31 Comments

Summary:

First Fon, then Whisher and now WeFi – the start-ups focused on sharing of Wi-Fi connections keep on coming. Of course, each one has their own twist. FON does this through their own hardware (or by partnering with carriers), Whisher is a software only play. The […]

First Fon, then Whisher and now WeFi – the start-ups focused on sharing of Wi-Fi connections keep on coming. Of course, each one has their own twist. FON does this through their own hardware (or by partnering with carriers), Whisher is a software only play. The latest entrant is WeFi, a LondonMountain View, Calif.-based company that has released a new software that allows you to find, and log into wireless networks. (Download it from here. Use this key: 07ApM81D3. The software is causing weird issues for some readers, so please be careful.)

The idea is that you will sign-up for the service, and become part of a large community of those willing to share your spots. If not, then just use the software for finding and logging into open wireless networks that are around you. You get to see the signal strength of the networks, and can also help you skip over the closed (secure) networks.

The other little twist is a map, which shows you where you can find a lot of free wifi connectivity. (Maps are somewhat of an advantage for WeFi, compared to Whisher who downloadable software has made improvements in recent months, and is available for Linux, Mac and Windows computers.) I like this feature, and it is only going to become more useful as more people start adding their spots. There is a friends-feature, adding a social networking twist to the software, but that is a bit too much, and frankly, I have some privacy concerns as well.

The simple, and eye pleasing interface (that mimics and IM client) makes this software worth having, especially if you are using Windows XP based computers that, to be honest are troublesome when it comes to finding-and-connecting to WiFi networks. (No surprise, the software currently works on Windows XP machines only.)

It is a good product, yet it seems WeFi is doing too much. Keeping it simple, and avoiding the social networking features, it can become a handy utility (and must visit destination) for digital nomads. It is worth trying out.

  1. What new ground is WeFi breaking, other than grabbing a catchy name and building around it? And this differs from Whisher how? I have been following Whisher closely and it would appear so are the folks at WeFi, perhaps a bit too closely :)

    I do not begrudge them their right and opportunity to create software, but where is the love and the passion? Their software is pleasing to the eye, but if Im going to add yet another vertical stripe (AdiumX, Skype, Twitterific, Whisher) to my desktop I ask: Why WeFi?

    Share
  2. Well, I was in London last week and trying to find a good, free Wi-Fi connection. I refuse to pay 4 UK pounds per hour, which is what some providers are charging. Because there are a LOT of open networks in London, it’s a pain trying each one of them to see which is the best. I have no time to diddle around. This is what Wefi does for you — selects the best open network.

    Second thing is that they have a map where the users themselves map out free spots. So before going to a particular location in London, I check the map to see where I should park myself. Very handy.

    Share
  3. Loving it! Everyone feel free to use everyone’s WiFi and visit the Pirate Bay with someone else’s IP. That’s what I call social wireless networking!

    /sarcasm

    Share
  4. David,

    I think it is easier to try it and decide for yourself. I think while many of Mac users don’t have to deal with the Wi-Fi madness, it surely makes life easier for PC users.

    If nothing else, the maps can guide you where you can find lot of free (open) wifi connections.

    Share
  5. franky… good point ;-)

    Share
  6. The real twist: WeFi uses social (community) search engine approach to facilitate Internet access everywhere… the resources map is just the tip of the iceberg; any time you connect you add useful information to the system database: in addition to WiFi location we got access point’s service quality, accessibility, visibility, persistency etc. The WeFi client uses this info to connect you in the best way. Consequently WeFi users will see a constantly improving service…

    Share
  7. Arnon Kohavi Monday, May 28, 2007

    What separates WeFi from other companies mentioned is that we have developed a “smart” client, which finds and connects faster. This is different than companies that focus on sharing or authentication. We believe that over time the issue will be not just to find a connection, but also to find the best one. So sharing is part of the story, but the main part is simply finding a good connection by making the WiFi client much smarter, which happens by seamlessly sharing the knowledge of all users in an area through a centralized server (not unlike what a cellular system does). As a Mac user, I am still challenged to find a good spot many times, having to go through a tedious trial-and-error process. I promise to have a Mac version too; we are working on it. Obviously, the biggest long-term benefit is for mobile devices, where seamless connection to WiFi will become critical.
    By the way, we are a US company, based in Mountain View with R&D in Israel.
    Arnon, CEO. WeFi.

