All you need to know about Wi-Fi Sense on Windows Phone 8.1

A few days ago we took an in-depth look at how Microsoft improved Data Sense in Windows Phone 8.1. Everyone on limited data plans should become intimately familiar with how Data Sense can help you. There are a few more ‘senses’ in Windows Phone 8.1 including Wi-Fi Sense and Storage Sense. Today we’re going to check out Wi-Fi Sense and make sure you understand everything there is to know about it.

Let’s make sense of Wi-Fi Sense!

Wi-Fi Sense

What is Wi-Fi Sense? It’s a really cool feature that Microsoft talked about briefly during their first keynote at Build earlier this month. It’s also a feature worth spending a bit of time on since it can really make life easier for you when dealing with Wi-Fi networks.

Wi-Fi Sense is a feature that does two very important things. It can help automatically connect you to local, open Wi-Fi networks and it can help share your own Wi-Fi credentials with your friends and contacts, but without the security compromise. Again, in bullet form for all of you scanning this post:

  • Automatically connect to Wi-Fi networks
  • Exchange Wi-Fi credentials with your Outlook.com, Skype and Facebook friends

Don’t worry, we’ll go into detail about those two killer features of Wi-Fi Sense below. Let’s start with how Windows Phone 8.1 will automatically connect you to over a million free Wi-Fi hotspots.

How to automatically connect to Wi-Fi networks using Wi-Fi Sense

To get started, we’re going to go into your phone’s settings and head to the Wi-Fi Sense section. Get there by tapping settings > Wi-Fi > Wi-Fi Sense. Depending on the number of wireless networks around, you might need to scroll down to see the Wi-Fi Sense section.

You should now see a toggle that says ‘Connect to Wi-Fi hotspots’. Go ahead and turn it on if you want your phone connected to nearby networks on your behalf.

Beneath that toggle you’ll see that Windows Phone 8.1 and Wi-Fi Sense can accept the terms of use for you when required by Wi-Fi hotspots and it can provide information if needed to connect. Some Wi-Fi hotspots open up Internet Explorer so that you can agree to their Terms of Service; Wi-Fi Sense will do that for you automatically. You can choose what info you want to give out to those networks and change the info. There are some defaults provided by Microsoft, but feel free to enter your own dummy information too.

Wi-Fi Sense is a really nice Windows Phone 8.1 feature to make sure you stay within your data limits. We recommend enabling it if you’re on a limited data plan. Those on unlimited data plans might want to check it out too for those times you’re near a wireless hotspot with a stronger/faster data connection than your carrier’s network.

Share your Wi-Fi credentials with friends using Wi-Fi Sense

How many times have you had friends over wanting access to your wireless network so that they could use their tablet or laptop? You’ll want to check out another neat trick that Wi-Fi Sense can do if you haven’t already made your home network guest-friendly.

Wi-Fi Sense can automatically share Wi-Fi networks with your contacts. Your friends will get internet access, but won’t ever have access to the shared password. They’ll obviously need a Windows Phone 8.1 device and Wi-Fi Sense for this to work, but it’s one of those features that will make life a lot easier for friends.

Again, you’ll need to go to settings > Wi-Fi > Wi-Fi Sense to play around with this feature. Scroll down and you’ll see the toggle to ‘Share Wi-Fi networks I select’. Turn that on if you want to share select networks with your friends. Who are those friends? Anyone who is a contact through Outlook.com, Skype or Facebook. It’s nice that you can select which of these networks get access through Wi-Fi Sense. Only want Facebook friends? Then just deselect Outlook.com and Skype.

To share a network you’ll need to select and tap the desired network in the Wi-Fi settings page. Tap it and select ‘Share network with my contacts’. You’ll need to hit the check mark below in the app bar to confirm your selection. And before it’s finalized you’ll need to reenter the password for that network.

Does Wi-Fi Sense make sense?

