A lot of people who own smartphones never bother to link them to their home Wi-Fi networks when available, according to virtual hotspot provider Devicescape. Since a good deal of smartphone usage occurs at home, tapping into home Wi-Fi would not only save these folks data plan charges, but more often than not, provide them with a faster more resilient connection than their operator’s 3G or 4G networks.
The problem is there are a lot of people who don’t realize their phones will link to their home networks — they either can’t figure out how to configure their devices’ Wi-Fi settings or they’ve disabled their Wi-Fi from the get go. Devicescape on Thursday said it has developed a new bit of software that attempts to lure those customers onto their own home networks.
Called Personal Curator, the smartphone client utilizes Devicescape’s radio management and network detection technologies, along with a machine-learning algorithm, to identify when a user is at home and a wireless network is available. If the smartphone’s Wi-Fi radio is disabled, Personal Curator will activate it and prompt the user to connect, walking them through the device configuration process.
Devicescape claims that as many as 30 percent of smartphones never connect to an available home Wi-Fi network, which would mean an enormous quantity of traffic that could easily be shunted onto a cheap broadband connection is instead heading toward the cell towers. That number seems high, but it’s not entirely out of the question. I’ve configured the Wi-Fi settings of many a friend or relative who never bothered to do it themselves.
Devicescape is selling Personal Curator to carriers, who would pre-install it on the smartphones they sell and have the biggest vested interest in coaxing customers on to as many Wi-Fi networks as possible. Devicescape estimates operators would save $631 in lifetime network data delivery costs for each subscriber that it can lure onto a home network.
Frankly, that figure is a bit absurd. It assumes that customers who don’t use their home Wi-Fi today will wander the world blithely unaware of Wi-Fi for the rest of their lives. It also assumes all smartphone users are created equal (More technically savvy users who consume more data tend to be more aware of their device’s networking capabilities).
Still, for Devicescape’s core customers, Personal Curator could be a very attractive service. The company’s whole business model is designed around the idea of providing cheap ubiquitous Wi-Fi to carriers. Through crowdsourcing, it has identified and mapped 12 million open access points around the world, and its client software automatically links to those nodes whenever they’re available.
It counts among its customers MetroPCS (now part of T-Mobile USA and mobile virtual network operators like Republic Wireless, which offer subscribers cheap unlimited data plans. Any packet those operators ship over the unlicensed airwaves is a direct cost savings. And once connected to home Wi-Fi, smartphone owners would likely use the heck out of it. A recent Sandvine report shows that 20 percent of all traffic traversing home broadband connections comes from a phone or tablet.
Devicescape has grown considerably in the last year. It now sells its products to eight carriers in North America and Europe (including U.S. Cellular and Bouygues Telecom). It has also struck deals with Intel and Microsoft to embed its software directly into the former’s Ultrabook and tablet connection manager and the latter’s WP8 software. Devicescape revealed today that it has now managing 1.5 billion Wi-Fi connections monthly, a 50 percent increase in 12 months.
Based in San Bruno, Calif., Devicescape hopes to draw more attention to itself next week at North America’s biggest mobile trade show, CTIA Wireless. It’s releasing an Android app called Magnifi CTIA that will let anyone connected to thousands of Las Vegas access points in its curated virtual network for the duration of the show.