Windows Phone missing feature of the week: Connect to hidden wireless networks

I hope I don’t really have to turn this into a regular feature. :) But even the least cynical among us must be catching on to the notion that Windows Phone, in its first rendition, isn’t exactly feature complete. And the missing feature that’s bugging me right now is the phone’s inability to connect to hidden (non-broadcasted) wireless networks. There’s just no way–that I can see, at least–to connect to such a network.

The reason this is an issue is that the home we’re staying in here in Germany has a hidden Wi-Fi network. (That is, they’re not broadcasting the SSID.) The family who lives here told us the SSID and WEP key before we arrived, and of course configuring Windows (or the iPhone, for that matter) to connect to such a network is, if not easy, certainly doable.

Not so with Windows Phone. On the Wi-Fi Settings page, nearby networks do pop-up, but they’re secure (password protected), so I can’t connect. What doesn’t pop-up, of course, is the network I need to access. And there’s no interface for manually connecting to a hidden network.

I brought along an Apple AirPort Express device just in case, so I’ll see if I can configure that to extend the existing network with a broadcasted SSID. But seriously. This just needs to be in there.

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41 Responses to Windows Phone missing feature of the week: Connect to hidden wireless networks

  1. fearthedonut73 says:

    Definately. I use a similar setup at home: just SSID being hidden. If my Windows Phone can’t connect to a hidden network, I think Microsoft sealed the deal for me to NOT buy a Windows Phone 7. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

    • Mike Cerm says:

      You’re doing it wrong. See my comment below; using a hidden SSID doesn’t actually provide your network with any meaningful security, and actually makes the devices that you connect to it LESS secure everywhere else you go. It’s not smart. Also, there are lots of other devices, other than WP7 phones, that have issues connecting to non-broadcasting networks, too. There’s just no reason that you should have your router configured this way.

      If not wanting to take 2 minutes to fix your messed up router configuration is the reason you won’t buy an WP7 phone, I’m guessing that you probably weren’t really considering one in the first place. WP7 certainly does lack other features that may or may not be deal-breakers, but this is should not be one of them.

      • Paul Thurrott says:

        So I assume you’re directing this at another comment. :)

        For the record, this is NOT *my* network. I would never use WEP, nor do I think that hiding an SSID constitutes some form of meaningful security. Unless, of course, you’re worried about Windows Phone. :)

      • maxxorz says:

        This might be the reason they decided to leave out the feature. If I recall correctly, Microsoft has talked about how they don’t want certain things until they are sure that including such a feature won’t allow the OS to be compromised. If enabling “Connect even if SSID isn’t broadcasting” is as potentially dangerous as it sounds, then it may be a conscious decision to remove it from the OS, instead of just forgetting to include a feature.

  2. Mike Cerm says:

    Using a non-broadcasted SSID and WEP is actually really a bad idea. Because WEP is so easy to crack, and because you have to check that box that says “Connect even if this network is not broadcasting”, you’re basically turning your mobile device into a beacon for hackers whenever you go out into public.

    There should certainly be a way to manually connect to WiFi networks in WP7, but the problem you’re describing won’t really effect anyone who sets up and secures their network correctly, i.e. broadcasting SSID, protected by WPA/WPA2.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      So, I agree with you. :) But it’s not my network.

    • ananugrace says:

      Mike, while I agree with your statement about WEP not being secure, broadcasting your SSID really doesn’t matter on security, because a SSID is just a network name. Let me repeat this: A SSID is JUST a network name and it has NOTHING to do with security because it is NOT a password. Now that we have that myth debunked, yes you shouldn’t hid a ssid and guess what, it was never ment to be hidden. In reality hidding it is a violation of 802.11 specification. Now that we have that taken care of, lets educate people a little better about wireless security with actual truth. Yes WEB is very insecure. The most secure authentication would be WPA2 and if you can’t use that (ie, router or wireless nic doesn’t support it because they are over 2 years old) then and only then should you use WPA.

  3. Strange…I could be wrong, but I believe the Zune HD got this feature in the 4.5 update. I wonder why WP7 wouldn’t also have it.

    Paul, How does the tabbed browsing and browser compare to the Zune HD offering? I like the Zune HD’s browser because it’s so smooth and simple, but with simplicity comes a lack of much-needed features.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      It’s very similar. The big difference, functionally, between the browsers is that on the Zune, there’s no permanent toolbar, whereas on WP, there’s an Application Bar onscreen all the time (in portrait mode, anyway), which gives you quick access to the 6 available tabs.

      Update: I was thinking of Windows Mobile 6.5 above, not Zune. There is in fact a permanent toolbar on IE on the Zune.

      I don’t see tabs on the Zune browser. So maybe that is the big difference. :)

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  5. interframe says:

    Hey Paul, speaking of “features of the week”, I thought it would be neat if you did a “features of the week” session for Windows Phone 7 on Windows Weekly when it arrives later this year. And maybe you could integrate a “Windows Phone app of the week” with your weekly “Picks of the week” as well. Would be pretty neat, assuming its not too much.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      Already in the works. :)

      Actually, the neat thing about WP is that the features include both hardware and software features.

  6. arasheps says:

    Oh let me guess Paul, they have one of those red FritzBox routers? My aunt in germany had one of those and in a one day trip to her house i spent most of the time trying to connect to that thing

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      You are correct sir. :) Though this one is black. They must be Germany’s version of the FIOS Actiontec router. :P

  7. swarnock2525 says:

    Paul,

    Since WP7 is using the Zune software, I wonder if it works like the Zune HD. Connect the device and open the Zune software and then(stolen from the Zune forums):

    You should be able to setup wireless sync for a non-broadcasted SSID by going to settings > device > wireless sync in the software. Click setup wireless sync, then click “show advanced settings”. Type in your SSID and click next. Then type in your password. After wireless sync is setup, you should then be able to use that non-broadcasted network for network connectivity on your device.

