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January 03, 2013

Instabridge Helps You Make Instant Friends via Android, Wi-Fi and Facebook

If you are like me, the thought of giving visitors to your home access to your Wi-Fi connection makes you break out in a cold sweat. Not only am I usually not able to find the real password to my router/base station (the password word Verizon gave us for their FiOS services is way too long anyway), but I can’t remember the guest one either. Along with the extra fee for becoming a mobile hotspot, the hassle factor is also why I have held back on activating that feature on my 4G LTE phone. It turns out that I am far from alone, and a Swedish startup called Instabridge (Google Translate needed) seems to have come up with an answer that may greatly diminish my fear factor. 

Free Android app lets you share and share alike

In a nutshell, the concept is simple and ingenious. Instabridge’s free Android app lets you automatically share Wi-Fi networks with your Facebook friends. The app works by using the Facebook Connect authentication tool with which we are all probably familiar from using it as our proxy logon to various websites. In beta right now in a few European countries, the app should be available to you in 2013.

The company’s cofounder and CEO, Niklas Agevik sees opportunity arising thanks to two related trends:

  • Wi-Fi as traffic off load for cellular operators looking for further monetization and customer loyalty opportunities; and
  • The likely increase in data charges for data plans, which means that sharing will become a critical piece of the puzzle as consumers look to manage their wireless connectivity costs while maximizing their access.

In fact, Agevik has stated that Instabridge has already been contacted by carriers who want to work with the company, and he has deal with Samsung for a near-field communication version of the app. This certainly is being opportunistic given the rather rosy predictions that 2013 is likely to be a watershed year for localized wireless transactions and NFC is coming on strong with the device industry.

How it works

As noted, the idea here is to make what is complicated simple. You install the Instabridge app and log in with your Facebook username and password. The app then determines who your friends are and lets you invite them to use a network.

To share a Wi-Fi network through Instabridge for the first time, you must:

  • Type in your network’s password, which is encrypted and stored on Instabridge’s servers;
  • Invite your friends to share your networks and vice versa;
  • When a friend using the Instabridge app is in range of a network you’ve shared, Instabridge pushes the network credential to your friend’s phone but does not allow them to see it, thus preserving your personal information from public exposure; and
  • When the session is concluded, the credentials are deleted from sharer’s device.

Plus, the app is designed to allow users to lock out others from your network if you change your mind.

The video below shows off the ease-of-use.

There are a few other features that make this sensible and attractive.

The Instabridge app includes a map showing all available networks that you can connect to, and the next iteration is supposed to allow you to add friends from your device’s address book. An iOS version is contemplated as are connectivity via other popular social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn.

While this is using Wi-Fi for sharing rather than turning your cellular service into a hotspot, the thing I like maybe the best is that the app is designed not to drain your battery. How so, you ask? The app cleverly operates in the background and hooks into the phone’s Wi-Fi scanning activities only when it sees a network it recognizes.

As noted, the app is currently available only for Android users in Nordic and Baltic countries (including Sweden, Estonia, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland).  Thus far it has about 5,000 people who have downloaded the app from Google Play, and 2,000 are active users according to Agevik.

Given the growth of various wireless ecosystems, particularly by cable companies, and the increasingly dense population of public Wi-Fi in congested areas, you might be asking why if Wi-Fi is needed to be able to share wouldn’t this obviate the need for sharing. Reality is that the convenience factor is huge for non-public usage, and being able to use the bandwidth of somebody with a plan is you have befriended (pardon the expression) should not be under-estimated.

This is certainly something to keep an eye on over the next few months. As they say in Swedish, Gott Nytt År! Or as we say in English, Happy New Year!

Edited by Rich Steeves

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