    Share
  8. Arnon, thank you for your post. This clarifies to some extent WeFi’s niche that it plans to carve out in the neighborhood. The biggest selling point to me is not being able to search out the open networks on a Windows (netsumbler) and or a Macintosh (kismac, macstumbler, istumbler). That has been taken care of. The above mentioned applications do a fine job of sorting and filtering out open versus closed wireless networks.

    The mapping looks nice but and I hazard that if you are going to pre-plan your sojourn with computer in tow then it can be rather useful, but for spontaneous, on-the-fly decisions, the most important feature would be for the computer to connect and handshake with the STRONGEST, CLOSEST, OPEN (non-encrypted) network.

    Again the maps are nice if the information is current and up to date. On a number of occasions I have relied on the wireless maps of several US cities only to find that the access points in question were no longer transmitting a signal, or even there for that matter.

    Now, am curious why at the end of your post you saw fit to mention the provenance of your company. I for one do not care where you are located, and from which your country R&D hails as long as it works. To your point about seamless networking (meshed networks) with troublefree/transparent handoffs, we’re all waiting for such a day. For now I’ll settle for what I can make happen with Meraki for linkin wireless nodes.

    All the best
    David

    Share
  9. WeFi sucks! DO NOT INSTALL IT. I read Om’s post with real excitement since something like this would be useful, downloaded the app and installed it. It promptly blue-screened my laptop and every restart kept crashing the laptop until I manually shut off the wireless radio, went to Network Connections and disabled my wireless adapter. THen I went to Add/Remove programs to remove WeFi but THERE IS NO UNINSTALL option !!!!

    Not only do these guys install a network filter driver in the WiFi stack but if you go to Netwok Connections/ Properties to Uninstall it through Windows it refuses to uninistall since it says the application ‘WeFi’ is still using it (of course there is no way to uninstall WeFi from ARP).

    Suffice it to say that 1 hr later after a very frustrating morning of debugging the stack I had renamed their driver, disabled it from the mini driver stack so I could reconnect to my wifi network again. I am not an average user; i used to work at MSFT in Windows so know how to do this. I WOULD NEVER RECOMMEND THIS to an average user if this is the user experience. The support page on the website has no way to uninstall it nor is there an uninstall script in the install directory.

    Before relasing client software like this that can destroy someone’s machine it needs to be thoroughly tested.

    Share
  10. And there’s Tomizone (www.tomizone.com), a New Zealand-based operation. They have signed up a couple of New Zealand broadband providers and even managed to get D-Link to distribute some of the routers with the software already flashed and ready to use.

    Share
  11. [...] y como se describe en un reciente artículo de GigaOM, WeFi es una start-up americana que ofrece un servicio similar al de FON (y por lo tanto también [...]

    Share
  12. Yezdi, thanks for that enlightening summary of your experience with WeFi and your Windows Box. Me now curious on how they shall attempt to do this on the Macintosh.

    Since reading the original post this morning I fumbled about and found TastyApps’ application called “wi-find”, which sits neatly in my AIrport dropdown menu alerting me not only to the strengths of wireless networks, but indicates which are open and which are not (encrypted).

    So much education in less than 24 hours, who says the Internet isn’t a place to learn.

    Share
  13. Yezdi,

    Thanks for your insights. I have to say, I didn’t uninstall the software before writing the post. That I admit is my fault, and am sorry for putting you through some serious misery. If there is anything I learnt from this – in the future uninstall before writing a post. I am genuinely feeling horrible for ruining your day.

    Just to share your pain, I went and uninstall ed the software, using the control panel, and rebooted the computer. The WeFi seems to be gone from my windows xp laptop. Not sure if I did anything special or not, (and can’t really tell if there is the software hidden somewhere) but it is not in the menus, and in the installed applications list.

    If there is anyone else having similar issues, let me know. I don’t want to put anyone through the same ordeal Yezdi had to go through.

