GSMA, WBA Push Wi-Fi Roaming Initiative

April 6, 2012
The widespread proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and other devices have created the need for a uniform WiFi connectivity protocol.

With more than 6 billion mobile connections worldwide (a number predicted to more than double within the next decade), smartphone and tablet users certainly aren’t lacking Wi-Fi hotspots with which to connect.

What they do still lack, however, is a streamlined, uniform process for doing so. Because these devices feature different configurations, different uses of access keys, and different mechanisms for acquiring and paying for connectivity, there is currently no consistency in how they attach to Wi-Fi networks.

The solution may lie in Wi-Fi roaming, an initiative that is being jointly advanced by the GSM Association (GSMA) and the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA). As theorized, Wi-Fi roaming will bring together the benefits of mobile technology and Wi-Fi networks. The intent is to allow mobile devices to seamlessly connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot using the subscriber-identity-module (SIM) card for authentication, as well as to give mobile operators the ability to uniquely and securely identify users—whether they are on a mobile or Wi-Fi network.

The GSMA and WBA are currently developing technical and commercial frameworks for Wi-Fi roaming. It will be based on the WBA’s Next Generation Hotspot program, in addition to the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Passpoint certification technology and the GSMA’s roaming principles.

At press time, both parties have identified and agreed to the basis for a common approach to authenticating mobile devices on Wi-Fi hotspots, automatically and securely. It will now work towards aligning guidelines on security, billing, data offload, device implementation, and network selection to create a consistent solution. This work will build on the GSMA’s GPRS Roaming Exchange (GRX) and the WBA’s Wireless Roaming Intermediary Exchange (WRIX) roaming models. If successful, billions of consumers around the world will potentially be able to enjoy straightforward Internet connectivity.