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Verizon Wireless and AT&T Both Launch Android WiFi Apps

Funny how things happen. Over the weekend the two top wireless carriers in the USA have both released WiFi latch on applications for Android devices running OS' 2.1 and above.

AT&T released the app entitled Smart WiFi while Verizon Wireless has deployed Verizon WiFi Auto On. The VZW app doesn't presently work with my Galaxy Tab 10.1, which was also the case with the very helpful Verizon Wireless data tech I spoke to on Saturday. It did work perfectly on the HTC Thunderbolt.

Basically the applications mimic the functionality that has existed for a few years on the Apple iOS devices like the iPhone, recognizing hotspots that you previously have logged onto, but adds an extra layer of hotspots you've come into contact with, but didn't latch onto complete with a map.

The AT&T app appears to be homegrown and provides some core functionality that's not evident in the Verizon release for Android. That includes crowdsourcing of hotspots (think Trapster) that are open/public and can auto-connect to the ones the user prefers, thus creating a virtual Wi-Fi footprint in addition to the 27K AT&T hotspots.

How this all impacts Boingo (a former client) is unclear. AT&T purchased Wayport a few years ago, and Boingo and Wayport always roamed together. Ironically T-Mobile which was the leader in mobile carriers invested in the HotSpot marketplace had similar applications for years on laptops but never carried through onto mobile phones, and Sprint, which also was an early player in hotspots, sold their interest in that to Boingo some years back, as well as maintaining an investment in the company until it's IPO. So now you have the later adoptive carriers recognizing that the time is now for WiFi to be the offloading vehicle to reduce drag on their networks, especially for video and the growing video calling business (did you watch CSI Miami last night and see the calls going on as well as The Good Wife with the Polycom mention?)

These two apps are early, first generation, but are clearly bright lights for Android users, and should help reduce traffic on the 3G/4G networks of both AT&T and Verizon. Net net, sometimes it pays to wait, something Sprint and T-Mobile didn't do. Had they stayed in the game they may have been the winners.

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Andy, this is kind of cool but its not as cool as UMA/GAN (WiFi Calling). For those of us in high rises in densely populated urban areas where GSM signals are weak (but where we have solid WiFi signals in our office and homes), why can't we have something like the T-Mobile USA Wi-Fi calling function in the phone (as software) instead of having to buy YACD (Yet Another Clunky Device) -- a femtocell -- which sucks up more energy (and makes Al Gore cranky)? Seriously, if T-Mobile can achieve UMA/GAN over WiFi, then why not the other carriers? What's the barrier especially with more and more smartphones that are capable of doing this in software on Android or iOS? With iOS one can understand the barrier may very well be Apple and its App store gatekeeping. But Android? Isn't Android the open source darling?

Android is actually not the picture perfect "open source" little prince that Google likes us to think it is. Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Andy Rubin have essentially tricked people into buying the Nexus phones (Nexus One, Nexus S) with the hyperbole about how "open" and "pure" they are and yet we can't put the T-Mobile WiFi Calling app on either one (of course T-Mobile with Kineto won't open source the app either). This despite Google having Samsung design the Nexus S to support only the 3G GSM bands of T-Mobile in the U.S. (and sold by Best Buy with a T-Mobile SIM chip in the box when the Nexus S made its debut in December 2010). Andy Rubin also does not return phone calls to Nexus owners who call and beg him to find a way to give the Nexus phones the ability to run UMA / WiFi calling (how hard can it be, after all T-Mobile makes it possible for the Samsung Galaxy S which is for all intents and purposes the same as the Nexus S so long as you go to jail for 2 years with a T-Mobile contract on the Galaxy S). People who purchased the Nexus S *trusted* Google that it would be an open platform that one could modify without rooting it, and have much more flexibility on. But Andy Rubin is apparently too busy to return phone calls of his passionate Nexus customers; contrast this with Steve Jobs who is known to return phone calls and answer people's emails because Steve really does care!

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