A View from David Zax
Intel Ultrabooks Will Mooch Free Wi-Fi
With a little help from Devicescape.
There’s free Wi-Fi all around you, particularly if you live in a big city. That café you walked by, that neighbor who didn’t properly lock down her network, that public park you sat in on the way to work… free Wi-Fi abounds. But since you often have to hunt about for it manually, and you’re unsure of its quality until you test it, you often just opt to stay on your 3G service–or to just go without Wi-Fi for the moment.
A new deal Intel has struck with a company called Devicescape could solve this problem for you, if you buy one of Intel’s Ultrabooks. Intel will be integrating technology from Devicescape into Ultrabooks (lightweight laptops using Intel processors), making the best use of the islands of free, high-quality Wi-Fi around us.
How does Devicescape work? One blog puts it rather starkly in its headline: “Intel inks deal to let Ultrabooks leech off Wi-Fi net.” Leeching or not, Devicescape’s method of getting devices onto free Wi-Fi networks is clever. Basically, it lets a device automatically join a free Wi-Fi network, even if that network typically requires some sort of manual input to join. It achieves this feat by sending a specially-formatted DNS query that can worm its way past any Wi-Fi router that’s not hyper-fortified. The query then heads to Devicescape’s servers, bearing details of the Wi-Fi point; then Devicescape’s servers send back tailored instructions on how to gain access to that Wi-Fi point. Devicescape’s software on your device is then able to link you–automatically.
Reportedly, this even works while your device is in your pocket or bag. “Smart Connect will work on lid open and lid closed scenarios,” Devicescape CEO David Fraser told GigaOm. “So, you’ll be automatically connected no-matter the state of your PC.” That means you can leave your home, walk to work, and open up your device on the other end to discover that it has been updating itself–downloading emails, syncing calendars, and the like–as you go.
Devicescape doesn’t allow just any old hotspot to form a part of its “virtual network.” Rather, it curates the network through crowdsourcing. It calls its service a “living, growing network that is always up-to-date and readily available to our partners. Nothing is stale or dated. Nothing is pending. The only limitation is the one we choose, and that criterion is quality.” It has about 8 million access points that pass muster already (out of 100 million in its databases), and that number is growing. It’s a pretty significant value proposition for a company like Intel. As Devicescape puts it: “Instead of building your own network, assimilating your own network, or partnering with WiFi network operators, carriers can partner with Devicescape to access a massive network that complements their existing infrastructure.”
Devicescape already had a number of clients, but none so high-profile as Intel. The principal analyst at Ovum, Daryl Schooler, called the Intel deal a “big bost” for Devicescape. For Devicescape to truly hit the big time, said Schooler, it will need to work with a “tier-1 mobile operator,” though. Whether Devicescape becomes a household name or not, it reveals how a clever business model and a bit of coding can make money simply out of making free and abundant resources more useful.