It was in 2002 that Klaas Wierenga had the idea that would result in the creation of eduroam and mark the future of European connectivity. In an interview with Unidade FCCN, the Dutchman highlights the added value of this project, underlining the way in which it stems from the "genes" of the community of national education and research networks - "collaboration and mutual trust will continue to lead our way into the future."
eduroam, about 10 years later
Can you describe for us the context that led to the creation of eduroam? What was its founding objective?
It all started when, at SURFnet [Dutch NREN], we were running a project called GigaPort. Part of that project was to install so-called "access pilots" in student residences.
Our team was experimenting with connecting student residences with fibre, ADSL and WiFi. At the time, regarding fibre, we were using the 802.1X standard for network access control and were already using RADIUS(Remote Authentication Dial In User Service) technology for our dial-up service. My idea was to combine these two technologies to make authentication at the university possible with my SURFnet account. The University of Twente participated in a technical trial and decided to incorporate this feature in the construction of their new wireless campus. The institution that is now the University of Amsterdam followed suit. And the rest is history.
Soon after, Portugal would be one of the first six countries involved in the project. How important was this first step?
It was very important! At the time, we were essentially a bunch of geeks playing with technology. During the Portuguese presidency of the European Union [in 2007], FCCN and the University of Porto defended the e-U initiative, which was the first result of the eduroam production service with a national dimension. This ultimately showed that eduroam was viable on a "serious" scale.
Today, eduroam is a global brand, being available in over 100 countries worldwide. Was this something you imagined possible from the start? What have been some of the most important milestones in this evolution?
I don't think anyone anticipated a success like this! I was happy when one university joined eduroam, then a second, until the University of Southampton joined the project and suddenly we were going international.
Our presentation, in collaboration with CARNet, during the TNC was an important milestone. On the other hand, as I mentioned, the e-U project was important. And, of course, the transformation of eduroam into a real service about 10 years ago marked the maturity of the project.
I can still remember many other milestones, such as eduroam being made available in airports, trains or buses, in the Smithsonian Museum, etc. The fact that eduroam is now present on every continent in the world except Antarctica is also a wonderful thing.
eduroam remains an illustrative example of collaboration between national research and education networks (NRENs). How do you think this international cooperation between NRENs has evolved over the years?
I don't think that collaboration has changed much over the years. When I came back to the education and research community after nine years at CISCO, I immediately felt that I had stepped into a warm bath. We had - and still have - a fantastic collaborative environment that allows us to, as they say in the United States, punch above our weight . Together, we are much more than apart.
As you mentioned, over the last few years, we have seen an expansion of eduroam to other "markets" or locations such as airports, train stations or libraries. Do you feel that this is an important path regarding the future of the service? How do you envision eduroam in 20 years time?
I think that is a very important issue. The bigger the eduroam footprint, the more useful the service will be for everyone. With 4G and 5G technologies available for all, as well as free roaming within the EU-Europe area (something I think is great, by the way!), the issue is no longer about internet access per se. Rather, it becomes linked to the high quality of the connection to our networks, with secure access. In 20 years' time, I believe there will still be a place for the capital of trust that marks the teaching and research community.
It may well be that protocols and technologies will change a lot by then. Technologies like Openroaming, for example, will allow the rest of the world to benefit from a service like eduroam and we will have to come to terms with that. But I believe we will continue to build services that are rooted in collaboration and mutual trust - those that are the genes of the national education and research networking community and will continue to lead our way into the future.
Visit the eduroam service page on our website for more information.