Pop quiz: Imagine you’re at San Francisco airport and you want to get on Wi-Fi to download a movie before your flight. You have the following choices:

A) Free Airport Wi-Fi

B) Airport Wi-Fi SFO

C) AirNet SFO

D) You can’t fool me, I’ll just stay on cellular and pay for the convenience

If you chose D, you’re not alone. Getting on Wi-Fi in public environments is often not worth the hassle of providing personal information or using an insecure username and password, even considering the alternative paying for data through your cellular company. But what if getting on Wi-Fi was as easy and secure as getting on cellular?

It is possible, and we’re going to make it happen.

With OpenRoaming, an initiative being led by Cisco, you’ll be able to get onto Wi-Fi seamlessly and securely the second you walk into a participating location. Device users can employ one of their existing identities like their Samsung ID, their mobile SIM card, or a cloud provider to sign into OpenRoaming once, granting them seamless access to participating wireless networks around the world. The service will be free to users, secure, and fast. With OpenRoaming, you’ll never have to guess which Wi-Fi network to use, suffer through a pop-up captive portal, or use an insecure username and password again. You will be connected wherever you go so you can download, stream, video chat, and game to your heart’s desire.

What is OpenRoaming?

Using the underlying technology behind HotSpot 2.0, an established industry standard, Cisco expects to lead a broad federation of identity providers and wireless access networks that will enable seamless and secure wireless access for all users. All Wi-Fi connections will be secured over the air with industry-standard, enterprise grade security protocols. This focus on security specifically addresses man-in-the-middle attacks or over the air sniffing. Additionally, OpenRoaming will not share any personal identifiable information with the owner of the Wi-Fi network unless you explicitly allow it.

To help ensure a high quality of service, networks supporting OpenRoaming will be asked to meet certain standards, helping to ensure a faster and safer connection. Wi-Fi networks and identity providers can apply policies to ensure that you connect only when a certain performance threshold is met.

OpenRoaming will also help accelerate the adoption of other emerging wireless access technologies that will help 5G and Wi-Fi 6 networks work better together. With the ability to access more applications through more bandwidth and reliability, users will gain an enhanced wireless experience as they move between 5G and Wi-Fi 6 networks.

For the good of all

OpenRoaming is clearly good for users, but it’s also great for business that operate guest Wi-Fi networks. If you run a retail or other public-access location, imagine being able to significantly accelerate your guest Wi-Fi attach rate at the click of a button. The amount of data you can gather about how people use your physical space can be leveraged to better understand your consumers’ patterns and create an improved user experience. Using Cisco DNA Spaces, you will be able to understand how users are walking through your property, where they spend the most time, how long they are connected, and other powerful location-based metrics. None of this data reveals the private communications or transactions people are using their phones for.

Customers, knowing they can rely on good data coverage in your store (something not guaranteed with cellular), are more likely to use your apps that are designed to increase their engagement with your products. Connected customers are happy customers.

Identity providers – like mobile carriers or cloud providers — can extend their networks, increase stickiness on their platform, and provide a value-added, location-specific services to their customers.

Who’s on board?

This is an exciting time for Wi-Fi. The new standard, Wi-Fi 6, will bring higher data rates, lower latency, increased capacity, and better overall performance to wireless. Connecting users seamlessly will be more important than ever. We believe OpenRoaming will change the way users access networks and move the industry forward towards more ubiquitous connectivity.

But Cisco can’t do it all alone. That’s why we are leading this initiative with an OpenRoaming association of identity and access providers. Samsung demonstrated the incredible value of OpenRoaming by showing its impact at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona 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%! We are also collaborating with Canary Wharf, Clair Global, Presidio, Boingo, GlobalReach, and other access providers to start testing OpenRoaming in live networks around the world.

There are many other partners we expect to help us make OpenRoaming available worldwide at millions of access points – at all your favorite shops, stadiums, public venues, and airports. Right now, we are aggressively signing up live beta access and identity providers. If you want to be part of the revolution around seamless access and want to join OpenRoaming, or even if you are interested in signing up as an end user, please go to www.cisco.com/go/openroaming to learn more.

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