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Tuesday, August 05, 2014, 08:22 am PT (11:22 am ET)

Apple's Steve Jobs had vision of building an open Wi-Fi utopia

Late Apple CEO Steve Jobs is said to have been unhappy with the high cost and slow speed of mobile data networks, and hoped to solve the problem by convincing consumers and businesses to share their high-speed Internet connections via free and open "guest" Wi-Fi networks.




Jobs planned a "sort of consortium" of technology companies and network manufacturers to implement his idea, according to Re/code's Walt Mossberg. Owners of any Wi-Fi-connected device could then take advantage of those hotspots, rather than using cellular modems or being forced to pay to connect.

As noted by Mossberg, a number of firms — mainly telecommunications providers — have since implemented a similar idea. Comcast offers such an option with its home routers in the U.S., while European and Asian telecoms including Three, Fon, Iliad, and others offer customers free Wi-Fi roaming in their respective geographies.

Apple, for its part, did build a "guest network" option into its AirPort series of internet routers. According to the company, a user's "primary network, including [their] printer, attached drives, or other devices remains secure" despite the presence of the guest network.

Some other manufacturers have followed suit, and the Open Wireless Movement — backed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla, and others — has released special firmware designed to allow users of some consumer routers lacking the feature to enable it.

According to that group, offloading data transfer from mobile networks to their Wi-Fi cousins would bring a number of benefits. In addition to increasing the availability of internet access to groups that may not be able to afford it and enabling new, innovative technologies that require high-bandwidth connections, it would make much more efficient use of the finite amount of available wireless spectrum.