A Wi-Fi Friends & Family Plan

There’s no lack of companies pushing Wi-Fi sharing, albeit with different methods: FON with their hardware, Whisher with their software. What’s left? How about Devicescape Software giving them all a go?


Devicescape’s recently began offering software you put on a Wi-Fi device – you can find the list of supported hardware online – that makes it easier for you to log onto big-name Wi-Fi networks and hotspots, like those run by T-Mobile or EarthLink. Just about any provider you can imagine can and is supported, though as the user you still need an account with the provider to get access. CEO David Fraser estimates there are as many as 160,000 locations where Devicescape users can log in. More are added every day without any need for the provider to be involved.


Wi-Fi Buddies, the companies latest, is meant to make it easy for you to become a provider as well—but to limit access to your friends and family, if you so desire.


In fact, Fraser says a top usage model requested by Devicescape users was to share their home network, and be able to request access to others’.


“A month ago we made a stealth release that allows users to add their own personal network,” says Fraser. “You plug in your network name, your security keys, etcetera.” It was all a precursor to the Wi-Fi Buddies release, where you as network provider also enter in buddy list of trusted users.


“That’s easier and more convenient and more secure than what people do today… you have to hand out a network key,” says Fraser. “It’s a security hole. You put that key out in an uncontrolled manner.”


Wi-Fi Buddies however, all have to be running the Devicescape client software, which is regularly updated with a list of Wi-Fi networks to which the client software can connect. The buddy list is based on e-mail address, so as long as your account’s listed e-mail matches the one your provider/friend inputs, you are in, transparently and easily, without entering any WEP or WPA keys.


If you change your network security key, just update the info on your Devicescape account and all your buddies will get that info the next time they sync. But they never see it, not even the SSID. The network is identified with a generic name like “Eric’s Network.”


And it’s all free.


“Our goal is to get the Devicescape software designed in [to products] by large consumer electronics makers, so it’s in PCs, cameras, media players, handsets, VoIP devices, game players, that’s the idea,” says Fraser, describing the company business plan. He says there’s nothing to announce yet, but that that they’ve been busy going after deals.


So how does this differ from FON and Whisher? Outside of the fact that it’s not wide open to just anyone, Fraser says it’s all in the name. “We focus on the wider world of devices. It’s a system that’s lightweight, a tiny foot print for even the smallest device.” In other words, it’s not just for laptop users. When on Windows PCs, the software works hand in hand with XP’s Zero Config, the dominant way laptops access Wi-Fi networks these days. However, Devicescape gladly offers the full supplicant manager on other operating systems.


The data stored on devices – which includes your security keys, which Devicescape is trying to keep secure, remember – is encrypted. “We store them in a way that can’t be abused,” claims Fraser. Sure, a stolen device can still access that network, but if you as the administrator know that person’s device is now a rogue, you can delete them from the buddy list. You can even report a device as lost and flag the usage to help recover it.


Users with a product running the Devicescape software can request access to a found, private Wi-Fi network by going to the Devicescape web page. It’s built off of how Devicescape currently gets users to signal the commercial hotspots they want. It automates access to an existing buddy list, both for newbies or just for the friends you forgot to list.


So if you’re sick of handing out WPA keys when friends come over, consider setting up a Wi-Fi Buddies list. The price is right.


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