    Share
  14. Om, not your fault. I suspect that it doesn’t crash on every machine so I was just unlucky with the combination of software likely installed on my laptop. I did have a horrible experience and I suspect the reason my computer is in a wedged state (ie still no uninstall option in add/ remove programs) is because the driver blue screened and screwed up some settings in the OS. But at least I can function again.

    I think the reason I also had such a strong adverse reaction is that I can just imagine someone like my father or my non technical friends downloading and installing this – if any of them have the same problem I had, they are toast. Most users on Windows are not familiar with the network stack and/or System Restore were this to happen.

    My suggestion to the WeFi team is focus on all the worst case consumer scenarios and provide REALLY EASY WAYS to fix them both as a prominent uninistall link on the desktop/ start menu and on the support FAQ off your website first before asking users to do this. If even 5-10% of users have the same issue I did, that is awful PR for a young company. Having done a prior startup (acquired by MSFT), perception is critical to new product adoption.

    Writing a good filter driver in C++ is actually hard and memory issues may bring the OS crashing down – in a lot of cases what may also cause this is the AntiVirus software on the box.

    All I request is make sure users have a simple trauma-free way to back off this change if it goes south on their machines. Esp, as it is likely that their laptop is their only PC / internet access device.

    Share
  15. I wanted to clarify a couple of points since the discussion here could affect how our software is seen.

    1. Since the first release of Whisher, we provided a rating system for hotspots, with which users could give 1 to 5 stars based on their subjective experience with the connection. Additionally, we keep a running average of signal strength and availability as reported by other users automatically. The average signal strength helps you relocate if your current signal is lower than the average one found by other users. The availability shows how many times other users were able to successfully connect, or failed to do so. Based on these parameters, you can make a much better decision as to where to connect.

    2. Automatically connecting to the nearest open WiFi based on a set of arbitrary parameters is not legal. Whisher will not connect you automatically to the nearest open signal, only to those which have been tagged or actively shared by others. Of course a user could connect to an unknown open WiFi signal and tag it, but it is up to him to make that decision, not the software. Whether WeFi does this or not could probably do with some clarification.

    3. We take great care in testing and QA to be as sure as possible that problems such as those described by Yezdi do not happen. We offer support through our forums and email to those users who get into difficulties.

    Other than this, I wish the WeFi crew good luck, having no competition is usually bad news :)

    Mike (CTO, Whisher)

    Share
  16. Is finding free WiFi signals really that big of a problem that Whisher and WeFi are trying to solve?

    I use both Mac and XP/Vista combinations and I’ve never had any problems. Sure, maybe once or twice I may have to go through a couple of trial and errors to find the best connection, but I don’t think it warrants an application.

    Does anybody else feel the same way?

    Share
  17. Yezdi, rather seems to me as something went wrong with the actual installation, because for me WeF created an entry in the control panel on two different machines.

    Anyway, if one day you’d experience something similar : F8, safe mode boot (WITHOUT) network drivers is your friend. And if even then you cn’t deinstall, just delete all the program files you can find (usually program folder is enough) and a decent Windows Registry software tool (I tend to advice Tune Up Utilities – don’t shoot me I know there are thousands, but TUU has always been one of the more reliable ones IMHO) will do the rest: remove registry entries, detect a broken driver (or discover that a driver has been installed incorrectly) and much more.
    After that there should be no trace of the install anymore. ;-)

    Actually all this can be done from Windows too, but that would be a little harder to find out. ;-)

    Share
  18. [...] GigaOm compares the approach of WeFi to two other startups attempting to create a quilt of Wi-Fi from the patches of consumers’ homes. Wasn’t this the original business model of Sputnik and now-gone Joltage Networks in the Wi-Fi mini-bubble circa 2002? Fon seems to have been the most successful of these so far, but I have a lot more faith in service-provider initiatives from MetroFi, EarthLink and others; even these will require some fresh thinking to make the numbers work. [...]

