Would you be willing to open your home Wi-Fi network to total strangers, so that passersby and folks in your near vicinity could join it and surf the web for free?

These questions kept Apple CEO Steve Jobs up at night back in 2007 as he envisioned building an open Wi-Fi Utopia. The idea was born out of his frustration with sluggish mobile data networks at the time.

Re/code’s Walt Mossberg, the famous technology reviewer and columnist who used to enjoy unparalleled access to Jobs, recounts how Jobs’s intense loathing of AT&T almost gave everyone free Wi-Fi…

Basically, Jobs envisioned a system where iPhones could hop around from one open Wi-Fi hotspot to another, and he even planned to get other companies involved in a sort of consortium.

Here’s an excerpt from Mossberg’s article:

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs loved to walk around his neighborhood in Palo Alto, California. And after his pride and joy, the iPhone, was born, he naturally took it along with him on walks.

The first iPhone had a lousy, sluggish, cellular-data network, but it also had a much faster data option: Wi-Fi. It even had a feature (still present, but much less touted) that popped up a list of nearby Wi-Fi networks on the screen, so you could always find one in range.

But, he once told me, there was a big problem with that technique, one that he wanted to fix: Most of the Wi-Fi networks that popped up on his screen couldn’t be used, because they were secured with passwords.

Jobs said he understood the need for security, but he was determined to figure out a way to make free, safe, Wi-Fi sharing from homes and small local businesses not only possible, but common.

In a nutshell, Jobs was preoccupied with a potentially disruptive feature which, however, thus far has not become an industry standard in consumer wireless routers: guest networking.

Guest networking capability does come built into Apple’s line of AirPort-branded wireless appliances. With this feature, users can set up a separate Wi-Fi network, just for guests. It can be password-protected or use no password at all – the choice is yours.

Several other telecommunications providers and router manufacturers have since implemented guest networking in one form or another, including Comcast in the United States and Three, Fon, Iliad and other telecoms across Europe and Asia.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla and others even banded together, creating the Open Wireless Movement. Among other things, the initiative provides a firmware that adds the guest networking feature to certain home routers which don’t support it out of the box.

Wi-Fi (Guest network, annotated, Recode 001)

The good thing about guest Wi-Fi networks is that they allow access only to the Internet. Your primary Wi-Fi network, including any external storage device, printer or other LAN-attached device, remains secure and walled off from the clients connected to the guest network.

I have a guest network set up on my Time Capsule. It’s a very useful feature: friends that come over are free to connect to my Wi-Fi and I don’t even have to reveal my network password or expose my private Wi-Fi to them.

My only complaint with Apple’s implementation of guest networking is lack of data throttling, which means and device on my guest Wi-Fi can use up all my available bandwidth. What I’d love is a hassle-free way to allocate only a portion of my bandwidth to the guest network and maybe prioritize network traffic.

Was Jobs’s vision Utopian, do you think?

And under what circumstances would you be willing to share your home Wi-Fi bandwidth with strangers?

  • d3si 5abi

    I would definitely be willing to share my WiFi if i could allocate the portion of bandwidth i want to share via the guest network.

    • Litchy

      I would open up my guest network as well if my downloads would be higher priority. Don’t want anybody to get all my bandwidth if I need it. While I’m not using it? Take all you want 😀

      Oh and of course they’d have to log in somehow so that they can be identified by the police if they do something fishy^^

  • mahe

    I would never do this …
    Because by law I’m responsible if some stranger is doing some illegal stuff over my connection.
    And as there is no way to get the true identity of the stranger … never ever.

    • Litchy

      Really? To easy to solve… Everybody has to log in with some kind of account with verified name and address. Of course this data is encrypted and you are not able to see it. In case something illegal was downloaded not you are charged but the owner of the account that was logged in. Done

      • mahe

        It’s not that easy.

        Because if you provide this service you are a provider (which means you have to be a company, it doesn’t matter you provide it for free). You need a contract with the company which has the userdata.

        Who says the system cannot be hacked?
        Who can prove if the given data by the user is correct?
        In my country (Austria) I am responsible to protect the WiFi of foreign use (as good as it’s possible for me), if I don’t do that it’s my fault.

