1/2011

Roaming made easy

Quick and easy roaming has become routine in numerous universities worldwide. This is made possible by eduroam (education roaming), whose origins can be partly traced back to Finland and the Department of Communications Engineering at TUT.

Eduroam allows researchers, teachers and students from eduroam-enabled institutions to obtain Internet connectivity while visiting other participating institutions and research centres. When they attempt to log on to eduroam, the authentication request is sent to the home institution that verifies the user's credentials. If the home institution accepts the login, the user is allowed on to the host institution's network. Eduroam is currently available in almost all European countries as well as Australia, China, Japan, Canada and the USA. Several American and Canadian institutions have joined eduroam over the past few years.

Almost all the universities in Finland and a number of universities of applied sciences use either eduroam or Funet WLAN roaming.

Eduroam's reach can be easily extended beyond the campus.

"Joining eduroam is quick and easy. When the international digital media and business conference MindTrek 2010 was arranged in Tampere, we were able to connect to eduroam though the WLAN network in no time. It was more secure than an unencrypted network and faster than a mobile network," says Researcher Karri Huhtanen from the Department of Communications Engineering at TUT.

Eduroam in short

  • Eduroam offers users a safe and easy access to the Internet while visiting higher education institutions connected to eduroam.
  • Users log on to the host institution's wireless network with the home institution's username and password.
  • The encrypted username and password are sent to the home institution that compares them to the ones saved into the institution's database. After the authentication has been successfully completed, the visitor can access the network.

Flexible and cost-effective system

The open interfaces of eduroam bring added flexibility to the system. The components of any manufacturer can be used in the system, as long as they can communicate with the RADIUS authentication protocol.

"What makes eduroam so great is that no one has to build and maintain an expensive, overlapping network infrastructure," specifies Huhtanen.

"Each participating educational or research institution maintains its own WLAN network and authentication server that are connected by the root server."

In the early days, the root server was a small Linux computer, humming quietly underneath the desk of Researcher Sami Keski-Kasari at the Department of Communications Engineering of TUT. The current root server is located at the server room of the University's Information Management unit. The back-up server is at the facilities of the IT Center for Science Ltd, or CSC for short, in Espoo. National root servers are connected to European root servers in the Netherlands and Denmark.

Roaming inspired researchers

The history of eduroam in Finland dates back to 2002, when researchers from TUT were exploring the future of the Internet within the ICEFIN project.

"Sami Keski-Kasari and I visited the Wirlab Network Research Center in Seinäjoki to see a presentation on WLAN roaming in operator networks. It was given by Juha Heinänen, who's been dubbed ‘the father of the Internet in Finland', and WIRLAB researcher Mika Mustikkamäki," remembers Huhtanen.

Although operators didn't warm up to the idea, the researchers could instantly see that it had definite potential.

"We thought it would be great, if roaming could be implemented so that researchers, students and staff from both Tampere University of Technology and the University of Tampere could log on to the other university's network," says Karri Huhtanen.

CSC that maintains the Finnish research and education network Funet knew that TERENA, the Trans-European Research and Education Networking Association, was also curious to explore the opportunities of roaming.

The idea took flight in Finland and the developers got involved in developing the system further within the TERENA task force on mobility. Finland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Croatia and the UK were the first countries that joined eduroam. 

The test service developed by TUT and CSC was taken into production use in Finland in 2004.

 

Text: Martti Tammisto
Video: CSC

 

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