WiFi roaming gathers pace in US and beyond

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WiFi roaming on a grand scale is the order of the day as a rising percentage of wireless data travels over the unlicensed-band technology, and as a wide range of service provid-ers put WiFi at the heart of their networks.

Just weeks after the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) – the grandfather of WiFi roam-ing – announced agreements to allow movement between 23 operators of city networks, CableLabs, the cable industry R&D organization, pledged to launch a roaming hub for as many as nine US cable operators, by early 2017. That could further accelerate the creation of a nationwide network of cableco-deployed hotspots to supplement the CableWiFi Alli-ance’s huge roll-out.

A nationwide roaming agreement of that kind, which could provide seamless access to many hundreds of thousands of hotspots and homespots, would be a threatening thing for mobile operators, despite their potential use of the network for offload. But it would mini-mize the need for WiFi-first operators – expected to include the largest cableco, Comcast, soon – to rely on cellular MVNO partnerships. That, in turn, would tip the balance of pow-er against the MNOs, in terms of the ability to keep mobile users on their networks to monetize them; and in discussions with cablecos about fees for WiFi offload versus MVNO access.

Mitch Ashley, president of CableLabs’ Kyrio for-profit subsidiary (formerly NetworkFX), said in an interview with FierceCable that his unit expects to launch WiFi roaming ser-vices for up to nine US cablecos in the next three quarters; and that it aimed to sign roam-ing deals between this collective of smaller operators, and the major players, most of which are also members of the CableWiFi Alliance. That Alliance was formed in 2012 by

Comcast, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Cox Communica-tions and now has about 500,000 locations. Non-member Charter recently acquired TWC and BrightHouse while Altice of France acquired Cablevision but, so far at least, the roam-ing arrangement remain the same.

Ashley said in the interview: “We will connect into members of the Cable WiFi Alliance. We are a complement to it. I don’t see us joining the Cable WiFi Alliance. But we will inter-connect with their members.”

He added: “The WiFi roaming hub is a service that we put together targeted primarily at the mid-tier operators to provide them roaming capabilities across their footprint as well as to larger cable providers. It drastically increases the footprint of a mid-tier operator such as Midco.” Midco is upgrading its public WiFi network in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to support the hub. Kyrio recently completed technical and field trials of its hub with two other unnamed mid-tier cablecos.

The organization is also in talks with non-cable WiFi operators and Kyrio says it is open to aggregators like Boingo or telcos like AT&T, though it has not signed deals with these companies.

Kyrio will move from its current AAA authentication method to the WiFi Alliance’s Passpoint technology at some point in the future, adding seamless access for SIM-enabled devices and improved security.

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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.

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