The wifi scene is huge, and full of variety these days. Chances are, your local coffee shop has an open hotspot which you simply associate to, and surf away immediately. But commercial wifi hotspots may require using a special application, or authenticating through a portal web page using a standard web browser. Similar portal pages are being presented for WISP networks, private for-pay hotspots, and even free hotspots where you must read the Terms of Service before proceeding.
Many devices like cell phones, smart phones and other PDAs are now capable of wifi, but don’t have a suitable web browser. They may have no web browser at all, or the one provided does not support some code used on these portal pages. These devices are ordinarilly unable to use these wifi networks.
Fon’s solution to this predicament is the FON WiFi Connection Manager, which supports Symbian S60v3 compatible phones, including Nokia E60, E61, N80, N91, N92, N93 and N95. However, this still leaves a lot of devices without support!
Devicescape is a helper application which enables more of these lite-powered devices to authenticate and get online. It can automatically connect them when your networks become available, and remember your different usernames and passwords. Devicescape also runs on Windows and OSX PCs, to get you connected more convieniently.
Today the new 2.0 client has been made public, with support for the following devices:
- iPhone / iPod Touch
- Linksys WIP300
- Nokia Tablet 770, 800, 810
- Nokia Phones
- OSX Powerbooks
- Windows XP / Vista PCs
- Windows Mobile
Devicescape 2.0 comes with built-in support to connect you to these networks:
- Atria Networks (Canada)
- AT&T WiFi
- Google Wi-Fi
- NTT Communications HOTSPOT (Japan)
- Softbank BB Mobile Point (Japan)
Support for these networks are available, or coming soon:
- Boingo’s US Airport Locations
- PT Wi-Fi (Portugal)
- WiFly (Taiwan)
If you pre-install the new 2.0 client on your device, you can now use it to access new networks right away, instead of setting up your profile in advance on their website.
Devicescape also works as a replacement for other wifi managers, and will remember the keys for encrypted networks you use, including your home LAN. When you provide this information in your Devicescape profile, all of your other registered wifi devices will be able to log on too.
You and your friends may also invite each other to access each other’s private networks through the Devicescape web portal. When you give access to your friends by invitation, the wifi key is never revealed to them. Devicescape keeps it securely encrypted so only the wifi adapter knows it. You can also revoke these invitations at any time.
Rather than storing an encrypted database of pre-downloaded keys within the device itself, like Whisher, Devicescape attempts to tunnel authentication instructions over the port normally used for DNS requests. Wifi hotspot firewalls often leave this port open, even when authentication has not been completed.
Since this can be used as a loophole to steal wifi, many hotspots have throttled traffic on that port down to bare-minimum speeds, or found ways to essentially close the port. In the future, official partnerships with wifi providers who close the port may be required, so that accomodations may be made for using the Devicescape client.
Devicescape provides additional protection from “rogue” hotspots which look like legitemate hotspots, but are set up to harvest usernames, passwords, and sniff other details from unsuspecting people’s wifi sessions. As I have also suggested to Whisher, Devicescape could sweeten the deal by providing a VPN client, with a VPN server hosted at the user’s home, or available from a 3rd party host in partnership with Devicescape. Another feature that could make both connection helpers very desireable is if this hypothetical VPN service included building virtual networks, as with LogMeIn’s Hamachi product.