Saturday, March 26, 2011

Windows Phone 7 Connectivity Issue

It would appear that with WP7 devices you are often, at least with free wireless hotspots while out and about, better off disabling your Wi-Fi connection if you actually want to be able to connect to the internet. As far as I can tell, if you are connected to a Wi-Fi network with a weak signal, the phone doesn’t automatically fall back to one of the other connection methods (i.e 3G) on a failed/timed out network request. This means if you’re connected to a network via a bad Wi-Fi connection most or all network operations will fail until you manually disconnect.

That’s the bad news. The even worse news is that WP7 doesn’t seem to have any way to manually disconnect from a Wi-Fi network. You can delete the Wi-Fi entry, which means you are disconnected from it AND the phone won’t reconnect next time that network is in range, or you can disable the Wi-Fi feature entirely. If you do the latter, then you have to remember to turn it back on later when you want to use a good Wi-Fi network (like your home or office one).

This can lead to frustrating experiences. Earlier in the week I was in ‘store A’ which is next door to ‘store B’. Store B I have previously visited, has free Wi-Fi which I’d connected to and because my phone could see this from store A it automatically reconnected. Of course I wasn’t actually in store B, I didn’t realise I was connected to their network, and the connection was flaky because the Wi-Fi isn’t boosted and there were concrete walls and what not between the two stores. The end result was that everything I tried to do on my phone involving the internet failed… until I realised there was a Wi-Fi connection. Once I finally realised why I was having connectivity problems I tried to disconnect. Problem was, I want my phone to reconnect to that Wi-Fi the next time I visit store B, I just don’t want to be connected to it right now. That means if I delete the Wi-Fi network I have to manually reconnect next time I visit store B… not what I want. The only other thing I can figure out how to do is to turn off the Wi-Fi altogether, which I did.

The good news is that once I did that, my phone reverted to the 3G connection and I could access the internet again. The bad news is I then forgot to turn the Wi-Fi back on when I left so I used more of my monthly data plan than I intended because it was a day or two later before I realised the Wi-Fi was still off.

None of this is ideal. At the very least I should be able to manually disconnect from a Wi-Fi network without ‘deleting’ it. At best, and this is what I expected to happen, the OS should revert to the next most desirable (based on cost and speed) network when it finds the currently preferred network isn’t working as expected. Microsoft have people much smarter than me, and I’m sure at least one of them can invent some sort of heuristic algorithm to decide when to change connections and which connection to pick next.

As it stands, many ‘consumers’ would be confused by their phone not working in some places (not understanding the whole weak Wi-Fi signal issue), and technical users will be frustrated by the inability to just disconnect this one time.

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