That’s it. Wi-Fi Sense is pretty straight forward and simple. Use it to automatically connect to local hotspots and use it to share selected networks with your friends. Have any questions? Ask below in the comments, hit me up on Twitter (@samsabri) or do the right thing and head into the Windows Phone Central forums.

Further reading:

162 Comments
  • Awesome post thanks
  • The whole exchange Wi-Fi thing freaks me out
  • That's fair. Thankfully it's optional :)
  • The whole bullet point for those skimming the article was funny lol
  • How do I turn off Wi-Fi unless I'm home, work or anywhere I've chosen with geo fencing
    Curious.
  • You have to set the various locations you want Wi-Fi on, in Cortana's note book under places.   In doing so those locations become "favorites." Next you go to Settings/Wi-Fi and when the Wi-Fi is toggled off you will see a setting to turn it on "near my favorite places".   That setting need to be picked. Finally, the Settings/Location services needs to be on.   At the bottom of that page it should say that it is tracking geofences. Next, when you are away from one of your "favorite" places that you have defined, turn off the Wi-Fi.   When you get back to one of those "favorite" places it should turn back on and connect.   However, when you leave one of those locations it does not automatically turn the Wi-Fi back off.   If it turned itself back off when you left a "favorite" place it would be a very valuable "set it and forget it" feature.  Now, not so much... Please vote on this at Uservoice. http://windowsphone.uservoice.com/forums/101801-feature-suggestions/suggestions/5799383-wi-fi-geofencing-turns-itself-off-when-leaving-fav
  • Thanks man. I appreciate that...
    Won't turn off on its own but it will activate when I'm near one of my favorites... Awesome thank you again.
  • For some reason I took a big interest in this feature.  If you try it and are successful or have problems and you're bored enough to write up the issue here or at the below thread, I'd be interested in hearing how it worked for you. http://forums.wpcentral.com/windows-phone-8-1-preview-developers/277199-wi-fi-geofencing-great-idea-problematic-implementation.html  
  • Wish it worked the other way around.   at work, we have loads of wifi spots, but they are all secure, and every so often my phone keeps asking me if I want to connect. I would rather have the wifi turn off as I get to work, and back on when I leave.
  • I tend to think that your useage would be out of the norm, however you are basically saying the same thing that oryan_dunn said in the forum.   It's my hope that MS sets up the feature so that you can specify whether or not Wi-Fi turns on at any particular "favorite" place. A potential work around is turning off Wi-Fi sense, but still keeping Wi-Fi on for your home network with automatic connect on...
  • Today's experiment was a clear failure.  I verified all the settings and went out for a walk.  At maybe a quarter mile from the apartment I turned off the Wi-Fi.   As I walked back to the apartment I watched to see if the Wi-Fi would turn on and connect.  It had done so on earlier experiments turning on at the end of the driveway (it's a rural area, there's a considerable setback).    This time it never turned on, even to the point of not turning on when I got to the apartment.  I put it down to the GPS not polling during the time that I was "near" my favorite place within whatever boundry MS has decided "near" is.
  • Mine quite the opposite. I've been home 5 minutes after taking off my suit & putting stuff away... And after reading your comment I noticed that my Wi-Fi had turned on - not sure how quickly it did it but it was within 5 minutes after being home. I'll pay better attention next time.
  • are you sure it didn't turn on "near" home and you didn't actually look at it till five minutes after you got home? yea, I'll be testing this feature a fair amount....
  • Same time tomorrow lol
  • Worked fine today, turned on and connected without issue.  I also got notification from Cortana about a reminder that I had set.  One of the big differences is that I got the notification near the apartment instead of at the apartment.   So I am still curious as to how often the location services polls and if it didn't happen to poll when it did but did later when I was actually at home, would the network have turned on or not? I will continue to pursure this, but only on the thread that I linked to...   Good luck with the feature EvoLuTioNHeaVy
  • I'm heading home. Will test it out as well
