U.S.-based software and technology giant Microsoft has announced that it is working on a new Wi-Fi service, called Microsoft WiFi, to replace Skype Wi-Fi. Microsoft said the service will provide access to 10 million hotspots worldwide. Currently Skype Wi-Fi has 2 million hotspots. Microsoft made the announcement via microsoftwifi.com, which stated that the new service will be available for users of Skype Wi-Fi, users of Microsoft Office 365 for Enterprise, and people who have received a special Wi-Fi offering from Microsoft. No financial details of the planned service—which will be available via Windows Phone, Mac, Android and iOS—were disclosed.
While it is not yet clear when Microsoft WiFi will launch, it seems that when it does, a large step will have been taken in the direction of making public Wi-Fi connections universally accessible. Ten million hotspots in some 130 countries is no doubt an impressive number, and it marks a quintupling of the number now available to Skype subscribers (Microsoft owns Skype, which it acquired in 2011). We have written recently about the proliferation of services that rely partially or wholly on Wi-Fi hotspots—usually free ones—as an auxiliary or even a replacement for traditional cellular data (and, by extension, voice and text messaging if over-IP solutions are used). The success of such challenges to the mobile operators’ connectivity depends, of course, on the number and density of Wi-Fi hotspots available in public places both indoors and outdoors. Until now, Wi-Fi hotspots have not been ubiquitous enough to make these services game changers. However, if a giant entity like Microsoft can really spread hotspots across the globe densely enough, a web of connectivity operating outside the MNOs’ networks can come into existence. Of course, while this will be public Wi-Fi, it will not be free public Wi-Fi; Microsoft will be charging for the access, so in order for it to position itself as a significant competitor to cellular service, it will have to be priced appropriately.