With news yesterday that operators and vendors are working to further integrate WiFi and cellular small cells, today's WiFi announcement comes courtesy of Microsoft, which has said that it is using DeviceScape's WiFi database to drive WiFI access point selection within Windows Phone 8.
The company has licensed the use of data from DeviceScape's Curated Virtual Network (CVN) so that WP 8 phones can locate WiFi acccess points based on availability and quality. DeviceScape said that it has 11 million access points mapped.
"By leveraging the Devicescape network of public hotspots, Microsoft can now pass along tremendous value to its Windows Phone 8 users enabling them to locate a nearby quality WiFi network. Windows Phone 8 users will now have an alternative way to manage their monthly data plan while maintaining the quality of service they are accustomed to from their mobile provider," said DeviceScape CEO Dave Fraser.
Making it easier to get on and off the best available wireless connection from a user point of view is a strategic issue for mobile operators with implications for network design, service provisioning and pricing. One other WiFI database provider, WeFi,has suggested that as WiFi aware devices predominantly use WiFi rather than cellular data, operators could even use that knowledge to play around with their data pricing.
There's a potential downside for mobile operators, though in WiFi management being native to a phone's OS - it puts network access selection in the hands of the user, or rather the device. Network operators are looking at deeper integration of WiFi and cellular networks with a view to being able to manage connectivity on behalf of their customers to provide the best experience. That includes using Next Generation Hotspot technology such as EAP-SIM authentication to allow users to sign on to access points without having to enter log-in details. It is also why some vendors are moving to offer ANDSF-compatible equipment, ready for when devices have ANDSF clients - ANDSF being a protocol that will enable clients to automatically detect and select which network to attach to and that attaches to operators' own policy platforms to enable that selection to be policy-driven, if necessary.
A phone that is dancing to the tune of its own network selection database, rather than that of an operator-installed client, may bypass the WiFi roaming agreements operators have made, or even an operators' own WiFi properties in favour of the "on-board" database, offering up the possibility of the major OS vendors providing their own free WiFi service to users. Nokia flirted with offering free WiFi as a service to its users, and rumours persist that both Microsoft and Google are investigating ways to provide WiFi as a service. For that to work, though, the WiFi database needs to be comprehensive, and the service provider needs to be able to offer competitive user experience and pricing (or lack of it).