Is a free global Wi-Fi network possible?

WeFi CEO Zur Feldman discusses how the company plans to make money from creating a virtual global Wi-Fi network

WeFi is hoping to do for Wi-Fi connectivity what Facebook has done for social networking.

WeFi, a software company headquartered in the US, and in Tel Aviv, Israel, creates software that can be downloaded for free onto laptops or mobile devices that the company says will enhance Wi-Fi connectivity and provide mobile devices with more powerful connection tools.

Once the software is installed, it begins searching for Wi-Fi hot spots in a user's area and allows them to map all the hot spots in their vicinity through the Google Maps application. The eventual goal, WeFi says, is to create a global map of wireless hot spots that can be used as a reference for members of the WeFi community who want to find Internet access in new locations. In this Q&A with WeFi CEO Zur Feldman, we discuss how WeFi works, how it enables Wi-Fi connectivity, and how the company plans to make money from creating a virtual global Wi-Fi network.

What is WeFi's end goal?

We basically want to provide and create a virtual global network which is free to allow everyone to get on whenever they choose and to have a service of broadband through Wi-Fi all over world. We want people to be able to use that platform to communicate with friends, and to use applications such as voice to connect with people all over the place without needing to pay any kinds of fees. In short, the end goal is to create a global virtual network based on Wi-Fi.

And how does WeFi plan on creating that network?

We're providing a technological platform that allows people to take advantage of hot spots around world. We have mapped close to 300,000 hot spots around the world, and we're adding more every single day. We also have a platform for mobile devices that have ability to connect to Wi-Fi, including the iPhone and the Nokia E65. Our software allows them to use the hot spots as their network.

I want to get a better idea of how this technology works. Essentially, people download software from your Web site that increases their computers' or wireless devices' ability to find and connect to Wi-Fi hot spots in the area, correct?

Yes, that's part of it. We also have algorithms written into the software that automatically connect your device to the best available hot spot. If, for example, you had a mobile device and you wanted to download an application and there are several hot spots in your area, you could literally walk from one area to another and not lose your connection. We have the ability to connect one Wi-Fi area to the next seamlessly, as long as they have an overlapping range. You can basically have an experience like a cellular phone experience, because we check and test the hot spots automatically, and we are able to connect you without even noticing.

Additionally, every time someone connects to a hot spot and maps it, we get information from them that gives us all the information about that hot spot and its connectivity. We'll be able to connect you without all the different handshakes: it's like you've been connected before even if you've never been there before. The nice thing about this is that people are actually doing this work for us by mapping all the hot spots in their area.

How do you get around the fact that so many Wi-Fi hot spots are password protected?

What we have found is that more than 50% of the hot spots that people are mapping are wide open. A lot of businesses have open Wi-Fi hot spots in order to entice customers to spend time there. A lot of times, people are willing to share their password for devices that are encrypted. More and more, we're seeing more trends for Wi-Fi networks to open up. We believe it's a social phenomenon where people can share and enjoy Wi-Fi, and share pictures and videos with each other. Once people map these areas more and more in their area, the more they'll be able to take advantage of them.

How do you handle security issues? Does WeFi have a way of making unsecured Wi-Fi hot spots more secure?

Whenever you use an open Wi-Fi hot spot, it's open. And when you use an open platform, there's no way to secure it. However, it's also possible for users to share the security codes with each other for password-protected wireless networks, so wherever you go you'll have the ability to log into the secure network with the code you've gotten.

How are you making money with this company?

It's analogous to what Google is doing by providing a search free of charge. But while the search engine is free, in essence it's a platform that Google has that allows them to sell advertising, and they can monetize it in many different ways. We create a platform that people can enjoy and utilize in many different ways. And because we have data on so many hot spots, we can have very specific location-based advertising that we can target at different areas. The ads will generally appear onscreen as banners for handheld devices and laptops, much as Google ads do.

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Brad Reed

Network World

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