Google's new Wi-Fi platform means you'll never lose connection when out and about

(Image credit: Chris Oakley / Flickr)

Google says its new Wi-Fi platform will make it easier for mobile operators to seamlessly offload traffic onto public wireless networks and enhance indoor coverage.

Venues such as shopping centres and train stations have long recognised the importance of providing visitors with connectivity. An inability to access mobile data services can cause frustration and discourage repeat visits.

However indoor coverage can be a challenge for some mobile operators without the use of low level spectrum that can penetrate walls more effectively or without the use of small cells that provide high capacity bandwidth over a limited area.

Orion public Wi-Fi

Many major venues have therefore taken issues into their own hands and built commercial-grade public Wi-Fi networks that offer a connection and have the added benefit of collecting certain types of data that can be used to improve the business.

The issue is that users themselves have to take action and fragmented registration processes make the experience less than seamless.

‘Orion Wifi’, a graduate from Google’s in-house ‘Area 120’ incubator, allows venues such as shopping centres and train stations to sell excess Wi-Fi capacity to operators, with the authentication and onloading process done in the background.

“With Orion Wifi … your carrier can automatically and securely connect you to the Wi-Fi,” said Raj Gajwani, Director, Area 120. “Although you don’t lift a finger, there’s a lot happening in the background. . If the carrier decides the connection is good enough, we’ll auto-connect you. If the quality is too low, we won’t. When you are connected, Internet traffic flows over the Wi-Fi network just as if you had connected directly to the Wi-Fi; Orion cannot access users’ Internet traffic.”

Orion is now available to US public venues and Google is working with major equipment vendors to ensure compatibility. It is also seeking compatibility with the ‘OpenRoaming’ standard pioneered by Cisco and adopted by the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA).

“Orion Wifi works with most commercial and enterprise Wi-Fi systems, usually with no new hardware or software. Orion Wifi helps improve connectivity even for venues that have already deployed Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) or Small Cells to improve coverage,” added Gajwani.

It is hoped that 5G will remedy many of the shortcomings of existing cellular networks. Operators plan to use low-level spectrum that has longer range and better propagation characteristics, while network densification programmes will see small cells become mainstream. Meanwhile, 5G could offer superior speeds to wireless and could eventually erode its current advantage in battery consumption.


Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.