As I’ve continued the process of getting myself back into the swing of things in the Windows Phone world, there has been one aspect that has puzzled me. WiFi Sense? What is it? What does it do exactly? I asked around to some colleagues who use Windows Phone and generally got the answer “it’s what allows you to use WiFi networks”.
Well technically yes, that’s correct. It does allow you to use wireless networks but it is not required for WiFi access. In fact you can completely disable WiFi Sense and gain access to a wireless network. The ability to turn WiFi on and off is wholly separate from WiFi Sense.
So what is it then? Think of it as crowdsourcing for WiFi networks. It allows your Windows Phone to collect wireless network information about a network you have joined, and share that information with your friends. But it also allows you to quickly and easily enter credentials required to get onto a wireless network. It is a handy little app and one that is built into Windows Phone.
To access WiFi Sense, go to Settings then to WiFi on your Windows Phone. Now scroll down to the bottom of the page and tap the
WiFi Sense button. Unless you have gone through the custom setup routine on your new phone and purposely disabled it, WiFi Sense will already be enabled. Now by doing this you are agreeing to give your location information to Microsoft. If you aren’t into that kind of thing, turn it off and you are pretty much done with this article. Thanks for reading. 🙂
If you are okay with location services, you can then set up WiFi Sense to log into public sites and provide credentials to log into them. For example, some sites require a name and phone number (O2 networks here in the UK love having this information). You can configure WiFi Sense so that it provides this name, email address and phone number (which you can edit) automatically to sites when you join their networks. It works surprisingly well given the wide range of sites that are out there asking for authenticating information. It’s not perfect but it’s not bad either.
Here is where the crowd sourcing element of WiFi Sense comes into play. Note at the bottom of the settings page that you can share the WiFi network information with friends on Outlook.com, Skype and Facebook. How it works is thus: I join I wireless at a local pub using my Windows Phone and you are a contact of mine on Skype. You also have a Windows Phone with WiFi Sense enabled and you decide to come visit me. We meet at that local pub and automagically you are added to the network without having to do anything. Why? Because WiFi Sense on my phone shared it with your phone (all except any private passwords if they are involved. Likewise, any networks you have discovered on your Windows Phone are shared with me because we are Skype buddies.
There may be networks that you want to join but don’t necessarily want to share via WiFi Sense. Generally these are corporate networks or even home networks unless you have a guest network. You can do that easily enough within the app. Just below the WiFi Sense button in the WiFi Settings is a Manage button. Tap it and you will see options that include auto-joining networks provided by your mobile provider and if you want to share information about networks to Microsoft. Below this will be your list of Known Networks. Tap a network and you can select if you want to share that network publicly with your contacts.
Let’s be clear: WiFi Sense is not perfect and there are times where it can’t quite figure out how to authenticate me on a public network. I still maybe 3 out of 10 times have to open up Internet Explorer and authenticate at that Starbucks or Costa. But I’ve found that even in those cases, I do it once and I’m done.
The other thing that would help this become an even better service is of course more people using it and Windows Phone. Since it heavily depends on crowd sourced information, WiFi Sense needs more, erm, crowd?
If you haven’t given WiFI Sense a try do so and see what you think. If you are like me, it will make authenticating for the first time on public networks quick, easy and generally trouble free. If you are using WiFi Sense I’d love to hear your thoughts. Post a comment here or Tweet me to let me know what you think of it.