Microsoft is preparing to rebrand and expand its almost-unknown Skype WiFi service to make it both a consumer service and a perk for enterprises already subscribing to Office 365, according to a briefly-available website.
The draft site -- MicrosoftWiFi.com -- was up for hours Tuesday, but was eventually pulled and a "coming soon" placeholder substituted. However, parts of the website still languished in various search engine caches as of early Wednesday.
Microsoft touted the service as a "hassle-free" way to connect to the Internet with a single sign-on.
Like Skype WiFi, the renamed Microsoft WiFi will let users connect to paid public wireless hotspots without having to grab a credit card and fill out online forms for each operator. Those hotspots are typically found in hotels, airports and restaurants, and in the U.S. are often run by companies such as Boingo.
Hotspots like these are different from the ubiquitous free public Wi-Fi nodes available in coffee shops, fast-food outlets and public buildings: Paid hotspots generally offer faster connections to the Internet, are more secure and cater to travelers.
Skype WiFi boasted some 2 million hotspots worldwide; Microsoft WiFi will call and raise that to 10 million. The former was fueled by Skype-purchased credits, which translated into minutes online. It was unclear how access to Microsoft WiFi would be funded.
According to the consumer service's draft site, dubbed simply "Microsoft WiFi," the only people eligible at the start will be those who receive a special offer or those with access to Skype WiFi through bundles, including the $149-per-year Microsoft Work & Play, an Office 365 plus Xbox Gold plus unlimited Skype and Skype WiFi deal.
The separate business-grade service, "Microsoft WiFi for Business," will be available only to subscribers of Office 365 Enterprise, the most expensive plans targeting large organizations and corporations. Redmond's embryonic website called Microsoft WiFi a "benefit" of the Office 365 Enterprise plan.
That may mean Microsoft will follow the lead it has set with its consumer-oriented rent-not-buy plans, which include monthly allowances of 60 Skype minutes. Additional minutes might be billed directly. Or Microsoft may craft an add-on subscription -- it's hot on subscriptions -- for employees.
Native apps for Android, iOS, OS X, Windows and Windows Phone will be available to sniff out and automatically connect to one of the hotspots covered by the service.
Microsoft registered MicrosoftWiFi.com just over a year ago using MarkMonitor, a corporate brand protection vendor. The domain currently points to Microsoft's primary name servers.