I am sure we all have our own favourite hotspot horror stories. One of my more recent experiences, about which I penned but never published several angry paragraphs, concerned an attempt to use T-Mobile's hotspot service at Chicago's O-Hare airport back in the summer. As usual with T-Mobile, I was required to run round in circles several times before performing double backflips, creating user accounts and trying to retrieve unretrievable and forgotten usernames and passwords before finally giving up and depriving the company of its measly $6, which it no doubt did not miss. I do wonder if the designers of these systems, or indeed the senior managers responsible, ever actually put themselves through the experience they expect their customers to suffer.
That time I was using, or failing to use, a laptop PC, which no doubt accounts for 95% of hotspot usage today. But hotspots will also support a growing number of other wireless devices, and I have at one time or another also successfully used Nokia's N95 and N800 tablet at different locations. Nintendo's DS is the obvious mass market example of a WiFi-enabled device that might benefit from wider WiFi availability, but there are many others waiting in the wings. Not least, of course, Apple's iPhone, which by all accounts has woken up the US industry to the fact that people really do want WiFi (ie wireless broadband) capability on handheld devices.
One thing is for sure, though: the hotspot experience has to improve, and that's where Devicescape
hopes to step in. We met with David Fraser, the CEO, yesterday, and the company seems to be rapidly building a lead in what should become an important market as 2 billion wireless home devices are sold over the next 6 years
. Devicescape's database and application essentially stores details of the vast number of WiFi hotspots around the world, as well as the login details of registered users, saving the device owner the hassle of logging in every time he reaches another hotspot. It can also work with home wireless LANs, so that the user's friends and relatives can be registered as approved users.
Devicescape claims that their software is already in 10% of hacked iPhones, demonstrating that Apple's enthusiast customers are determined to make WiFi a more pleasurable experience. The company also suggests that cellular operators are beginning to change their attitude towards WiFi, which they may previously have seen as unnecessary or even competitive to cellular, but now recognise (not least because of the iPhone's success) as a way to boost customer satisfaction and revenues.
We will see. My first trial today did not go well - standing near Oxford Street in London, my N95 found the BT Openzone well enough, but Devicescape claimed I was not authorised to log in, even though I had registered my account. I will check the details and report back. But in principle there is no doubt Devicescape is trying to solve a genuine problem, and they appear to be getting the more forward-thinking operators on-side, which can only be a good sign.