Windows 8 makes wireless a snap!

Written By Andrew Nimmo Page Editor

For years now Windows wireless networks have been the reason for clumps of hair evacuating from my dome. With the mess of vendor-specific drivers and apps all conspiring against Microdoft’s default interface, it was a nightmare.

Windows 7 made much needed improvements with Wi-Fi connectivity, and they are once again charging the way for 3G and 4G networking in Windows 8, with built-in data activation and usage tools – Mucho Sweetness!

Simplifying wireless connectivity was the fundamental idea of the re-engineering of Windows 8 for the mobile future. Microsoft is using a true mobility approach and knew that Wi-Fi alone would not be enough, so they fully developed and integrated mobile broadband (MB) as a first-class connectivity experience.

Microsoft first included mobile broadband in Windows 7, but if you were a mobile broadband user, you likely had a number of hurdles to overcome before connecting with mobile broadband. Yes, you needed the requisite mobile broadband hardware (e.g., mobile broadband dongle or embedded module and SIM) and data plan, but you also needed to locate and install third-party device drivers, and in some cases software, before ever getting your first connection. If the drivers for your device and software from your mobile operator were not available locally, you had to find another connection type (perhaps Wi-Fi) to the Internet to search for software on the websites of the PC maker or mobile operator. This placed a sizable hurdle in front of users trying to connect with mobile broadband, right when they most needed that connection.

Take out the guesswork in locating and installing device drivers for mobile broadband. They had accomplished this working with their mobile operator and mobile broadband hardware partners across the industry, designing a hardware specification that device makers can incorporate into their device hardware. Windows 8, they developed an in-box mobile broadband class driver that works with all of these devices and eliminates your need for additional device driver software. You just plug in the device and connect. The driver stays up to date via Windows Update, ensuring you have a reliable mobile broadband experience.

Helping you manage your connections and radios

Typically, mobile broadband devices come with radio and connection management software. Device manufacturers, PC manufacturers, and mobile operators all develop, distribute, and support these applications for you to connect to their networks, turn radios on and off, configure connection settings, and get contact information for help and support. Prior to Windows 8, you needed these applications to compensate for functionality not provided natively in Windows. This additional software confused and frustrated users by conflicting with the Windows connection manager, showing different networks, network status, and a separate user interface. Windows 8 eliminates this confusion by providing simple, intuitive, and fully integrated radio and connection management.

The new Windows 8 network settings allow you to turn individual radios on and off (Wi-Fi, mobile broadband, or Bluetooth), as well as disable all radios at once with the new “airplane mode.” Windows 8 provides native radio management to eliminate the conflicts and confusion, and to provide a consistent experience for controlling your radios without the need to install additional software. This is new for PCs even though it has obviously long been available on today’s mobile phones (or Windows Mobile phones, going way back).

The new wireless network settings in Windows 8 allow you to see and connect to all available MB and Wi-Fi networks from one convenient user interface. We made sure that this interface is consistent and allows you to think less about which network you want to connect. Windows does this by starting with the right default behaviors, and then it gets smarter by learning your network preferences over time.

One of those default behaviors is to prioritize Wi-Fi networks over broadband whenever one of your preferred Wi-Fi networks is available. Wi-Fi networks are typically faster, with lower latency, and have higher data caps (if they are not free). When you connect to a Wi-Fi network, we automatically disconnect you from your mobile broadband network and, when appropriate, power down the mobile broadband device, which also increases battery life. If no preferred Wi-Fi network is available, we automatically reconnect you to your preferred mobile broadband network.

To make sure we connect to the right network when multiple networks are available, Windows maintains an ordered list of your preferred networks based on your explicit connect and disconnect actions, as well as the network type. For example, if you manually disconnect from a network, Windows will no longer automatically connect to that network. If, while connected to one network, you decide to connect to a different network, Windows will move the new network higher in your preferred networks list. Windows automatically learns your preferences in order to manage this list for you.

When you resume from standby, Windows can also reconnect you faster to your preferred Wi-Fi networks by optimizing operations in the networking stack, and providing your network list, connection information, and hints to your Wi-Fi adapter. Now when your PC resumes from standby, your Wi-Fi adapter already has all the information it needs to connect to your preferred Wi-Fi networks. This means you can reconnect your PC to a Wi-Fi network from standby in about a second –oftentimes before your display is even ready. You do not have to do anything special for this – Windows just learns which networks you prefer and manages everything for you. This work was a major part of the architectural work we did in the networking stack and with our hardware partners.

Getting connected to mobile broadband

Even with its broad availability, Wi-Fi by itself does not enable the ubiquitous Internet access that users increasingly want. True mobility requires mobile broadband, which provides connectivity over cellular networks (the same networks as your smartphone). However, just including mobile broadband in Windows 8 was not enough. We also wanted to remove any hurdles to getting you connected to mobile broadband, making it simpler, more intuitive, and more like Wi-Fi.

We made things simpler and more intuitive by fully integrating mobile broadband into Windows 8. When you’re ready to connect to a mobile broadband network, you simply insert your mobile broadband device or SIM card into your Windows 8 PC and we take care of the setup.

If you have a carrier-unlocked mobile broadband device that supports carrier switching (this includes most mobile broadband users outside the US), Windows 8 has native support that allows you to select and connect to any supported carrier from within the Windows UI.

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