Software can log on to many WLANs

Devicescape Software Inc. says it has a solution for the problem of using Wi-Fi hot spots with devices that don't have browsers.

Devicescape's free software, formally unveiled on Tuesday at the Demo conference in Palm Desert, California, lets users set up log-in information for multiple Wi-Fi networks and then get on those networks automatically from any supported device.

Publicly available Wi-Fi networks, both free and subscription-based, are proliferating in airports, hotels and shopping areas and even around cities. Carriers and other service providers give users access at many hotspots through the same account, but that often still requires entering a log-in and password. That may be hard or impossible to do on a specialized device such as a phone, handheld game console or camera.

Devicescape lets users give their subscription information for all the networks they want to use and register their Wi-Fi devices. When they want to use a given hotspot, that data is exchanged in the background in a patented way before the device gets on the network, according to Glenn Flinchbaugh, vice president of products at Devicescape.

Currently, if the user tries to get online in a place where they have more than one choice of operator, the device will automatically choose the network with the strongest signal, Flinchbaugh said. In the future, Devicescape plans to let users set priorities based on the cost of different networks or other factors, he added.

Although the service is aimed at consumers, it doesn't conflict with use of a corporate VPN (virtual private network) because the log-in process happens before the device goes on the public network, he said.

The system works with many of the world's hotspots, including ones provided by AT&T Inc., EarthLink Inc., Google Inc., T-Mobile USA Inc. and WayPort Inc., according to Devicescape. Devicescape is focused on North America today, but its system will work with network operators in other parts of the world, such as Orange in the U.K. and Softbank and NTT in Japan. The company doesn't need special arrangements with those operators to allow easy log-ins, but it hopes to set up revenue-sharing agreements with them for cases in which new subscribers sign up because of Devicescape, said Chief Executive Officer David Fraser.

The San Bruno, California, startup is also working on licensing its software for non-PC devices, either built in or as an add-on. The software, currently in beta testing, is available now as a free download from Devicescape's Web site. It already works with Microsoft Corp. Windows XP PCs and Windows Mobile 5 phones, as well as two other devices: the Nokia Corp. 770 Web tablet and the Cisco Systems Inc. Linksys WIP 300 VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) phone. It's relatively easy to develop software for those two devices because of available interfaces, but most nonbrowser devices would require a licensing deal, Fraser said.

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