  • Plz guid me i have lumia 520 and my location is not mentioned in Fb Msngr and Viber msgz although location services are set on...at the bottom status is showed "not tracking geofences"
    What could i do.??
    Kindly text me on 03441506006 thank you..
  • Sorry, I am not going to text you and expose my phone number.  I also suggest that you edit your post and remove your phone number.   This can be handled via the post here on WP Central. I am not allowing FB to track my location and don't run Viper so I cannot address those programs.  I would double check those programs though to make sure they are set up to track your location and given you have location services turned on for your Windows Phone I am torn as to what the issue is.   Are Facebook and Viper running in the background or have you made it so they do not run in the background, they need to do so in order to run geofencing.    I also am not sure that either program really needs geofencing per se in order to use GPS/location services.   I don't know if this helped, but good luck with figuring it out. http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/how-to/wp8/apps/location-awareness-and-my-phone
  • Problem im getting is that my WIFI needs proxy in order to run to internet when i connect to that only WIFI theres is written no internet access. but it doenst come to list of saved WIFI so that i can change the proxy in order to connect to internet. it shows wifi is connected with no internet access but that wifi isnt listed. Windows phone 8 was working with it correctly.
  • Can u plz help me out my lumia 520 is not showing location in fb massengr and viber msgs although location is ON..it shows the status at bottom "Not tracking Geofences" what could i do.??
  • I only know one other person personally that has a Windows phone, so I'll be disabling the Wi-Fi sharing option.
  • Why? I think its awesome. Share with friends. Make the world more simpler... Less money for cell phone companies data hungry pockets.. no more giving out my password. Win win.
  • I have to agree, especially since there is no details of how it is done.   Given there's no one that I want to share my Wi-Fi in the short term, I have it off.
  • b23h, did you have to have the wifi sense option toggled on for the turn on at favorite location setting to work?
  • no, mine is off and the wi-fi turns on near my home consistently.....  
  • Great input
  • Love the Wi-Fi sharing without giving out the password
  • I'm really loving the 8.1 refresh. I like Wi-Fi sense. Wi-Fi connections it's better for me as well after I did a hard reset on my 1520
  • Yeah mine would just stop connecting at home and not reconnect without toggling wifi on/off or doing a soft reset. Hard reset cleared that right up.
  • Hard reset???
  • Like, settings, about, reset my phone
  • I have this problem too. I hope I don't have to reset my 1520. :(
  • On the bright side, you get to try the new backup /restore. Having the start screen layout backed up is possibly the best part of this update. Within an hour everything was back as it was before.
  • My wifi also keeps losing its connection to the point I have to reset the router for it to find out again but reseting my phone would be a pain in the neck. All my music, all settings, the apps, stored images, enter all my passwords... Damn it!
  • I have that same issue, with WiFi all of a sudden not working until I reboot the phone. Yesterday I had the same happen with cell service. I've had these issues since getting the 1520 in Dec. And this is with WP8.0. So, not surprises it's also happening with 8.1...
  • Seems my ATT phone forgot how to connect to ATT hotspots
  • That's great for me.
  • This is all I need to know about Wi-Fi Sense! Thanx on y'all!
  • I use it to turn on the Wi-Fi at my school and house, when I'm near. I also like it so I get Wi-Fi at the white house for, well you know...
  • Has there been any word on why the "Keep Wi-Fi on when phone is in sleep mode" option is missing on Lumia devices after the WP8.1DP has been installed?  Seems like a strange option to have disappear (and I really miss it).
  • Your wifi stays on under lock screen automatically now so you don't need that option anymore.
  • Yeah, that's the problem, it sucks battery.  I want it to turn off WiFi when the phone is in sleep mode.  There's no need to have it draining battery when I'm not using it.
  • Oh okay. Yeah, the only way would be to manually turn it off and then on again when you need it I suppose.
  • It's there under wifi, manage on my 8X w/ WP8.1
