TIP's OpenWiFi: the other hot private wireless initiative — Chua

TIP's OpenWiFi represents a disaggregated approach to enterprise Wi-Fi. (AvidThink)
Roy Chua

Two months ago, the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) launched OpenWiFi Release 1.0 (recording available if you missed the event). OpenWiFi represents a disaggregated approach to enterprise Wi-Fi that provides all the elements of an enterprise-grade solution. The project covers access points (APs), the firmware and network operating system on those APs, a cloud-native Wi-Fi controller (via a software development kit), and a provisioning infrastructure with a public-key infrastructure (PKI) that certifies and identifies APs.

The initiative sits with TIP's Open Converged Wireless (OCW) software project group. It boasts an impressive cast of supporting vendors and service providers, including Boingo, CableLabs, Dell Technologies, Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Liberty Global, MediaTek, MTN, Qualcomm, TP-Link, Vodacom, the Wi-Fi Alliance and the Wireless Broadband Alliance. The OCW has broad support with more than 100 participants to date.

OpenWiFi benefits for service providers

The immediate impact of OpenWiFi appears to be on service providers like Boingo, Deutsche Telekom, MTN and Vodacom who can now tap into a rich ecosystem of hardware and software suppliers building products on top of it.

With the ability to mix and match from a pool of 30 indoor and outdoor AP designs available by the end of 2021, service providers get choice and potential cost reduction for Wi-Fi network rollouts. One of the other elements of OpenWiFi is the validation and certification infrastructure put in place by the participants, bringing together carrier-grade and enterprise-class resources to ensure that the components and APs are robust and can interoperate seamlessly. TIP will validate OpenWiFi compliance with interfaces and APIs, and the presence of the logo on equipment will assure compatibility.

All this, plus support for OpenRoaming (secure access on Wi-Fi by participating organizations without the need to re-enter credentials), makes it a clear value for the service providers. For managed Wi-Fi at enterprise sites, multi-tenant office units servicing property owners and their tenants, or even as a foundation for home (SOHO) offerings, OpenWiFi can provide value over commercial offerings available today.

OpenWiFi’s relevance to the enterprise

Whether and how OpenWiFi will impact the leaders in enterprise Wi-Fi today — Cisco Meraki, HPE Aruba, Ubiquiti, Cambium, Juniper Mist — is less clear. Having APs that are portable between providers, plus available open-source software for a capable, commercial-grade cloud controller could open up the market to other vendors. OpenWiFi is a much different play than just having OpenWRT (open-source firmware for APs). We expect that more service providers in the game, with their white-box solutions, could introduce pricing pressure on the incumbents in the $7+ billion enterprise Wi-Fi market.

The initial offering from OpenWiFi won't have all the bells-and-whistles that enterprise Wi-Fi has today. Enhanced security capabilities, management niceties, and enterprise systems integration took these vendors time to build and form a moat around their market today. However, third-party OTT vendors (security, connectivity) are eyeing the OpenWiFi platform, and at launch, a number pledged support to build a solutions ecosystem. It's safe to say that enterprise Wi-Fi will see increased competition.

Looking beyond OpenWiFi 1.0 to hyperconvergence

For us at AvidThink, the OpenWiFi 1.0 announcement is exciting, but what could be more significant is the Hyperconverged Wireless initiative within the OCW project group. We got a glimpse at the end of the launch of a converged platform for both private mobile enterprise networks and Wi-Fi that the project will be advancing over the next 12-18 months. Demonstrated using a novel RF distribution silicon, the proof-of-concept showed how existing structured in-building cabling could deliver both Wi-Fi and private 4G LTE/5G to a single set of radio heads. The distribution system works for anything sub-7GHz in the RF spectrum (no mmWave support). And the TIP OCW team predicts the possibility of a $0.10 to $0.20/sq ft equipment cost, which is a fraction of what carrier distributed antenna systems (DAS) cost today (typically $1.60 to $1.90/sq ft based on our prior work with carriers).

The affordability of the solution potentially expands the addressable market for private 5G solutions. The initial target market for the Hyperconverged offering is buildings between 20,000 and 200,000 square feet in size with mid-density of devices — enough to warrant private 5G coverage economics but smaller than what carriers might target with DAS offerings. 

TIP chart

In addition, we know that pulling cable for installing in existing buildings or upgrading existing cable plants is a big part of the installation cost. Likewise, trying to decide the mix of private 4G LTE/5G versus Wi-Fi APs and the placement locations can be a headache — especially given the rapid evolution on both sides and Wi-Fi 6E's impending wide availability. The Hyperconverged Wireless initiative provides a greater degree of flexibility and includes optionality for subsequent deployment reconfiguration without re-cabling. It supports the preferred deployment combination of Wi-Fi and private 5G (as opposed to Wi-Fi or private 5G) by enterprise CIOs and will attempt to bring enterprise Wi-Fi simplicity to a converged offering.

In our opinion, the progress of the Hyperconverged Wireless initiative is the one to watch as part of this project — it ties together two hot markets and brings aggressive economics into play. It has the makings of a market changer.

Roy Chua is founder and principal at AvidThink, an independent research and advisory service formed in 2018 out of SDxCentral's research group. Prior to co-founding SDxCentral and running its research and product teams, Chua was a management consultant working with both Fortune 500 and startup technology companies on go-to-market and product consulting. As an early proponent of the software-defined infrastructure movement, Chua is a frequent speaker at technology events in the telco and cloud space and a regular contributor to major leading online publications. A graduate of UC Berkeley's electrical engineering and computer science program and MIT's Sloan School of Business, Chua has 20+ years of experience in telco and enterprise cloud computing, networking and security, including founding several Silicon Valley startups. He can be reached at [email protected]; follow him at @avidthink and @wireroy

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceTelecom staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceTelecom.