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A New Service Will Let You Borrow Your Neighbor's Wi-Fi for a Stronger Connection

We’ve all been there: Your Wi-Fi goes out and, as you wait on hold with your provider’s customer service rep, your mouse hovers over your neighbor’s networks. If only you could just hop on TheNewmanFamily Wi-Fi, you would have sweet, sweet Internet again. Besides, they’re probably not even home! 

Spanish broadband provider Telefónica has been experimenting with a system to put that temptation to use, as detailed in an article from Wired UK. Their solution, named BeWifi, gathers bandwidth from Wi-Fi routers in a local area, and uses that to strengthen the speed of the Internet connection for whomever is actively online at that time.

How does it work? Since 2008, Telefónica has been developing over-the-air software that aggregates the signals of a community’s routers. It blends the bandwidth from every router to supplement their usual Wi-Fi connection at home. According to Telefónica’s Director of Product Innovation and Research Pablo Rodriguez, you’ll always get at least the bandwidth you paid for (a big promise in itself for anyone who’s ever used Time Warner). 

"Your broadband connection is not used 100 percent of the time," Rodriguez told Wired U.K.. “If you bring [connections] together smartly and manage to aggregate the spare capacity … [it’s] a much better customer experience.”

BeWifi is still in testing stages (and only in Spain), and results so far have demonstrated some limitations to the service. First of all, the software only works effectively in densely populated areas like cities. Second, the company has yet to roll out plug-and-play routers that don’t require installation from their company’s engineers. But the service’s pilot program, according to Rodriguez, was successful in doubling some customers’s connection speed. He also mentioned that one user was experiencing an outage, but didn’t even know it, because his connection was supported by the community network. 

Though there is still clearly a lot to iron out here, it’s exciting to see technology that could potentially make Internet connection in urban settings less horrible—all through some old-fashioned neighborly cooperation, no less. 

Will shared Wi-Fi ever make it to America? Most Internet Service Providers expressly prohibit sharing your Wi-Fi with multiple households, though there are signs that might be easing. We’ve already seen whisperings of this approach from U.S. providers like Comcast, which launched a “Neighborhood Hotspot” initiative this summer for its Xfinity Internet customers. Even non-subscribers are able use the separate hotspots for free twice per month for up to an hour each time. Though Comcast’s strategy is a little less advanced than what Telefónica has experimented with, it’s nice to see that companies aren’t just banking on more expensive technologies and Google Fiber for the future. 

Learn more about BeWifi here.

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