Steve Jobs' Vision of Widespread Free Public Wi-Fi Guest Networks Yet to Take Hold

airport_80211ac_wifiIn 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.

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Top Rated Comments

tasset Avatar
128 months ago
Love the idea, in a tree hugger hippie community sort of way. But the reality is as a property owner by sharing your network with passerby's you open yourself up to being shutdown by your ISP from an MPAA DMCA complaint or worse have the feds raid you because someone downloaded child porn on your network. And as the passerby you run the risk of someone on a public network setting up a honeypot to sniffing packets for personal information or a retailer collecting information on you and selling it to marketers/data miners. Heck I am sure ISPs will plant FUD to deter people from doing it too.
There's just too many human hurdles to put trust in this.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
winston1236 Avatar
128 months ago
I immediately disabled "Guest" network on my Comcast router. Strangers are not welcome to slow down my connection! ;)
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
AppleDude Avatar
128 months ago
No Brainer

For most of my adult life, I've lived in congregate housing and I've always opened up my WiFi as a public service and never had problems. Yes, I know--I've been lucky.

Now that many routers are dual band, I am able to keep a secure network for myself and an open one for guests.

I do this for one reason--I deplore waste. No need for someone to spend $40/month for access when a neighbor has surplus capacity.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
xmichaelp Avatar
128 months ago
For most of my adult life, I've lived in congregate housing and I've always opened up my WiFi as a public service and never had problems. Yes, I know--I've been lucky.

Now that many routers are dual band, I am able to keep a secure network for myself and an open one for guests.

I do this for one reason--I deplore waste. No need for someone to spend $40/month for access when a neighbor has surplus capacity.

You are a good person. I wish I lived near you. ;)
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
KdParker Avatar
128 months ago
Really.

People working together for the common good, and not one of them will be a self serving thief. I just don't have that much faith in people.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
HyperX13 Avatar
128 months ago
My neighbor had his WIFI open because he didn't know jack about IT. Some perv found this open wifi and would download and upload child porn.

Let's just say it took my neighbor over 1 year to clear his name. And the only reason he cleared it is because my security cameras caught the perv that would sit in his little car at at the curb.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)