TIP OpenWiFi:  Will Open Source Wi-Fi Upset the Enterprise Wi-Fi industry?

The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) announced the launch of OpenWiFi Release 1.0, which is a community-developed project that encompasses Access Point hardware, an open-source AP operating system, and an SDK to build cloud-native Wi-Fi Controller software for Service Providers (SPs) and Enterprises.  TIP is also starting lab and field trials.  At the end of this post, we’ll address the question of “will open-source Wi-Fi upset the enterprise Wi-Fi industry?” 

Here are some of the points made by presenters at the OpenWiFi launch:

OpenWiFi is compatible across multiple markets like enterprise, SP and consumer.  Boingo’s Derek Peterson said a significant benefit of OpenWiFi is that this system can be applied to various Wi-Fi markets, like consumer/home, enterprise, large venue, multi-tenant venues and SP networks.  He shared that no single commercial system spans across the various consumer, SP and enterprise markets.  Boingo is actively testing OpenWiFi, and he looks forward to deploying it; Boingo has a goal to “get to 100,000’s,” which we assume means users.

OpenWiFi can be used with others’ components, including Access Points and operating systems.  Dan Rabinovitsj, who leads Facebook Connectivity said that OpenWiFi is an open system.  Even though OpenWiFi offers its own operating system, it is easy to use OpenWiFi with OpenWRT, a operating system for consumer-focused Wi-Fi routers.  Additionally, OpenWiFi can be used with various different hardware such as those from Edgecore and TP-Link.  Below is a representative list of participants in the webinar and sponsors of the event.

Initial support for OpenWiFi is meaningful.  The OpenWiFi community includes over 100 participants.  SPs, hardware companies, standards bodies, and software companies.

  • SPs:  Boingo, American Broadband, Deutsche Telekom, Vodacom (South Africa), MTN Group, Liberty Global. 
  • Hardware companies: Edgecore, TP-Link, Cambridge Industries USA, Inc. (CIG).  There are 14 AP designs today, and a total of 30 planned from additional ODMs (HFCL, Indio Networks and others) by the end of 2021.
  • Testing companies: Candela Tech and Perfecto
  • Industry organizations: WBA, Wi-Fi Alliance, CableLabs, ITRI (Taiwan), CPQD (Brazil), C-DOT (India)
  • Software/Services:  Adtran, Benu Networks, Indio Networks, Kloudspot, NetExperience, Plume, Plumeria Networks, VVDN Technologies. 
  • Over-the-top applications: Kloudspot, Ananda, Secure SAM – analytics, SASE, and security applications respectively that can work across any TIP company controller vendor
  • Chip companies: Qualcomm, MediaTek

Roaming capabilities are inherent in OpenWiFi.  OpenRoaming, Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) Passpoint 2.0, and Google’s Orion OpenRoaming service are all supported in OpenWiFi.  Some Wi-Fi OEMs have been promoting proprietary roaming capabilities.  By offering compatibility with these open roaming systems, more Wi-Fi users will be able to bounce between various networks in the future.

Disruption of existing Wi-Fi industry, according to presenters at the event.  FB Connectivity’s Dan Rabinovitsj thinks that existing OEMs will see OpenWiFi as threatening.  On the other hand, Rabinovitsj does not expect existing enterprises to adopt OpenWiFi based systems; but for SPs, he expects them to adopt OpenWiFi.  Boingo’s Peterson said the industry must change because SPs are not just building networks; they are building experiences and systems focused on various use-cases.  Deutsche Telekom’s Daniel Brower commented that by using OpenWiFi, this can reduce the likelihood that it will be subject to vendor lock-in.

Participating hardware players comments were interesting.  Edgecore/Accton’s Edgar Masri says his company is buying more inventory than normal because lead times are longer than usual; Edgecore expects the supply chain issues will persists for about two years.  CIG says WiFi chipset lead times are around 52 weeks; CIG plans to ship its Wi-Fi 6E based Access Points by the end of 2021.  Qualcomm’s Nick Kucharewski promoted Wi-Fi 7 at the event; and Kucharewski also said that product shortages may be partially addressed by adopting OpenWiFi because those who use it can buy hardware from various OEMs and ODMs instead of being locked into one. 

TIP plans to incorporate cellular capabilities in the future.  Doron Givoni, Solution Architect at Facebook, described TIP’s plan to incorporate cellular capabilities alongside with OpenWiFi.  According to our research, the private cellular market is in its infancy and we see it as generally complementary to Wi-Fi.  Many enterprise focused Wi-Fi vendors have not launched their own cellular capabilities, and we see that it is possible that some could adopt the cellular capabilities from TIP.

As for the question of “Will open-source Wi-Fi upset the enterprise Wi-Fi industry?”  What we learned at the TIP OpenWiFi launch today, it appears there is significant support for the project by Service Providers and very limited support by the enterprise-focused WiFi vendors.  We expect that SPs and MSPs initially will be the primary addressable market for the OpenWiFi community; over time, though, as TIP incorporates cellular capabilities to OpenWiFi, this could open up the market for more enterprise-focused opportunities.  To elaborate, initially, OpenWiFi will appeal to users/operators with a relatively high degree of in-house capabilities like Service Providers.  We’ve seen that many medium-sized and large-sized enterprises rely on their vendors to provide a significant amount of support to simplify operations.  In addition to traditional service providers who will leverage OpenWiFi, we see initial support from Managed Service Providers (MSPs). Examples of MSPs include OpenWiFi supporter, Indio Networks (India), Boingo (USA), iBrowse (Europe); MSPs generally have teams capable of integrating various hardware and software systems that are then used to deliver a service to customers such as Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs).  Interestingly, TIP mentioned that in future releases, it would support cellular technology.  Few enterprise Wi-Fi vendors have brought cellular capabilities to the market.  It is possible that when TIP delivers cellular support, that enterprise OEMs may participate in the TIP/OpenWiFi community.