In a nutshell, this is a reciprocal free wifi arrangement between academic institutions, in the UK (JANET) and beyond (eduroam) – parts of Europe and Australia for now, but under development in the US and Japan. If you’re an academic, with a bit of luck that’ll be a large proportion of the places you go anyway.
I think it’ll work really easily as a user. There’s some fiendishly clever stuff in the background, and the official JANET docs make it seem dreadfully complex to use. But if I’ve understood right, and if/when it’s all working, you simply use the same username/password combo to access wifi at your home institution at any other participating institution.
To set it up you just select the right network to connect to at your home institution (the ‘eduroam’ SSID – there will probably be others locally) and get the right username/password for it. (This is locally determined, but very likely to be your standard university credentials or a simple permutation thereof.) Once your device is set up that way, poof! Off you go to any participating location and free wifi is yours with no more fuss.
(There is probably a little extra fuss if you want to be able to do more than web browsing – e.g. VPN, non-web email, remote logins. And visited institutions may have more restrictive traffic rules than your home one. I wouldn’t bank on Skype or your favourite BitTorrent client working, for instance.)
For those very local – the OU – the word on the authoritative grapevine is that it’s coming here “Real Soon Now”. It’s under testing, and you can see ‘eduroam’ SSIDs around the place already.
I’m really looking forward to this. I experience the net as pervasive at the moment, since I have wifi all over work and home, which is pretty much everywhere I might want it. Except when I find myself somewhere like an airport, hotel or railway station … there’s Wifi, but suddenly I have to pay some extortionate rate for it. Or – at other Universities – consider resorting to a flagrant breach of the JANET T&Cs to get at it in less than the six weeks an offical application for local login credentials might take.
It’s great to have an extension to the almost-there pervasive network! One day, mark my words, there’ll be free-at-the-point-of-use wifi everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. Which is a much easier target.