This story is from the category Services and the dossier International cooperationsNetworking

Worldwide Wi-Fi

The academic roaming network eduroam is a shining example of successful international cooperation.

Text: Fabian Mauchle, published on 03.10.2016

A visiting professor turns on his iPad and is automatically connected via Wi-Fi, regardless of whether he is at the Institute of Technology in Jodhpur, India, the Technical University of Mombasa in Kenya, the Université de Québec à Chicoutimi in Canada, Duisburg-Essen University in Germany or ETH Zurich. This hassle-free Internet access is provided in response to the trend towards researchers, students and teaching staff spending more and more time at partner institutions both in their home country and abroad.

It is made possible by eduroam, the international academic roaming service that began as a joint venture between a handful of European universities. With its popularity growing steadily, eduroam is a shining example of successful international cooperation.

Impressive growth

SWITCH was actively involved in the development of eduroam and now acts as an enabler and coordinator. Back when the eduroam project began within TERENA (now GÉANT), a roaming solution already existed in Switzerland. It was called SWITCHmobile (now SWITCHconnect Classic). Some of the major universities nevertheless said that they were prepared to take part in a test phase. The test environment worked perfectly, but eduroam initially met with a lukewarm reception in Switzerland because the existing solution worked, and demand for international roaming was not strong at the time. As a result, eduroam lay dormant in Switzerland for a while.

This was not the case in the rest of Europe, where most countries had no roaming solution of their own. Proving to be the ideal solution, eduroam established itself very quickly. This huge success in Europe soon attracted interest from other academic network associations. Over the years, countries in the Asia-Pacific region joined up, including Australia, China and Japan. Canada and the US followed later on. Now eduroam can be found in South America and parts of Africa as well. Over 4,000 academic institutions in more than 70 countries spread across all the world’s continents participate in eduroam.

International cooperation has become more important for Switzerland too, leading to increased interest in global roaming. More than 88% of the universities accredited by swissuniversities now offer it, and some 97% of students have access to it. These are joined by several national and international research institutions, including the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), with new members signing up all the time.

Measurable success

The success and popularity of eduroam can easily be quantified. From the start of systematic login recording in 2008 to 17 May 2016, a billion international authentications were recorded.

The Swiss figures are also impressive: the total number of successful eduroam logins in Switzerland was 2.7 million in 2011, but it is expected to be as high as 80 million this year. Swiss users logged in from other countries around 8.7 million times in the first half of 2016. Roughly half of the 270,000 users registered throughout the country over the six-month period were from abroad. This means that about 50% of Swiss students have used eduroam away from their home university.

Outside the university

Quasi-academic institutions are also starting to wake up to the benefits of eduroam. Some libraries and university hospitals, for instance, are offering the service. However, eduroam is not restricted to places where large numbers of students and researchers gather. Even airports – Geneva being one example – have opted to sign up.

About the author
Fabian   Mauchle

Fabian Mauchle

After gaining a degree in IT (MSc FHO) from the University of Applied Sciences Rapperswil, Fabian Mauchle joined SWITCH in 2010. He works as a Network Engineer on the Global LAN team, where one of his responsibilities is eduroam.

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What is eduroam?

Short for education roaming, eduroam is a global service for secure authentication on wireless networks developed for the academic community. It allows researchers, students and university staff to connect to the Internet securely and free of charge via any eduroam-enabled Wi-Fi network. This promotes mobile access to knowledge worldwide while also removing the need for institutions to set up guest logins and assign passwords.

The eduroam project was conceived in 2003 by the TERENA Task Force Mobility (now GÉANT TF-MNM), of which SWITCH is a member. The productive service bearing the name eduroam was launched roughly a year later. GÉANT organises and coordinates the Global eduroam Governance Committee (GeGC), which sets technical and organisational standards and oversees the admission of new roaming organisations.

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