  • That's weird. It's not there on my 920.
  • same here
  • ditto, my 920 has it lacking as well
  • It's there on non-Lumia devices, hence why I said "...is missing on Lumia devices after the WP8.1DP..."
  • on my dads HTC 8x its there too, but on my Nokia Lumia 920 it's not :(
  • I always keep wi-fi on, and my battery has improved since I started doing it.
  • Same for me. Battery is much better when WiFi is left on all the time. Been leaving it on from last January but a few times I tested it with WiFi off and the phones (925&1520) have always used more battery with WiFi off.
  • The only way you could possibly save battery by having WiFi on is if your cell radio uses far more power to maintain a data connection than what the WiFi would use, and that's assuming that your cell radio disables the data connection when WiFi is enabled.  If WiFi is enabled and you're not connected to WiFi, there's no way that it could use less power than when it's enabled.
  • There is no WiFi sense on mine. Just manage under the "found nearby"
  • Same here. I remember seeing it initially after the update, I think. But it's not there now.
  • it needs "location" to be turned on to work...
  • Connect Automatically is not working for me, tried it with two different networks and both times i had to manually accept the terms, not sure whats going on.   Also, I don't know what happened to the option of stay connected even when screen blacks out. not seeing it anywhere
  • Connect automatically to my favorite places isn't working for me. Don't know what the dealio is with that!
  • 1. Go to WiFi settings 2. Turn OFF WiFi 3. Tap the selector window under "Turn Wi-Fi back on" 4. Select "near my favorite places"
  • I've been testing that particular function quite a bit, and even though I have all those setting done correctly when I tested it today my Wi-Fi turned itself back on when I got close to a favorite place, but still did not automatically connect to the Wi-Fi network.   And yes, I do have Wi-Fi setup to automatically connect to known networks.   So I will continue to test that tomorrow....
  • Battery Drainer!!! Probably an obvious statement...
  • Hard reset. Probably an obvious solution. This has not been a great update for me on the 1520. However my 920 came out unscathed. I was finally forced to hard reset when wallet stopped working.
  • I keep seeing this. I really want to try this hard reset, and you guys are saying that all my text messages, and even start screen and apps are going to be backed up?
  • Hard reset doesn't fix the battery drain issue on my 920. My battery drains twice as fast since I've updated to WP8.1 and it sucks. I have to charge 2 to 3 times a day now on moderate use when before, I'd charge once maybe twice if I was heavy on usage that day. I've done multiple hard resets since having WP8.1 and have had zero luck with saving my battery. It doesn't matter how many things I "allow" to run on battery saver either. I can turn them all off and still have the exact same amount of battery drain as before.
  • Same here, i think we must get used to the fact that we need an extra external battery or always plug it in when driving ... It's making me crazy ... Lumia 920 also with a brand new battery replaced days before the 8.1 update
  • Yeah. I'm hoping that when we get the new firmware, that it will address the battery drain issues us Lumia owners are having.
  • I'm not having that problem on either of my devices. I had heavy use today for atleast 4 hours and drain seemed pretty normal. Like I said earlier this has been a shitty update. I'm loving 8.1 but had two different outcome. My 920 updated much better than the 1520. Plus reloading all app data was a pain. But the start screen restore made it worthwhile
  • I've heard from alot of people that the 1520 is handling the update pretty bad before a hard reset. My 920 was great the first couple days but then something happened and it just started draining battery like no other so I hard reset and had the same issue. It's weird. Otherwise, I love 8.1 as well. Oh well, I guess I'll just wait for the firmware and go from there. If it doesn't fix it, I'll grab up a new Lumia ;)
  • Nah I'm good. Like I said, I like 8.1 and there is no way I could go back to 8.0. I'll buy a new phone if I continue to have problems. No big deal :)
  • I'm pretty sure that the connect to Wi-Fi hotspots option was what was killing my L920 battery.  I could literally watch the percentage fall.  Hard reset did not fix it.  Turned this setting off, and now my battery life is great again, just like on WP 8.0.