    I would be interested in knowing if this works on WP7.

    • swarnock2525 says:

      Quick followup.. I just tried this on my ZuneHD and it seems to work and let me Sync but no Internet. :( Maybe this is changed in the new software?

      • Paul Thurrott says:

        This is potentially brilliant, though I should stress that while this could work here, it doesn’t solve the overall problem. I will test this in just a moment….

      • Paul Thurrott says:

        So….

        Unfortunately, the phone has to be connected to the network before wireless sync can be enabled for that network.

        And—wait for it—here’s the “insult to injury” moment. On the Zune HD, when you connect to wireless on the device, it “sees” the hidden network and lets you enter both its SSID and password. *Sigh*.

      • Paul Thurrott says:

        But wait, there’s more.

        I have two Zune HDs (who doesn’t?) so with the second one, I didn’t configure it for the wireless network via the device first. But when you connect it to the PC, you get a different screen on the Wireless Sync page than you do with the Phone. (I assume this is what you saw.) In other words, you can set up wireless sync without having first connected to the network on the device, something you can’t do with Windows Phone for some reason. And it enabled wireless sync, as you saw, though for me the device automatically got online after that as well, so I didn’t need to type in the aggravatingly long WEP key, which was nice.

        I think we’re at Zune HD 2, Windows Phone 0.

      • gpsarakis says:

        This could just be another one of those, “not in this build of the OS” that went out to devs. I mean if the ZuneHD has it I don’t see why WP7 shouldn’t as well when alls said and done. I guess this is another thing you can ask them about next time Paul.

      • Paul Thurrott says:

        Oh, I did ask. Some time ago, actually. I’ve never heard back on this one, or on several other recent queries.

      • sk says:

        Maybe that’s because of the “promise nothing until we’re ready to deliver” policy that they seem to be following these days.

        By the way, now that they have two similar mobile device OSs (Zune and WP7) that are similar, but not identical, I wonder what this means for the Zune HD. Will the Zune HD be discontinued or will future Zune players use the WP7 OS without calling features? Either way, I think the current Zune HD’s days are numbered.

      • Paul Thurrott says:

        I do too. But I hope they continue with some form of Zune device, based on WP7.

      • swarnock2525 says:

        Oh well it was worth a shot I guess but as Paul stated even if this worked on WP7 it is sorely lacking.

      • Rich says:

        I actually hope they make a tablet device using the Metro UI so I can dump the iPad. I love the iPad device for what it is and does but I’ve begun to hate iOS by comparison with WP7.

  8. Well that sucks, not broadcasting and SSID is step one for home security, I can’t believe they can’t handle that one. Of course you can hide your own network name after you set up your device, but not being able to enter the name of a network is lame. Of course you could just reset their router for a few days, but that really isn’t the point. I almost think they should get this a little more feature complete before they release it, Vista was a failure because of a initial bad impression. I found it to be working fine after a few driver updates but by then it was too late. The tech market had made up its mind and there was no fighting the idea that Vista sucked, even though it always worked fine for me.

    • Actually, see Mike C’s post above. Not broadcasting SSID is step one for less home security.

    • oslik says:

      The problem of Vista wasn’t missing features, but poor quality. And Vista wasn’t cool. Microsoft evidently took the opposite direction with the Windows Phone and cuts any poorly implemented feature.

      But still… It probably offers just half of the “common ground smartphone features”. It quite well may be too little too late.

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  11. lsobrado says:

    I don’t mind it much since having a hidden ssid is really a false sense of security. That’s what your password and encryption keys are for. But I do agree that this is something people take for granted regardless so what’s up with MS not having even this very basic feature done. How can it possibly take so long to make a simple textbox to enter the ssid and the password?

    • gpsarakis says:

      I doubt the UI is the thing holding x feature back, specially not this one. It’s probably the networking APIs that, in this build anyways, aren’t all done.

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  13. wbaggerly says:

    Is there any update on this, or any workaround? If not do you know if it is “on the list” of future features?

  14. wbaggerly says:

    Thank you! And thanks for the book too. I’m reading it chapter by chapter as I get free moments. It’s already helped me a few times with my Focus. Also I love the idea of a Windows Phone 7 show on the TWiT network. And yes, you should host it! :)

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  16. Pingback: Windows Phone 7 workaround: Hidden Wi-Fi networks | Windows Phone Secrets

  17. weiterer says:

    Everybody with a smart sense of security is hiding the SSID broadcast.

    If you know the Wifi exists already and you are the only one using it (or authorizing use) there are no reasons to tell the world you have a Wifi there.

    I always hide my Wifi networks. Some gear has problems, but the solution is simple, turn it, configure the device and turn it off again.

    The worst problem in my opinion, is that everybody uses MAC filters this days as well and you cannot see your MAC address on your Windows Phone. Big bug. Its seems this things would have been spotted if Microsoft actually decided to use their phones.

    I cannot imagine how basic quality testing did not discovered this bugs. That means nobody in Microsoft actually took the phone in testing phase with them on a daily usage. You happen to spot this things only if you need them, or use something. People connecting to Wifi networks with their phones is really basic common sense. But like I said Microsoft only did hardware quality checks, they actually dont seem to have used the phone on real world environments.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      So there’s no real reason to debate the “why’s” of this. There are hidden Wi-Fi networks out there. Windows Phone needs to be able to connect to them. Simple.

  18. ivanepcw says:

    Regardless of being common sense to broadcast or not, sometimes it is just out of your hands like the case visiting friends or like in my case where “Network Policy” is to not broadcast it, so… have you heard if MS is actually working on this for some future upgrade?

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