Intel to offer ‘free’ Wi-Fi in its ultrabooks, tablets

Date: May 30, 2012

Intel is adding a feature to its Ultrabooks and tablets that will make them stand out from its competitors’ netbooks and slates: automatic access to a global Wi-Fi network. The silicon vendor is using DeviceScape’s connection manager technology to link to millions of open hotspots.

Intel doesn’t make Ultrabooks are tablets itself, but it does provide the silicon and reference designs for other manufacturers to make them, including the Wi-Fi radio chips that allow them to connect to the Internet. By adding Devicescape’s software to Intel’s standard Smart Connect manager, Intel’s partners can ship their lightweight laptops and tablets with a public wireless connection already active.

According to Devicescape, the connection is completely automatic. When the device comes into range of any access point on its virtual network, it immediately links to it, even when the computer is in sleep mode. So an Ultrabook owner can enter a coffee shop with a free and open hotspot, order coffee, and after sitting down and pulling the tablet from his bag, discover his e-mail and social networking apps have already synched and updated.

“Smart Connect will work on lid open and lid closed scenarios,” Devicescape CEO David Fraser said via email. “So, you’ll be automatically connected no-matter the state of your PC.”

Devicescape builds its virtual network through crowdsourcing. Millions of devices that already contain its connection manager technology gather information on millions of open access points globally. Devicescape then curates that data, determining whether a hotspot has the speed, reliability and availability to make the cut. Devicescape can’t guarantee the quality of millions of access point it doesn’t own or manage, but it can select the best of the lot. Of the 100 million or so public hotspots and open private access points in the world today, Devicescape’s virtual network incorporates about 8 million.

No word yet whether Intel or its device partners would charge for the service, but my bet is they won’t. While Intel may be licensing the connection manager software from Devicescape, it isn’t paying a dime for the actual access. Its customers could log into any of these access points manually free of charge. Charging for a connection Intel is essentially getting gratis might not go over well with customers, but making a free global Wi-Fi network a perk would definitely be incentive to buy an Ultrabook or Intel-powered tablet.

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