  • Sense it's great, but I still can't connect to my university ttls network
  • I'm on my second Windows phone that's developed the same WiFi problem, and I just don't understand it. Overtime, both phones just stopped working/ work very inconsistently when connected to WiFi...even connections like at home or at school. I really don't get it and it drives me crazy, plus I'd like having to avoid doing hard resets.
  • Could it be the router. I used to have that problem till we upgraded our router. Just a suggestion.
  • Most likely the router. My more than one year old 920 works beautifully, except for that one time we stopped at a hotel with horrendous Wi-Fi.
  • It happens on any WiFi connection.. :(
  • I don't have the Wi-Fi sense setting on my phone, but it does automatically reconnect (and turn the Wi-Fi on!) to local Wi-Fi network of I'm at home.
  • Since I have unlimited data, does turning on WiFi sense have an effect on battery life? Or does having WiFi off drain more battery when using carrier data?
  • Wifi will drain your battery. That's why it is recommended to turn it off when you're not using it because it will save you some battery life. Or at least it's supposed to.
  • I've always kept mine on as well and It's not wifi I'm having an issue with...it's the 920s battery life in general after the 8.1 update.
  • There is no wi-fi sense on my L620
  • turn on "location" service, it's there :-)
  • Like sharing network credentials was so difficult before. This is not the feature I hoped for. A kick ass feature would be to auto switch to a stronger signal network, or even dual steam data from multiple sources including cell for faster download.
  • Imo the thing that would've made wp8.1 perfect was integration with apple's facetime and imessage. But that's way too much to ask for haha
  • Well since Apple won't license out those proprietary protocols, that will not happen.  Also I'm sure MS is moving Skype down that road, and it will be available on all platforms so it in theory will be a more powerful solution.
  • Or just use Skype.....
  • It would be nice of Microsoft to give us the option to use a cellulair toggle inside the action center, it's ridiculous to 'forget' it, why? Because Apple also forgot it? Bull****
  • I just use Skype. It is not proprietary to a platform. It is available on all devices and computers.
  • SInce 8.1 I haven't been able to connect to the hotspot at starbucks - three different ones - at all. Not automatically, not manually, not at all. So the feature is a bit of a bust for me.
  • I encountered a similar problem with the hotspot at my gym. It appears some networks are incompatible with Wi-Fi Sense. I found that I have to turn off Wi-Fi Sense in order to connect. I then turn it back on & it stays connected. I had to do this for about 3 days before it would let me connect while Wi-Fi Sense is on. I still have to accept terms manually, but I no longer have to turn off Sense to connect.
  • That's literally what happened at my work Wi-Fi
  • I saw an article about an ethical hacker demostrating how he could trick your phone into connecting to his network and collect lots of personal information. All he had to do was to attach a wireless router to a drone broadcasting an SSID like "Starbucks" or "AT&T" flying nearby. Now your WP8.1 phone with Wifi Sense automcatically connects to his malicious network it thinks is friendly and suddenly your apps -- PayPal, Outlook, Chase Bank -- start passing their data over someone else's network. Not exactly the result I'm looking for!
  • This needs to be addressed before someone becomes a victim to this exact scenario
  • And you really believe this is enough to steal your data? You think such informations are sent in plain text? Do you know what encrypted protocols are?
  • Wow. You completely left out the half baked geolocation feature. (I.e. Turn wifi back on "near my favorite places") wish I could select WHICH favorite place as work and gym don't have wifi. Also wish there was the option to turn Wi-Fi off when not near home.
  • This would be great
  • I just tell Cortana to turn off WiFi as I head down the driveway - works like a charm.
  • I concur that the Wi-Fi geofencing feature is not complete and that it should in fact turn itself back off when you are no longer at the "favorite" location. I've got a uservoice feature request on the issue, please vote on it.... http://windowsphone.uservoice.com/forums/101801-feature-suggestions/suggestions/5799383-wi-fi-geofencing-turns-itself-off-when-leaving-fav
     
