Africa: Worldwide Broadband Alliance Wants to Bring Together a Globally Available Wi-Fi Federation With Added Punch From Wi-Fi 6 - What's in It for Africa?

London — Hot-spots are often one of Africa's most convenient ways of connecting, often providing free or low-cost access. But the process of getting access is nearly always a bit clunky and you're not always sure how much you can trust the hot-spots. Russell Southwood talks to Tiago Rodrigues, World Broadband Alliance about creating a globally available Wi-Fi Federation and asks what's in it for Africa.

OpenRoaming was originally launched by Cisco as the basis for a globally available Wi-Fi federation that offers an automatic and secure connections for devices to millions of Wi-Fi networks. Its big selling point is that it removes the need to search for Wi-Fi networks, to repeatedly enter or create login credentials, or to constantly reconnect or re-register to public Wi-Fi.

OpenRoaming users' can experience something seamless:" From enterprises to coffee shops, concert venues to connected cars, WBA OpenRoaming creates a world where Wi-Fi users move from one network to another without needing to constantly re-register or sign-in". It compares this seamlessness to the mobile experience, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your experience and prejudices.

The World Broadband Alliance wants to bring together two ecosystems to make things easier for operators and users: the public Wi-Fi hot-spot providers and the community of identity providers which includes Facebook, Google and banks:"We want to join these two ecosystems together."

Wi-Fi 6 which promises significantly faster speeds is likely to take off first in the USA where end-user device replacement cycles are faster:"By October, you may see Cisco and Samsung devices that are Wi-Fi 6 compatible. All new access points will be Wi-Fi 6 compatible but it may be months before Wi-Fi 5 begins to decline. Globally it depends on how fast Governments allocate 6GHz (as the FCC has) for use. Brazil is close and South Korea is working on it."

"As always, there will be a price premium on Wi-Fi 6 access point equipment to start with but as volume grows, prices will go down, which might take 6 months to a years". As it effectively doubles capacity, there will undoubtedly be new applications and as an ecosystem - both for OPEX and CAPEX - it will almost certainly be cheaper than LTE at the local level.

My first experience of international hot-spot roaming was downloading Boingo software to access a hotspot at Heathrow Airport. Thereafter it would pop up and take control of my hotspot choices until I got rid of it. Rodrigues assures me that the choices will remain with the user:"It's open to roam with everyone or you can say I want to choose my roaming partners. But roaming with everybody is everybody who signs up to the scheme. We're also working with Eduroam, which is the university equivalent of OpenRoaming."

For example, if I get a Samsung phone, it will give me certified Wi-Fi credentials (which are stored on its servers) which I can use with any hot-spot. The coffee shop needs something that is plug-and-play and we want to make it easy for telcos to join.

Anything that makes connecting to the internet easier has to be a good thing but most people in Sub-Saharan Africa's first question is:"Where's the free Wi-Fi?"

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