A mobile carrier’s worst nightmare is a customer who doesn’t have wireless service and blames their operator. Maybe they are traveling and don’t have an international cellular plan. Or they are at a stadium for a game, but no traffic is going through because the cellular towers are overloaded.

5G is going to help, no question. Some have even predicted that 5G will reduce or even kill the need for Wi-Fi. But the truth is that the wireless future is not just 5G. And it’s not just Wi-Fi. It’s 5G and Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi, as every carrier knows, can pick up some of the load from cellular networks. Both cellular (licensed spectrum) and Wi-Fi networks have their uses, and they are highly complementary. The challenge is to simplify the user experience of taking advantage of both systems, by managing the hand-off between them in a way that works seamlessly for consumers while still benefiting the carriers.

With OpenRoaming, an initiative being led by Cisco, service providers will be able to ensure their users get onto Wi-Fi seamlessly and securely the second they walk into a participating location. Users will be able to employ their mobile carrier identity for authentication, granting them seamless access to participating wireless networks around the world to ensure they are always connected.

What is OpenRoaming?

Using the underlying technology behind HotSpot 2.0, Cisco will lead a broad federation of identity providers and wireless access networks that will enable seamless and secure access for all. OpenRoaming is an evolution of Passpoint, allowing for dynamic and scalable relationships between service providers and wireless access networks.

Cisco OpenRoaming: Seamless, secure public wi-fi onboarding

OpenRoaming’s flexible policies will allow service providers to specify the quality of the Wi-Fi networks their users attach to. And because all Wi-Fi connections will be secured over the air with enterprise-grade security protocols, service providers can rest easy knowing their users are protected from the Wi-Fi attacks that can affect non-managed access points.

In addition to partnering with service providers, we are planning to bring some of the biggest access providers in the world into OpenRoaming. Thanks to Cisco’s global reach and large wireless footprint, this represents an unprecedented opportunity for service providers. We’re going to empower them to use Wi-Fi to:

  • Offload data onto more Wi-Fi networks than ever with instant network detection, selection, and authentication, leading to a significant decrease in OPEX spending
  • Ensure ubiquitous coverage for users in locations with traditionally poor cellular coverage
  • Provide value-added service for customers at no cost, increasing satisfaction and reducing churn
  • Offer best-in-class security when offloading traffic to Wi-Fi


A building block for the future

The new local wireless standard, Wi-Fi 6, is an ideal counterpart to the emerging 5G network. Wi-Fi 6 brings higher data rates, lower latency, increased capacity, and even better battery life to mobile devices. The combination of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will unlock potential in the network for exciting new services and products: Virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning, 4K video, and even more sophisticated IoT devices that will change how we experience our lives. Ensuring a seamless experience across 5G and Wi-Fi, indoors and outdoors, will be more important than ever. We see OpenRoaming as a building block to accelerate the adoption of other emerging wireless access technologies, like improved cellular-to-Wi-Fi handoff to avoid delay in video chat, multi-path selection to ensure users always have the best connection, and fully deterministic behavior and policy between Wi-Fi 6 and 5G. Cisco is working on these technologies with industry partners to ensure that Wi-Fi 6 and 5G work better together.

Who’s on board?

Cisco isn’t doing this alone. We are leading this initiative with an OpenRoaming association of identity and access providers. Samsung demonstrated the incredible value of OpenRoaming at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, acting as an identity provider. At MWC, the latest Samsung Galaxy and Note users automatically connected to the venue’s wireless network – increasing the number of users who automatically connected by over 50% compared to previous years. We are also collaborating with Canary Wharf, Clair Global, Presidio, Boingo, GlobalReach, and other industry players to test OpenRoaming in live networks around the world.

There are many other partners we expect will help make OpenRoaming available worldwide at millions of access points – at the world’s  favorite shops, stadiums, hotels, public venues, and airports. We are currently signing up live beta access and identity providers. If you want to learn more about truly seamless access and joining OpenRoaming, please go to www.cisco.com/go/openroaming to learn more.


Disclosure: Many of the offerings and features described herein remain in varying stages of development and will be offered on a when-and-if-available basis.  Any such items are subject to change at the sole discretion of Cisco, and Cisco will have no liability for delay in the delivery or failure to deliver any of the offerings, products or features set forth in this document.



Matt MacPherson

Chief Technology Officer, Wireless

Engineering - Innovation Labs