It isn’t unusual that we lose our cellular signals in certain places, be it indoors because of structural impediments or outdoors for one reason or another. There’s a reason why some establishments offer free public Wi-Fi to keep visitors happy, but the hassle of figuring out which ones are safe to connect to makes them sad anyway. That’s why Google’s Area 120 skunkworks arm is launching Orion WiFi that can automatically and seamlessly connect you to such WiFi access points, but with a slight commercial twist that could interest network carriers.
The idea of switching between cellular and Wi-Fi networks isn’t exactly new since our phones have long been capable of doing so as long as there is a known access point nearby. Google has also been offering such conveniences for its own customers and other experiments in some networks but Orion WiFi has two things that make this idea different and interesting.
The first is that it happens seamlessly without the user even knowing about it, especially not the AP name they need to connect to. Orion actually puts the decision making in the hands of carriers, determining whether Wi-Fi is actually stronger than the cellular signal or stay on mobile data otherwise. Area 120 promises that Orion cannot access users’ Internet traffic.
The other part of its proposition is that, unlike similar attempts in the past, this actually puts network operators and carriers in control. This means carriers can offer this feature to their subscribers, for a fee, of course. They will also have to work with establishments providing the WiFi networks, making it sound like a potentially profitable business partnership.
That said, that also means carriers will have actually jump in for it to work, with Google Fi and Republic Wireless as the first in line. Orion is also working with Boingo, the company that provides “carrier-grade” WiFi in the US. Of course, that means availability is going to be limited within the US and, like any Area 120 project, may or may not survive the test of time.