Wi-Fi and Cellular networks each have unique strengths. Used together, they can form an immensely strong and pervasive mobile access fabric. We’ve been working on this concept here: See the OpenRoaming project, which is now under the aegis of the Wireless Broadband Alliance standards group. OpenRoaming makes it incredibly easy to connect your device to a high-quality Wi-Fi network, and roam easily between networks controlled by multiple parties.

Today, Google’s Area 120 Incubator is announcing a simple way to help venues attach their Wi-Fi installations to cellular roaming networks – without requiring them to negotiate with each carrier manually. It’s called Orion WiFi.

The Orion WiFi project, which focuses to a large extent on automating billing relationships, will coexist with the OpenRoaming authentication federation we have been working on.

Wi-Fi Makes Cellular Better

Cellular and Wi-Fi networks can reinforce each other when Wi-Fi is used to offload cellular traffic. This is especially true in crowded venues like airports, retail locations, and sporting arenas. Many of these locations have strong Wi-Fi systems, yet suffer from crowded local cellular airspace or an unreliable indoor cellular signal. Why not use the networks together?

With Orion WiFi, a Wi-Fi network access provider, like a retail store owner, can offer access to their Wi-Fi network to cellular carriers. Cellular operators can use Orion WiFi to purchase carrier-class access on Wi-Fi networks.  And the end user wins – they get reliable indoor and outdoor connectivity wherever they go.

Orion WiFi and OpenRoaming together enable real-time, automatic handoff between cellular and Wi-Fi networks – even during an active call. The cellular carrier gets happier customers who experience more reliable coverage, and the carrier gets more bandwidth and the ability to distribute load between cellular and Wi-Fi. Finally, the venue owner gets paid by the carrier for use of their equipment and bandwidth – while automatically keeping customers connected. Orion WiFi, critically, handles the settling of the fees as well as the technologies of interconnecting the systems together.

We’re happy to be able to support both OpenRoaming and Orion WiFi in Cisco Wi-Fi Access Points. Our Cisco DNA Spaces customers will find it easy to set up OpenRoaming in the offer portal, and then they will be able to sign up for Orion WiFi in the Cisco DNA Spaces Marketplace.

Together these technologies will keep users connected, and make it easy for venue owners to get reimbursed for carriers’ use of their networks.

The Future is Seamless

Orion WiFi is a great project, and it 100% aligns with our vision – which is that for users, connecting to a Wi-Fi network should be as easy as connecting to a new cellular tower. The user shouldn’t have to think about it. That’s what the growing OpenRoaming federation that we are building with the Wireless Broadband Alliance is about. OpenRoaming and Orion will work together; OpenRoaming will add even more roaming possibilities for new identity providers and network access partners. We’re also happy that Google’s Android operating system and its new Pixel phones now support OpenRoaming natively, making it even easier for users to stay always connected.


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Matt MacPherson

Chief Technology Officer, Wireless

Engineering - Innovation Labs