Microsoft to kill key Wi-Fi Sense feature, but still appears to have big plans for Wi-Fi

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is pulling support in Windows 10 for its Wi-Fi Sense feature, which enables users to share Wi-Fi access with social network connections and to access public Wi-Fi more easily.

But the software giant still appears to have big plans for Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi Sense uses crowdsourced data to automatically connect to open Wi-Fi hotspots. Users can connect to networks that have been shared with them by contacts on Facebook, Outlook or Skype, enabling them to share passwords and access.

The feature, which originally appeared on Windows Phone, had raised privacy concerns from some security experts. But Microsoft said it has removed the password-sharing component in the upcoming Windows 10 Insider Preview build, although some features will remain.

"We have removed the Wi-Fi Sense feature that allows you to share Wi-Fi networks with your contacts and to be automatically connected to networks shared by your contacts," wrote Microsoft executive Gabe Aul in a company blog post. "The cost of updating the code to keep this feature working combined with low usage and low demand made this not worth further investment. Wi-Fi Sense, if enabled, will continue to get you connected to open Wi-Fi hotspots that it knows about through crowdsourcing."

Wi-Fi Sense is yet another effort to aggregate the fractured landscape of Wi-Fi hotspots into a unified system of connected networks, enabling users to move from hotspot to hotspot more easily. Its objective is similar to Passpoint -- also known as Hotspot 2.0 -- which was launched in 2012 to allow mobile users to automatically sign on to Wi-Fi at any participating access point.

Such efforts could be seen as a threat by mobile network operators because they could allow Wi-Fi hotspot operators to build a network and then essentially open that network up to roaming traffic from cellular carriers. Instead, most mobile service providers are working to deploy LTE-U or LAA, which would allow them to retain control over their customers instead of handing off to Wi-Fi service providers.

Microsoft is still aggressively pursuing Wi-Fi, though, and may step up its efforts to make it easier for users to move between hotspots later this year, according to Patricia Hume, chief commercial officer of the iPass, an aggregator of Wi-Fi hotspots.

"So Microsoft will be announcing at some point later this year the Microsoft Wi-Fi initiative," Hume said last week during iPass' quarterly earnings call, according to a transcript from Seeking Alpha. "We continue to be their partner, providing iPass to them as part of their branded initiative. So as I said on our last earnings call, the partnership with Microsoft is very strong. They have been a terrific partner and we don't anticipate anything but goodness to continue with our relationship with Microsoft."

For more:
- see this PhoneScoop article
- see this Microsoft blog post

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