Smartphones running Windows Phone 7 cannot connect to hidden Wi-Fi networks, V3.co.uk has discovered, meaning that consumers will have to broadcast their home network's presence if they want to connect a Windows handset.
Windows Phone 7, officially launched this week, is a modern smartphone platform that makes extensive use of online services. Consequently, handsets will make use of faster Wi-Fi connections wherever possible to speed data transfer.
But in early tests, V3.co.uk found that the only way to connect Windows Phone 7 to a Wi-Fi network is by choosing it from the list of those discovered when the handset scans for available networks.
This was confirmed by Oded Ran, Microsoft's head of consumer marketing for Windows Phone in the UK. "Windows Phone 7 at launch will not connect to hidden Wi-Fi networks," he said.
Wi-Fi networks are sometimes configured not to actively broadcast their network name, or SSID. Although this is considered ineffective as a security measure, hiding a network's SSID can prevent it being noticed by a casual observer, and the practice is believed to be quite common in business environments.
With Windows PCs and most other smartphone platforms, users can connect to a hidden network by manually supplying the network name and password, but this is not supported in Windows Phone 7.
"There is no ability to add networks manually. You need to choose the network you want to connect to, and if it is hidden you can't do that," explained Ran.
Microsoft's solution is simple: reveal your Wi-Fi network. Whether this is a big issue is debatable, as users should in any case be using encryption to secure their network, and hiding a Wi-Fi network is considered of dubious worth by many security experts.
"Clearly, those using [Windows phones] will have no option but to enable SSID broadcasting. In this case, other security measures become even more important, " said David Emm, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.
On its own, hiding the SSID offers no kind of effective security measure, Emm explained. "But as a general rule, I'd recommend it as one of several steps, since broadcasting the SSID makes it more likely that your system may be targeted," he said.
However, the issue might become a problem if workers bring their new Windows phone to work and find that they cannot connect to the office Wi-Fi network.
IT departments may need to brace for a flood of support calls from irate employees if Windows Phone 7 handsets prove anywhere near as popular as Apple's iPhone.
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