TIP is setting out to disaggregate Wi-Fi

via Flickr © Wesley Fryer (CC BY-SA 2.0)

via Flickr © Wesley Fryer (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • This week the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) has announced TIP OpenWiFi
  • It’s a cloud-first open source effort that TIP claims will open up Wi-Fi to other partners and users
  • And it says it’s already got broad buy-in

If disaggregation is good for the RAN then it should be equally good for Wi-Fi. So the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) has announced TIP OpenWiFi, an initiative designed to assemble a “fully disaggregated WiFi system that includes Access Point hardware, an open-source access point network operating system, and a software development kit (SDK) to build Cloud native Wi-Fi Controller software for Service Providers and Enterprises." 

The project is very much envisaged as a cloud-first open source effort, aiming to lower the entry barrier for organisations looking to build out their data networks by using Wi-Fi and for telcos looking to add a wide area network services for enterprises. 

According to Wi-Fi Now CEO, Claus Hetting, the goal is to seed the ground for more ubiquitous Wi-Fi at lower cost and to spur on service innovation. 

At this stage it appears to have heavy backing from the likes of Deutsche Telekom, Liberty Global, Vodacom and MTN, along with Qualcomm (a long-time Wi-Fi supporter), US Wi-Fi service provider Boingo and, of course, Facebook. 

As a community-developed open source effort, the disaggregated system will be offered as free open source software, thus lowering costs and creating “favourable economics” for service providers and enterprises, according to Co-Chair of the TIP Open Converged Wireless group, Chris Busch.  

TIP also claims agility for the project due to its open collaboration model, which it says enables rapid development and release of customer defined features “with no need to wait months or years for new releases from traditional vendors.”  

Chris says the initiative represents an unlocking moment for Wi-Fi.

“An open disaggregated tech stack hasn’t been tackled before and it’s surprisingly challenging because WiFi has had a 20 year journey, so there are a number of things that we must lean back and support,” he says. “People won’t just throw out a device that they like and is still working well. So even 10 year old Wi-Fi has to be supported. 

So how fully and quickly will OpenWi-Fi actually be supported by service providers?

“We believe open roaming will probably become front-of-mind and the business will drive this market as telcos demand the standard is supported in the infrastructure,” Chris claims. “We truly believe that the future of infrastructure rests in open source.”

OpenWi-Fi Features include:

A fully Disaggregated Open Tech Stack, with advanced features including including open, standardized APIs and data models (AP & Controller); scalable mobility & Wi-Fi meshing; extensible Radio Resource Management (RRM); Passpoint (802.11u) and OpenRoaming; configuration, telemetry & analytics.

Commercial-grade automated testing, where TIP claims it’s applied the best practices of web-scale software development and the Wi-Fi OEM industry to deliver commercial-grade quality, with CI/CD software builds for all hardware platforms; DevOps managed release engineering; and community-developed automated testing.

The community will oversee and ensure OpenWiFi based products are compliant with the software tech stack. Compliance testing will involve ensuring that each access point passes software capability testing; cloud solutions can interwork with any OpenWiFi compliant access point; that software properly implements the OpenWiFi cloud controller SDK northbound API; and that multi-vendor OpenWiFi networks interoperate as expected.

Globally secure zero touch provisioning is a must, based on Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) over the public internet, a key requirement for deploying disaggregated network systems in a secure way.

Progress already

TIP claims that an ecosystem of 100+ service providers, software OEMs and hardware ODMs has already formed, with more than 10 Service Providers trialing OpenWiFi for critical use cases including: Business Wi-Fi, Venue HotSpots, Roaming/Offload.

It claims several ODMs have shipped OpenWiFi-compatible Whitebox Access Points for indoor and outdoor uses cases; while 8 or more Wi-Fi OEMs are using the OpenWiFi stack to build commercial solutions for WLANaaS, machine learning driven automation, advanced analytics and device security. 

“The cloud has a prominent role in all of this,” says Chris. “One of the key factors in the OpenWi-Fi stack has been understanding  that historically there’s been a lot of lock-in with premium managed Wi-Fi services. Offerings have in the past come with vendor A’s controller and only work with vendor A’s device. Open WiFi will open this right up,” he says.

“What we’ve enabled through our stack is the opportunity to have this white box ecosystem of platforms. So hardware diversity for the end customer as well as choice and flexibility in the cloud.”

As an enterprise you could invest in hundreds of access points and then point them at another provider when needed, he says. In addition the open converged wireless team (in TIP) is bringing forward a common platform that combines both Wi-Fi and 5G services from the same radio head. “That’s a game changer.”  

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