Microsoft gives details on mobile broadband improvements in Windows 8

Microsoft has given details on a variety of ways in which the upcoming Windows 8 operating system does a better job than its predecessors at letting users manage their connections to Wi-Fi and mobile broadband networks.

“We looked at the fundamentals of wireless connectivity and re-engineered Windows 8 for a mobile and wireless future, going beyond incremental improvements,” reads a blog post published on Friday.

Windows 8 has been designed to simplify the process of connecting to mobile broadband networks and of managing those connections, including monitoring data usage and controlling costs.

“We knew that if we were to give you true mobility, that Wi-Fi alone would not be enough. Therefore, for Windows 8, we fully developed and integrated mobile broadband (MB) as a first-class connectivity experience within Windows — right alongside Wi-Fi,” wrote Billy Anders, a Microsoft group program manager and the blog post’s author.

Windows 7 allows users to connect to mobile broadband networks, but it’s up to users to find and install required drivers and software, including searching for them online at times.

Windows 8 comes with a common mobile-broadband class driver that works with devices from a variety of mobile operators and vendors, eliminating the need for users to install device driver software. “You just plug in the device and connect. The driver stays up to date via Windows Update,” Anders wrote.

Another enhancement in Windows 8 is that it provides native management within a single console of mobile broadband device functions, such as turning on and off their radios and configuring their connection settings. Previously, users had to perform these tasks in the individual management application for each device.

Related story: Four Windows 8 features you can get right now

“Prior to Windows 8, you needed these applications to compensate for functionality not provided natively in Windows. This additional software confused and frustrated users by conflicting with the Windows connection manager, showing different networks, network status, and a separate user interface,” he wrote. “Windows 8 eliminates this confusion by providing simple, intuitive, and fully integrated radio and connection management.”

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth device functions can also be managed centrally from within Windows 8. The operating system’s network settings console also lets users establish connection priorities, so that their machine will automatically opt to, say, connect to a Wi-Fi network as the first option if available, and, if it’s not, then seek a mobile broadband connection. 

Windows 8 also “learns” about the user’s connection priorities based on their actions. As a result, when returning from “standby” mode, a Windows 8 machine is able to reconnect faster than Windows 7 — in about a second.

“You do not have to do anything special for this — Windows just learns which networks you prefer and manages everything for you. This work was a major part of the architectural work we did in the networking stack and with our hardware partners,” Anders wrote.

Windows 8 has also been designed to help users be aware of mobile broadband data limits and costs. “Prior to Windows 8, we maintained consistent behavior on all types of networks relative to bandwidth usage. With Windows 8, we now take the cost of the network into consideration: we assume that mobile broadband networks have restrictive data caps with higher overage costs — vs. Wi-Fi –, and adjust networking behavior with these metered networks accordingly,” the post reads.

To help with managing mobile broadband data usage and costs, the Windows 8 task manager lists how much data specific applications have used up, so users are aware of which applications consume more data.

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