        Anyway, in the first instance you are the guilty one, which means first the police knocks at your door and possibly takes all your equipment for a long time.

        That’s a risk I don’t want to take …

      • JoJo

        It really is that easy, all major providers in the Netherlands already have this in place. We are protected by law.

      • mahe

        But sadly I don’t live in the Netherlands 🙁
        It’s not the same law all over the world, sometimes that’s good and sometimes not.

        If the provider itself comes up with that solution I don’t know how this would be handled in Austria. I think then it wouldn’t be a problem because in this case the responsibility is at the provider and not at the customer (as you said, they need to have a login, so they have an existing contract).

  • mynanolife

    Oh yeah and then let anybody willing to deal with child pornography put you in jail for that.

    Cheers from freedom.

    • Litchy

      Oh thats why Starbucks and other stores with free wifi are sued all the time for downloading illegal stuff! Oh wait a second… they don’t…

      Obviously you don’t just let them surf in your name. Every phone/laptop or whatever has to log in with their data and then surf. Problem solved

  • BoardDWorld

    If this was limited to communicating (video & voice) it would be perfect.

  • Repiuk

    In the netherlands ISP Ziggo already provides this. Users can openly share their WiFi connection and other users can use this for free. This does not require users to provide access to their home WiFi it uses a separate connection build into the wireless modem the provider leases to the user.

  • Rowan09

    If I’m paying for something strangers would need to help me with the bill to get “free” wifi.

    • Litchy

      The idea is that you get their wifi for free to 😉 You give yours away for “free” and get it for free anywhere else. Quite simple

      • Rowan09

        In America “free” is not real.

      • gittlopctbi

        I don’t see that working. There will be those who will never pay for WiFi and just leech off of others. Where’s the incentive for them to get any WiFi service?

      • Litchy

        Only if you give you get. That easy. You’ll have to have some kind of account to log in

      • gittlopctbi

        “Only if you give you get.” Seriously? No, society is not that way today. That’s not reality. There are no incentives for them to “give.” And I don’t care about giving an account.

      • Litchy

        Dude…. If you want free wifi everywhere, you create an account. With that Account you can log into all wifi’s. It’s completely free but theres one thing you have to do in order to create that “free-wifi-everywhere-account” -> Give your wifi away to others with the same kind of account too.

        You don’t give your wifi away for free. You pay by giving it away.

  • Guest

    Steve Jobs and free are not words usually used in the same sentence

  • Tommy Gumbs

    I have a new home. In my neighborhood all the homes are built to confine the wifi. My home has a “Brain” that controls everything through one box. It’s cool. Anyway, all the home in my area are built in a way that blocks all signals from leaving the house, other that cell reception. I prefer it this way. Basically you can drive around my neighborhood and you will never pick up a wifi.

  • ins0mniac1

    I have Guest mode on my Netgear router which my friends make good use out of when visiting. I would take the guest password off so anyone could use it if I could cap bandwidth on the Guest network at a certain speed. Bandwidth allocation seems like a really obvious feature to be missing from so many routers. I was disappointed when I discovered I had no control over it.

  • Tamahome5555

    I would share my WiFi if my internet speed wasnt a bottleneck.

  • Dan Alexander

    What a visionary indeed..

  • gittlopctbi

    Not willing to do this. I am paying for my WiFi. I am paying for premium WiFi service. Not even interested in being compensated for it. I do not want anyone else besides my family on my network.

  • Christian Mejía

    Steve was really a genius. He was always thinking of new innovations.

  • Satrop 

    Not sure if anyone else has mentioned this yet but, back home in the UK, BT Infinity did (not sure if they still do) have an option to set up a free Wi-Fi hot spot with the router they supplied. You were able to completely lock a portion of your bandwidth to the hot spot that anyone in range can jump on. I, as well as lots of other people in the neighborhood did the same thing. There was an accompanying app that would point out all the free BT Infinity hot spots. It worked.

  • DogeCoin

    I could see this happening more easily with The Meshnet.

  • DogeCoin

    If you have a netgear router with openWRT on it i think you could probably allocate a certain amount of bandwidth to a guest network.