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Sprint phones get smarter about Wi-Fi, battery usage

The wireless carrier says it has been quietly rolling out an "intelligent client" that helps devices find more power-efficient Wi-Fi hot spots.

Sprint Product Chief, Fared Adib, speaking to media at CTIA 2012.
Sprint's product chief, Fared Adib, speaking to reporters at the company's Network Vision conference at the CTIA Wireless trade show. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

NEW ORLEANS--Many Sprint Nextel customers aren't proactive enough when it comes to taking advantage of speedy, power-efficient Wi-Fi networks, but the company is aiming to change that.

Sprint has been quietly rolling out an "intelligent client" called the Sprint connection optimizer designed to help phones locate and remember Wi-Fi networks. The software, which has already been rolled out to the original Samsung Epic, is making its way through the various smartphones via an over-the-air software update.

While Wi-Fi clients and assistants aren't exactly new, they are typically used by the more tech-savvy crowd. Fared Adib, head of products and devices for Sprint, said there are still a lot of subscribers out there who don't realize or take advantage of Wi-Fi as an alternative data connection.

"We think it's a little bit groundbreaking," Adib said during a conference with reporters during the CTIA Wireless trade show today, noting that few other carriers are doing this.

The software is fairly innocuous, working in the background to actively find Wi-Fi networks and pinging users if a network is available. If joined, the software does a better job of remembering the network and proactively hops on it the next time the person is nearby. For Android phones, the message acts as a regular notification.

The use of Wi-Fi is important to Sprint because it gets data traffic off of its own cellular network, freeing up capacity for other users. It's even more important down the line as Sprint works to integrate Wi-Fi more tightly with its own cellular network. For customers, Wi-Fi offers a more power-efficient experience. Adib said smartphone users can get up 50 percent better battery life using Wi-Fi for data as opposed to 3G or 4G.

The client is particularly useful for customers using a WiMax phones, since customers often have to actively switch the WiMax connection on and off.