  • Friends with Windows Phone 8.1 devices... Hmm... Am I the only one who feels looked down upon by friends & family for being such a Microsoft enthusiast? No one's ever point blank said anything to be, but attitudes speak volumes. I often feel patronized, like people think I'm crazy for not liking Apple & Android. Does anyone else feel the same, like being a Microsoft fan is somehow stigmatized? Makes me really mad!
  • With friends, it's the same way.  They look at me as if I'm an oddball for having a WP until I do something like start a report on WP to finish it off on my laptop.  Then, they say something awesome about their device. However, my family sees it different.  Knowing I'm a tech enthusiast, they actually flock to me and ask all kinds of questions about it.  I've even swayed a few of my family members to WP.  To me, each platform has its strengths and weaknesses, and I chose WP for its strengths above iPhone and Android. 
     
  • +920
  • Anyone remember that our users were 1st to have Netflix on all 7.x handsets
  • +1
  • What happened to Wi-Fi direct?
  • I wish they didn't need to have a Windows Phone because it's an awesome feature! Hopefully WPs market share increases so we can take advantage of this convenient feature.
  • Check back in three years. Marty be sell have some traction here in the U.S.
  • I didn't know Marty sold tires?!?! 8)
  • I can tell you typed this using the shape writing keyboard
  • No Wi-Fi Sense for my Ativ S.
  • I'm sure I'm too late to this thread, but Wi-Fi Sense so far has proved to be pretty useless to me. My school uses a few different networks: UNC-RESLIFE, UNC-ADMIN, UNC-STUDENT and UNC-GUEST. The networks themselves have a password on them and then you are directed to a UNC webpage to enter your login credentials. The web-wrapper in the Wi-Fi login page isn't quite the same IE11 because my information is -never- saved, which means I have to re-enter my information manually every time I go outside to go to another building (with my current schedule, that means my dorm, the science hall, the university center, a different building for larger lectures, the dining hall, my friend's dorm and then back to my dorm). That shit gets old, fast. I'm really disappointed that IE11's password and username-saving abilities seemingly didn't carry over to the web-wrapper.   Is this something that Microsoft will fix in an update or is this how it's going to be?
  • I have the same issue . I would like For that to save so I don't have to type my password every time I go to a different building
  • Is there a metered connection option like windows 8.1?
  • "Some Wi-Fi hotspots open up Internet Explorer so that you can agree to their Terms of Service; Wi-Fi Sense will do that for you automatically" This doesn't seem to work. When I try to connect to a hotspot it still opens IE for me to press OK. The only thing new are Skip and Cancel button beneath the browser.
  • Exactly, also I am not sure what those buttons do, when you press any of them, it basically doesn't connect to that particular network
  • Same aswell guessing it uses some api from devicescape(that few hotspot software publishers use) making this still a long process
  • Unlike most people, I have 3 relatives who are also WP users (3 928s and an icon) and we could not share our Wi-Fi network with each other to save our lives! We did everything right and shared the network, yada yada, and absolutely nothing happened. We spent hours trying to figure it out, thinking it might just take a while or something but no luck. After finding nothing online about anyone even successfully doing it I'm forced to believe that this feature does not work :(
  • I also been wanting to ask how this actually works. I have yet to figure out how to share my Wi-Fi
  • How does one actually connect to a network shared to you via WiFi sense. I tried to do this with a friend there other day, and though it was all set up on my end, we could not figure out how to actually get his WiFi sense to connect. I ended up giving him the pass word anyways
  • I too was curious to know how this works in the background without sharing the password on a secure network. Do we need to enable internet sharing too. In the article it is mentioned both the user should have WiFi sense installed and that means updated to 8.1. If there is a loophole to bypass the secure password then any third person can access the connection. Will be testing this on my cousin's phone.
  • Why can't I connect to at&t hotspots. It says I can't connect to this hotspot and I did it before 8.1
  • But how to check download in 8.1
  • Glad I'm not the only one having issues. Sense wouldn't connect me to my local Starbucks' Wi-Fi. Maybe it's because it's "Google Starbucks"?
  • Yes. It wont connect me to my at&t wifi at work or Starbucks. It did before 8.1
  • I got this as well.  my bet is because we are running the beta  this hasn't been fixed yet.
  • Had that problem 6 months after gdr3