    Share
  19. Tbd,

    I travel a lot to densely populated cities and I live in one (Amsterdam). What’s it like to be sitting somewhere confronted by 8-10 wireless networks, several of which are open/free? I’d like to have my device just find the best one and log me in. I do not want to spend time trying to find the best connection when I’ve got 15 minutes before a meeting and I have to catch a ride in the overflowing subway systems that most cities have. In London, sadly, there are always delays of one sort of another in the Tube. That’s what Wefi and its competitors are trying to do. Conferences are another place where there are lots of networks and I’d like my computer to just log me onto the best one.

    Share
  20. Is all WiFi good? Personally, I would like to know a little about ‘the man (I’m putting) in the middle’. A personal VPN will help, but also usually not free. I think Whisher has the right idea by not arbitrarily connecting to a signal and by providing a rating system. I want to use client software to manage security, not just connectivity.

    Share
  21. [...] Om Malik recently covered one of our portfolio companies, WeFi, that takes a similar approach. Just as Songbird’s primary functionality is as a desktop music player, but social aspects can improve the experience, so too WeFi’s primary functionality is as a better WiFi connectivity manager (and against Win XP, that isn’t a high hurdle!), but social aspects can improve the experience. A lone user gets an easier and quicker experience for identifying and signing onto any hotspot, as well as better management control over hotspots that they own. As he joins a network, he gets to roam on other private hotspots, as well as the ability to find both his friends, and wifi hotspots on a map, relative to his location. [...]

    Share
  22. There are tons of WiFi managers out there. A good overview is given on this page:
    http://voru.wifi.ee/index.php?leht=33

    The best in my opinion is Easy WiFi Radar (freeware) from Makayama.

    Their PRO-version also has a mapping tool and will show you free hotspots on a map.

    Share
  23. [...] Adding to this respectable list of sites and blogs our the posts on Mashable, Techcrunch & GigaOm it was definitely a great few weeks for WeFi. A big thank you to everyone who wrote about us and [...]

    Share
  24. Fred Lievens Friday, July 6, 2007

    WeFi seems to be attracting far more attention than Whisher, but far more important is the fact that WeFi is taking progressive strides while Whisher trails behind like a lame puppy.

    Make a comparison just of the websites. Whisher’s mapping system is a disaster, however WeFi’s really does work.

    Whisher was and still is all mouth no action, just look at how the CEO and CTO behave, making deliberate and abusive comments at another wireless sharing companies director and his product, I can only assume to attempt to gain more (bad) publicity for their poor quality and pathetic attempt at entering the market.

    All that FON was Ferrans idea, and he had business cards …. Mike and his FON are liars mapping exploits. Please, guys, acknowledge that you only make yourselves look like the true amateurs you are.

    Wefi, is a far more logical and professionally developed (in all aspects, be it the actual application or their website) product. It would also seem that their management and developers have more skills than the (chuckle) competition. I look forward to watching WeFi flourish, well done, you certainly have not made the mistakes that your (still chuckling) competition made.

    Fred

    Share
  25. [...] comments left at http://gigaom.com/2007/05/28/meet-wefi/, the WeFi CEO said, sharing is part of the story, but the main part is simply finding a good [...]

    Share
  26. whisher is gone now! mike puchol left and rescued himself 2 wifi.com . thats the whole story.

    Share
    1. No, that’s not the story – they sold Whisher to wifi.com and took Mike Puchol as their CTO, as the CEO, Ferran Moreno had nothing to show for the company, and is now being sued for embezzlement http://gigaom.com/2009/06/24/the-strange-tale-of-wi-fi-startup-whisher/ I guess the only thing worth buying was the tech and the guy who created it

      Share
  27. I would just like to say that a company called Zer01 on July 1 will be offering nationwide
    high-speed Internet access offering, using the 2100MHz spectrum , that technology tunnels
    through the existing AT&T T Mobile data networks, through interconnecting agreements.
    and also utilizes satellite technology, they will have a true unlimited data network,
    and customers will be a very get service in the areas that the two carriers are now.

    for $79.95 unlimited voice unlimited data No Cap’s No restrictions, No Tax’s
    it will be a global WISP within 12 months, on July 1 United States,Canada,Australia,in South Africa
    will be turned on

    Share
    1. Sorry i forgot to tell you the Speeds, it will be 1G TO 15G starting at the Edge technology
      and the line to 3G

      Share

Comments have been disabled for this post