Most of the focus of Wi-Fi roaming is from hotspot to hotspot run by different providers. But a new organization is planning to bring that same kind of roaming to students and faculty traveling from college to college (and even K-12 schools) for sports or cultural events, research, or just to visit friends.
This interconnection between school campuses is called the Education First Network (EFN). It’s run by the Broadband Alliance (BBA) in partnership with Airpath. It’s through a version of Airpath’s InterRoam clearinghouse for setting up roaming relationships that EFN is established, allowing any school in the country to become part of the network.
Airpath’s director Of marketing Olivia Hecht says, “Numbers of universities have different kinds of relationships. If you want a peer relationship with a school outside, with different research facilities, and partnerships [with different wireless ISPs], the IT staff has to manage that. If they plug into InterRoam, they can have full access to different facilities.”
Currently, there are fewer than five schools signed up for what EFN director Kelley Witmer calls the pre-release mode of the network, most within the state of Minnesota (home of the BBA).
She expects that, over time, most U.S. universities would want to join the program, and that sponsor companies would step up to contribute dollars to cover each school’s network enrollment fees. (For example, she estimates that a school with around 6,000 students would face an enrollment fee of $10,000.) This will certainly help with the K-12 schools, which are also invited to join. EFN says that the program for younger students also helps meet the No Child Left Behind Act.
“Schools have been doing this on their own,” says Witmer, “but didn’t take it to the next step.”
Schools would have to support some form of RADIUS authentication for users, something that could be linked into the WiBOSS system run by Airpath, which powers many hotspots across the globe. The same RADIUS username and password a student uses at their home campus would then be used to log into the networks at other EFN member campuses. The more schools that join, the more options students and faculty will have for simple access when visiting other campuses.
Wi-Fi gateway vendor (and long time Airpath partner) Bluesocket is also joining the EFN as a technology partner, hoping to make access to InterRoam easy for campuses.
Schools that join EFN will also possibly make some money, with roaming revenue coming from commercial carriers that use InterRoam to set up roaming partnerships. Any money that comes in that way would be dispersed to schools through the BBA and the National Joint Powers Alliance, the group that will handle all of the EFN’s “fiscal responsibilities.” The BBA will focus on promoting and managing EFN.