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How Your Facebook ID Can Get You More Wi-Fi Access

A startup uses the Facebook Connect feature to help people share Wi-Fi networks among friends.

Using Wi-Fi would be more practical if we had easier access to more networks.

Giving someone access to your Wi-Fi network—say, a visitor to your home or business—can be awkward, involving, among other things, handing out your password. A Swedish startup called Instabridge thinks it has an easier way.

Instabridge’s free Android app lets you automatically share Wi-Fi networks with your Facebook friends. Available in a handful of European countries, the app works by taking advantage of the Facebook Connect authentication tool, which lets users to log on to websites with Facebook credentials.

Instabridge’s cofounder and CEO, Niklas Agevik, is betting that, as more people adopt smartphones and tablets, the inconvenience of having to share a Wi-Fi password (and the prospect of saving money, for those on limited data plans) will help his startup develop a user base.

Wireless carriers, which increasingly aim to offload high-speed network traffic to fixed-line networks in order to avoid clogging their airwaves, may also find Instabridge’s approach appealing. Agevik, formerly an engineer at Swedish telecom Ericcson, says Instabridge has been contacted by carriers who want to work with the company. He says Instabridge plans to make money by working with carriers and device makers, and already has a deal with Samsung to produce a version of Instabridge with near-field communication capabilities.

When you install Instabridge, you need to log in with your Facebook username and password. The app then determines who your friends are and lets you invite them to use a network.

To share a Wi-Fi network through Instabridge for the first time, you must type in your network’s password, which is encrypted and stored on Instabridge’s servers. Then you can invite your friends to share your networks and vice versa. If a friend using the Instabridge app on his smartphone comes within range of a network you’ve shared, Instabridge pushes the network credential to your friend’s phone so he can get online, but it doesn’t show it to him. Once he’s moved out of range, the credentials are deleted from his phone, Agevik says. You can also lock users out of your network if you change your mind.

The Instabridge app includes a map showing all the networks available to you. An upcoming version will let you add friends with the address book on your phone, Agevik says, and Instabridge also intends to let users connect with friends on more social sites, such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

While Instabridge must be running all the time (along with your smartphone’s Wi-Fi), it doesn’t run down the smartphone’s battery, Agevik says, because it operates in the background and hooks into the phone’s normal Wi-Fi scanning activities only when it sees a network it recognizes.

The app is currently available only for Android users in Nordic and Baltic countries (including Sweden, Estonia, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland). About 5,000 people have downloaded the app from Google Play, Agevik says, and there are about 2,000 active users.

Instabridge plans to gradually launch the app in other countries, including, in early 2013, the United States. The company is also considering an iPhone version of the app.

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