Metro eduroam at One Year

On 7th January 2016, RENU was officially recognized as the 75th National Roaming Operator (NRO) for eduroam in the world. Since then, RENU members have gradually taken on the service to meet their wireless Internet connection needs, mostly on-campus.

Like its name suggests, eduroam is intended for “educational roaming”. At the time of its deployment by RENU, it was envisaged that students, researchers and lecturers are never stationed in one place. For example, lecturers tend to teach in different universities or at different campuses of the same university, students usually roam between different locations within and out of their institutions’ campuses, for example, libraries, classrooms, hostels and other assembly points.

Likewise, researchers are never stationed in one place; they tend to move from place to place in search of information. With such movements, these groups usually have wireless network needs which are typically not easily attended to at their destinations. As an example, at a campus away from their home institution, roaming students and staff have to always look for someone (usually an IT personnel) to give them login details for the available Wi-Fi, and even when this happens, it is hard work, plus one does not feel totally secure since these login details are usually shared with many other users.

Introducing eduroam gradually started changing the status-quo for the institutions that signed up for the service. What such institutions do is, they assign email addresses with the institution’s domain to their students, staff and researchers so that whenever they (students, researchers and staff) are in a location where there is eduroam, whether within or outside Uganda, they can be logged into the wireless network automatically and securely without asking anyone for passwords. The deployment of eduroam at the institutions’ campuses is usually done with the support of the RENU technical staff at no cost to the institution. Currently, there are 22 institutions that have deployed eduroam at their campuses.

Since the onset of COVID-19, life at the institutions of learning has not been the same. Institutions have been closed most of the time for close to two years, and it is unknown when life will get back to normal. To support the institutions through this, RENU on 1st September 2020 launched Metro eduroam, the first deployment of its kind in Africa, to make it possible for students, university staff, and researchers to access free, secure and trusted wireless Internet connectivity while they work off-campus. Users from institutions that are signed up for eduroam are able to use their institutional login details to access eduroam in over 300 locations within Kampala, Entebbe and Mukono at no cost. The Metro eduroam hotspot locations can be found here.

Mark Byamukama, an eLearning Coordinator at Uganda Christian University (UCU) and a resident of Mukono speaks highly of how eduroam has come in handy while off campus in various places. He told us about his first encounter with Metro eduroam. “There is a time I was having lunch at The Food Hub, located at Cargen House corner on Kampala Road and Parliamentary Avenue and I had to start a Zoom class in a few minutes. Funny enough, as I was getting out my phone to load a data bundle, I saw that the phone had already connected to the Internet hotspot at the restaurant. I was surprised but very happy because I had always heard of eduroam being everywhere in Kampala. Because of eduroam, I was able to start the Zoom class and make the lecturer a host of the meeting without incurring any cost on data.”

Ronnie Awany, also a staff at UCU testifies to having been able to access Metro eduroam in areas of Mukono, Namugongo and Kampala and that the university students are excited about the opportunities presented by Metro eduroam especially for their e-learning programs.

Since the launch of Metro eduroam, 609,916 successful logins have been registered, out of which 1,556 are unique, with the average daily peak traffic being 33.37 Mbps.

Top 5 institutions utilizing Metro eduroam Most active Metro eduroam locations Top 5 active domains from institutions outside Uganda
Uganda Christian University (UCU) TOTAL Mengo
Mengo Hospital Olympia Hostel Makerere Kikoni
The RENU Secretariat Total Mukono
Islamic University In Uganda (IUIU) Total Makerere Service
Rakai Health Sciences Program (RHSP) Entebbe International Airport
Village Mall Bugolobi
City Oil Kira Road
Total Entebbe

The achievements with Metro eduroam have not come without hitches. There are still several institutions that do not have user databases under their institutional domain, yet the concept of eduroam largely depends on this. It is the institutional user database that is used for managing eduroam authentications for the particular users of that institution wherever they find an eduroam hotspot.

The institutional user database not only enables an institution and their constituency to access and utilize eduroam, but is also essential in enabling an institution to benefit from a wide range of other federated services.

Therefore, as part of the efforts to support institutions in circumventing this challenge, RENU is exploring a managed Identity Provider (Managed IdP) solution. With this solution, there will be no need for an institution to incur the costs of setting up a user database in order to benefit from the eduroam service.

Once many more institutions are availed with this solution, it will go a long way in enabling many students and staff from institutions that cannot afford the costs of investing in user databases to enjoy eduroam.

As we celebrate Metro eduroam’s 1st year anniversary, the dream is to see a uganda where all students have access to low or no cost internet wherever they are so that learning can no longer be limited to a physical classroom, which translates to learning safely especially during times of pandemics.