If you’re a MetroPCS cell-phone customer, chances are much of your smartphone activity runs not through billion-dollar networks of cell towers but through the $80 Wi-Fi router down at the local library.
The mobile carrier uses technology from a 60-person company called Devicescape that automatically detects nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and connects subscribers to one with available bandwidth, rather than take up scarce capacity on strapped cellular networks. The Silicon Valley company has assembled a database of more than 8 million “unsecured” wireless routers, owned by coffee shops, cities, and other entities that have either intentionally made them available to the public, or not gotten around to setting up a password to keep freeloaders out. “There’s a huge network that’s been hiding in plain sight,” says David Fraser, Devicescape’s chief executive officer. “Why not use it?”