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Public internet access via private wireless hotspots

Broadband access is increasingly necessary to get the best out of your communications. But what about when you are away from the home or office? The team in the IST project OBAN suggest using the spare capacity in residential wireless hotspots.

While the broadband revolution might be in full swing, the long-promised era of fast and seamless internet connectivity ‘anytime anywhere’ remains tantalisingly out of reach for many European citizens. One approach to this problem is to exploit the growing number of residential wireless hotspots to develop an innovative high-speed open network for broadband communication.

Starting in January 2004, the IST-funded OBAN (Open Broadband Access Network) research team has taken major strides towards building a public broadband mobile network based on residential wireless local area networks (WLANs).

The basic idea is to use the wireless LANs of existing broadband subscribers – who typically use only a small fraction of the line’s capacity – and make them available for passing or visiting users in urban and suburban areas.

In this scenario, the stationary users or hosts continue to use their wireless LAN as before, and passing users can access and maintain communication via these internet access points. Both visitors and hosts share the capacity of such wireless LANs, and access lines according to a general service agreement between all users and the network operator.

To encourage uptake among broadband subscribers, it is envisaged that they will receive some form of compensation or incentive for providing access to casual users of their unused WLAN capacity. In this way, it will be possible to offer new and better services to mobile users without having to build a new and costly wireless infrastructure.

While the idea of open broadband networks is not new, OBAN’s approach is genuinely different to what has been tried before, according to project coordinator Einar Edvardsen of Telenor in Norway.

OBAN will be the first to integrate wireless LAN with fixed networks in a legal, regulatory and commercially correct way.

Another breakthrough by OBAN will be to deliver faster handover in areas where multiple internet service providers (ISPs) are operating. Here, the broadband access may be via ADSL connections with an average delay of 10-40 milliseconds, whereas OBAN allows the user to move from one WLAN operated network to another with a maximum disruption of no more than 120 milliseconds.

In order to achieve such fast handover, OBAN has developed a unique security solution using a combined SIM and Kerberos authentication method.

Another innovative feature of the OBAN approach is its unique quality-of-service (QoS) mechanism, which guarantees that quality requirements for all users in the network are met.

The viability of the OBAN project rests on the assumption that within a few years, the majority of users will have access to a broadband network at some point. A second assumption is that wireless technology will be the predominant form of technology for in-house communication, both for residential and business users.

Jernett Karensen | alfa
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