Steve Jobs' Vision of Widespread Free Public Wi-Fi Guest Networks Yet to Take Hold
In a commentary piece arguing for users to open up free guest networks on their Wi-Fi access points to the public, Re/code's Walt Mossberg shares the story of how Steve Jobs saw such networks as the future of Internet access, supplementing cellular networks to allow for faster and broader access for users.
Mossberg notes that Jobs envisioned the open Wi-Fi networks during development of the original iPhone, which was hampered by a "lousy, sluggish cellular-data network." An open Wi-Fi network built on the cooperation of both business and private citizens who were wiling to share their Wi-Fi connections with strangers would have addressed this problem by offering another connectivity option for iPhone users.
His idea was to get as many wireless router makers as possible to build in a “guest network” option — essentially a second Wi-Fi network, securely walled off from the rest of the home network, and with its own name. Then, he hoped that the industry would encourage people to share their bandwidth with strangers via these guest networks. That way, a smartphone user could walk around, moving from one Wi-Fi hotspot to another, without logging in — much like people using cellular data move from one cell tower to another.
While there are certainly potential issues with security and bandwidth hogging by guest users, Mossberg argues that these issues are not insurmountable, and in fact some companies have made strides in this area. On a micro level, Apple's AirPort base stations have supported guest networks since 2009, and on a broader scale, some Internet service providers such as Comcast have been working to turn customers' home routers into Wi-Fi access points available to other customers as a public network.
Use of Wi-Fi to supplement cellular coverage is also growing, with one example being T-Mobile's effort in the U.S. to route phone calls over a more reliable Wi-Fi network instead of the cellular connection. Apple is adding iPhone support for the feature as part of iOS 8 later this year.