Cisco pushes OpenRoaming initiative amid new Wi-Fi 6 products

Cisco said Mobile World Congress attendees in Barcelona were some of the first people to try out seamless OpenRoaming wireless connectivity. (Fierce Wireless)

Cisco announced new Wi-Fi 6 access points across its Catalyst and Meraki portfolios, as well as the Catalyst 9600 core switch family, but its work with the OpenRoaming initiative may be the most compelling.

The OpenRoaming initiative was showcased at Cisco’s booth at Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona, but few people knew it was even going on. The initiative is another attempt to make Wi-Fi as easy and secure to use as cellular, something the Wi-Fi community has been attempting for years. 

With Open Roaming, which involves an entire ecosystem of companies led by Cisco, end users will be able to connect to Wi-Fi seamlessly and securely when they walk into a participating location. The service will be free to users—and Cisco promises that it will be fast.

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OpenRoaming consists of two technologies: HotSpot 2.0 and an identity federation.

The way Cisco explains it, if a consumer is in an airport trying to connect to Wi-Fi, he or she may have to look for the Wi-Fi network name (the SSID), wait for a pop-up on the device, and then accept terms and conditions—and this might happen multiple times while in the airport. With OpenRoaming, that hassle is eliminated; it creates a link between identity providers, service providers and enterprises to share credentials and access networks.

Prior to the launch of its Wi-Fi 6 access points, Cisco completed interoperability testing with Broadcom, Intel and Samsung. The company also said that Samsung, Boingo, GlobalReach Technology, Presidio and others are expected to join the Cisco OpenRoaming project.

RELATED: Boingo, others provide Passpoint Wi-Fi at Fira, other venues during MWC19

Cisco has been emphasizing the importance of both Wi-Fi 6 and 5G working together in the 5G era. VP of Wireless Product Management Greg Dorai told FierceWirelessTech that the hand-off between cellular and Wi-Fi is critical, and it becomes even more so with 5G, where the connection outside these days is 5G and the connectivity indoors is provided through Wi-Fi.

Cisco notes that Wi-Fi 6 delivers up to 400 percent greater capacity and is more effective in high-density settings like large lecture halls, stadiums and conference rooms. Latency is vastly improved, allowing for near real-time use cases, and Wi-Fi 6 is easier on connected devices’ batteries.

Cisco’s Meraki and Catalyst Access Points and Catalyst 9600 are available to order as of today. As for OpenRoaming, pilot trials are now underway at events like Mobile World Congress and at the Cisco Live in San Diego in June.

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