Cellular is nice if you can get it, but what if you’re beyond the reach of your carrier’s towers? If you’re traveling internationally, you’re typically out of luck short of shelling out for roaming privileges (unless you’re on T-Mobile). And you’re out of luck period if you’re in an area that cell signals can’t penetrate. But luckily, Microsoft may soon unveil a product to address those edge cases — Microsoft Wi-Fi.
A leaked page, first spotted by a hawk-eyed Twitter user yesterday and since removed, detailed the new service in full. Microsoft Wi-Fi promises “hassle-free Internet access around the world” by seamlessly transitioning you between hotspots in 130 countries. “Don’t waste time filling forms with personal information or managing different carriers to get connected,” the website read. “Sign in once and you are done: you will automatically be connected to a vast range of Wi-Fi providers around the world.”
Microsoft confirmed the page was accurate, but predictably declined to offer more. “We can confirm that we are working on a new service […] that will bring hassle-free Wi-Fi to millions,” a Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We look forward to sharing additional detail when available.”
Sounds great, right? But there’s a catch: Microsoft Wi-Fi won’t be free, at least at launch. Only active Skype Wi-Fi subscribers, employees of organizations with Microsoft Office 365 for Enterprise, and customers who receive a special Wi-Fi offer from Microsoft will be eligible. In that respect, Microsoft Wi-Fi appears to be more an extension or rebranding of Skype Wi-Fi, the established service that lets you pay Skype Credits for access to 2 million hotspots globally, than an entirely new program.
Microsoft Wi-Fi is hardly a unique concept — Google’s reportedly working on a program that automatically authenticates and connects users to free Wi-Fi, and a myriad of apps on iOS and Android provide a listing of nearby wireless — but it might be one of the more ambitious. Microsoft Wi-Fi will encompass 10 million domestic and international hotspots when it launches, and the company’s prepping a broad, cross-platform launch for Microsoft Wi-Fi — the leaked page contained links to as-yet dormant Windows Mac, Android, iOS, and Windows Phone app listings.
Wi-Fi on mobile is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. T-Mobile relaunched its Wi-Fi calling program with additional benefits like inflight texting. Google Fi, Google’s MVNO service, relies partially on public access points for data and calls. And FreedomPop offers $5-a-month access to tens of millions of hotspots around the United States.
This might be perceived as a push to reduce data usage on metered plans and provide connectivity where there previously was none — while also improving the experience on cellular, since Wi-Fi users don’t contribute to congestion, of course.