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Software company hopes to speed up mobile connections

Smith Micro Software rolls out a product to make it easier for iOS users to seamlessly connect to Wi-Fi and relieve congested 3G and 4G networks -- so you can Facetime without killing your data limit.


Smith Micro Software, a company that normally stays behind the scenes of mobile service carriers, has released an iOS product that aims to let consumers connect to Wi-Fi in lieu of clogged networks.

The company today announced its NetWise SmartSpot tool, which switches users to Wi-Fi when it's available and switches back to networks when the Wi-Fi is out of reach, highlighting a need for mobile companies to address massive data usage that slows down service.

Data traffic bottlenecking has been an issue for some time now as consumers become accustomed to more data-heavy services and features like video chatting and streaming of music and video.

And with Apple's recent decision to allow users to use its Facetime video chat over cellular networks in addition to Wi-Fi, carriers are more inclined than ever to figure out how to stem the data tide. This includes the unpopular practice of tiered-data pricing, and more recently shared data plans.

This where Smith Micro hopes to step in.

Sunil Marolia, Smith Micro's VP of product management, said shared data plans are mostly driven by networks becoming more congested because of data-heavy apps. Offloading, or switching your service, to Wi-Fi when you can is a simple solution, but it's not always an easy one for consumers.

"It's really the end consumer who suffers and doesn't know how to do that," he said.

The company, which is behind Sprint's data offload strategy, already offers a traffic-management tool for Android through various carriers, but it is integrated seamlessly into the user's phone. The iOS tool will let users achieve the ability, but with an emphasis on user control.

Smith Micro's CTO Dave Sperling said this was done to work around the restrictions Apple places on developers for background services, but he envisions that the tool has features that would appeal to users of other platforms as well.

The SmartSpot tool includes the integration of a visual Wi-Fi directory that lets users see where all of a carrier's hotspots are located. Access to the hotspots would be worked into the user's data plan. Users would also be able to find their own hotspots, with a streamlined authentication process for previously visited hotspots and automatic notifications.

Additionally, Smith Micro added a Wi-Fi efficiency-scoring system to let users clock their use of Wi-Fi and compare it to others in the network. The goal is to encourage more Wi-Fi usage and reduce traffic on 3G and 4G networks.

"It's another tool to get the message out to their subscribers and get them using their WiFi," Sperling said.

While there are numerous existing apps that monitor for hotspots and manage between Wi-Fi and network connections, SmartSpot will be integrated into a carrier's network. This means users will see it in different forms based on which cell phone service they subscribe to and a debut date will depend on the carrier.

Smith Micro said carrier evaluations are underway, but didn't say which carriers are interested in the tool.

The tool is geared toward both mobile operators who are already aiming to offload data traffic onto Wi-Fi and those who have yet to develop a strategy, Sperling said.

Perhaps Sprint and T-Mobile are already jumping on board since they are the only companies left with unlimited data plans. One thing's for sure -- companies need to come up with plans soon as mobile continues to be the dominant way to deliver content to consumers.