WiFi roaming seems like an idea that should have happened years ago. In fact, there have been some attempts in the past to pull it off. Now, though, it is a ‘thing’.
The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has announced WBA OpenRoaming and has invited all organisations ‘in the WiFi ecosystem’ to join. Companies that do so will become part of a ‘globally available Wi-Fi federation that offers an automatic and secure connection of billions of devices to millions of Wi-Fi networks’.
All of which sounds good, and sensible. It means no more searching for WiFi networks, no more guddling around for passwords. You land in a country and you’re ready to go.
It sounds familiar. Almost like roaming, except with WiFi, ‘arguably the most successful wireless technology of our time,’ according to the CEO of the WBA, Tiago Rodrigues. The list of companies that have signed up is also impressive—Google, Samsung, Intel and Boingo, not to mention a long list of telecoms companies.
You have to ask, though, whether it is as simple as all that. You also have to ask what is different this time and will it work the way it should.
For one thing pricing is left up to the member whose network is being used, so customers might find themselves paying a bill they did not expect. For another, now that data roaming is, in essence, dead you have to wonder why easy access to WiFi roaming is better than turning your phone on when you land, and ‘hey presto’ you have instant 4G.
The other thing is that, unless everyone is on board, it will never be completely foolproof. There will be holes, and it will be telecoms companies that dictate whose network you are on.
It is, however, a development to be welcomed. Anything that makes connecting anything to a network with a minimum of fuss must be a good thing and WiFi roaming makes perfect sense.
The only other thing that may not make this as seamless as possible is the variable quality and coverage of WiFi networks. In certain areas (mainly where the publisher and managing editor of Disruptive.Asia live and work), 4G is a remote dream and WiFi is not particularly Wi and certainly not Fi.
WiFi roaming, though, is to be welcomed. Let us just see how seamless and easy it actually turns out to be.