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Steve Jobs' vision for free Wi-Fi for the masses


Writing for Re/Code, Walt Mossberg today relays an interesting anecdote about Steve Jobs and his desire to deliver free Wi-Fi to the masses. More than just an idealistic pipe dream, Jobs told Mossberg that he hoped to get big name companies on board in order to bring his vision into fruition.

Of course, the pressing problem with free Wi-Fi is security, something Jobs had a solution for.

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.

Users of this second, guest network wouldn't have any way to access the owner's main network, or the computers, network drives, printers, or files on the main network. Yet they'd be able to get onto the Internet, while in range.

While the industry at large never quite congregated in the manner Jobs may have hoped, some companies offer services very similar in nature to what Jobs envisioned. Fon, for example, is a company that enables users of its routers to share their bandwidth with other Fon customers.

A Fon Spot is made up of two separate, dedicated WiFi signals - one private signal just for you, one shared signal for other members and visitors to the network. It allows you to safely share a bit of WiFi with others and in return, they can share safely with you. All the Fon Spots together create a crowdsourced network where everyone who contributes connects for free.

Not a bad idea at all.

Notably, Apple has a "guest network" feature built into its AirPort base stations.

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