the implementation of next generation hotspots (NGH).
The problem ICP is addressing is the fragmentation in the way devices connect to and roam on to Wi-Fi networks. It will help operators globally overcome these challenges by working together to align guidelines on:
- Data offload
- Device authentication
- Network implementation
- Network selection
- Charging models and billing mechanisms
The goal ultimately is for end-users to have a quality public Wi-Fi experience that is easy to use and secure literally almost anywhere they travel—vastly increasing the value of all of our smartphones, tablets and laptops. ICP will make it easier for operators to enter into roaming agreements on the business side of things.
In addition, as WBA points out, “By promoting and advocating a common set of requirements and procedures for Wi-Fi roaming, carriers will better understand how to integrate their networks to support roaming. The WBA is making a tool available to its members called ‘Wi-Fi Roaming Compliancy Check’ to be used by operators to promote their compliancy and roaming capabilities in the community.”
Shrikant Shenwai, CEO of the WBA, added: “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 within 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 program’s guidelines help Wi-Fi providers plan for future network enhancements and introduce new products and services. The ICP helps players across the Wi-Fi ecosystem work together to deliver a more simplified roaming experience. By encouraging our members to go that extra mile to expedite interoperability, consumers worldwide will benefit from a far superior connectivity experience wherever they are.”
It should be noted that ICP is being managed by the WBA membership which consists of nearly 100 organizations that include the leading Wi-Fi mobile and broadband network operators and media players from around the world. It addition, the WBA has released its Wi-Fi Roaming Guidelines, a guide to help operators develop a Wi-Fi roaming business based on the WBA framework – WRIX – Wireless Roaming Intermediary Exchange.
As the list above illustrates, in order to make your experience and mine seamless, e.g., have public Wi-Fi access wherever it is available with simple access and a consistent highest quality experience, there is a lot of work in the background that has to be accomplished. The good news is there is a solid framework for a path forward. The better news is that as can be seen from those who are already on board and those whom are likely to quickly follow, this is an industry effort with a lot of support and momentum which means there is more than just hope that wherever we may roam Wi-Fi is going to be a high-performance broadband capability we can rely on.
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Edited by Jamie Epstein