Wi-Fi network owners are being given an easier way to provide guest access. Devicescape Software has developed a way for home users and small businesses to offer guest accounts without having to reconfigure the network or enter an SSID (Service Set Identifier) and a lengthy password.

The company offers free beta-test software that can store user sign-on information for many public hotspots and is working to get it built into devices such as Wi-Fi cameras that lack a browser or keyboard. It has now expanded that tool to include home WLANs, with a system called Wi-Fi Buddies. Consumers can sign up for Wi-Fi Buddies, have their SSID and password stored on the company's server, and invite their friends to download the Devicescape software and get sign-on credentials for their WLAN.

Once a friend gets those credentials from Devicescape, they can start using the home WLAN without signing in or even going past a splash screen. The WLAN owner never gives the SSID and password to a user, so it's possible to lock people out later through Devicescape's website without changing the password. Wi-Fi Buddies can also be used with an open home network.

Devicescape isn't alone in trying to solve the problem. The Wi-Fi Alliance's WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) specification defines two methods of setting up WLANs without having to make up or enter an SSID or encryption password. Those techniques can also be used to get visitors onto the secure network, said Som Pal Choudhury, a product line manager at Netgear, which is adopting WPS for some products. However, WPS doesn't allow access to be granted and rescinded entirely online.

Cisco's Linksys division, the leading seller of home WLAN gear, recommends users either enter the SSID and password on a visitor's PC or put the device's MAC (Media Access Control) address into a filtering list on the access point, said spokeswoman Karen Sohl. Linksys doesn't use WPS now but hopes to adopt a later version.

Wi-Fi Buddies has been released for current Devicescape customers and will be publicly available at the company's website from tomorrow. It runs on Windows XP, Vista and Mobile versions 5 and 6. The company is also working on an Apple OS X version.