With Windows Phone 8.1 and newer, Microsoft is expanding on the system’s native Wi-Fi capabilities by letting you automatically connect to over one million free Wi-Fi hotspots around the world, potentially saving your cellular data usage. It can also be used to optionally share your Wi-Fi credentials with your contacts.
Note: Wi-Fi Sense is moving forward to Windows 10 for phones, but also for PCs and tablets. I’ll be looking at this evolved version of Wi-Fi Sense in a future article, but it works similarly to the version in Windows Phone 8.1 today.
As you may know, previous versions of Windows Phone let you sync login credentials to protected Wi-Fi networks through your Microsoft account. This capability continues in Windows Phone 8.1, of course, but it’s augmented by the new Wi-Fi Sense feature. Here’s what you need to know about Wi-Fi Sense.
It’s not available everywhere. Like some other Windows Phone features, Wi-Fi Sense isn’t available in all countries and regions. Fortunately the excluded list is short: Wi-Fi Sense is not available in Bangladesh, Brunei, Darussalam, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.
It requires location services. If you turn off location services, Wi-Fi Sense won’t work.
You’re asked to configure Wi-Fi Sense during initial Setup. If you get a new Windows Phone 8.1.x-based handset, or upgrade an existing handset to Windows Phone 8.1.x, you will be asked to configure Wi-Fi Sense during initial Setup. But you can always enable or otherwise configure Wi-Fi Sense at any time as noted below.
Find Wi-Fi Sense. During normal phone operation, Wi-Fi Sense is accessed through the Wi-Fi Settings app, so just look for the Wi-Fi entry in Settings in Windows Phone 8.1 and 8.1.1. If you’re using Windows Phone 8.1.2, you will find Wi-Fi Settings (and thus Wi-Fi Sense) under Settings, Network + Wireless.
There are just two options. The Wi-Fi Sense user interface is simple enough, and you only have two options (discussed below) to enable.
Automatically connect to Wi-Fi hotspots. This is Wi-Fi Sense’s most useful feature: If you enable “Connect to Wi-Fi hotspots,” your phone will automatically attempt to connect to over one million free Wi-Fi hotspots around the world. The best bit? It will automatically accept the terms and connections on your behalf, when possible, so that many networks that usually require you to step through some process will work automatically without your intervention. The list of Wi-Fi Sense-compatible hotspots is crowdsourced and is growing over time. And you can control which information Wi-Fi Sense shares with these hotspots: it provides bogus information by default.
Exchange password-protected Wi-Fi network credentials with your contacts. This one may raise a few eyebrows. If you enable “Share Wi-Fi networks I select,” your Windows Phone will exchange the credentials for password-protected Wi-Fi networks with your contacts. The good news? It will do so without letting those contacts actually view the credentials, so it’s ostensibly safe. You can choose which contacts (on a per-account, not per-contact basis) get to share Wi-Fi credentials. And sharing goes both ways: your contacts can share Wi-Fi credentials with you too. The bad news? It only works with Windows Phone users.
You can stop sharing individual networks. If you’d rather not share the credentials for a particular protected Wi-Fi network with others, you can do so from Wi-Fi Settings. Tap the Manage button and then tap and hold on the network in the Manage list and choose “Do Not Share.” You can also opt your own Wi-Fi network out of Wi-Fi Sense by changing the name to include the text “_optout” (no quotes).