Sprint Connections Optimizer muscles your phone into using Wi-Fi

Since the end of March, Sprint has been rolling out an over-the-air update to select phones with plans to reach more phones over time and preloaded on new devices. The main addition included in this update is called Sprint Connections Optimizer. The idea behind this update is that it will take control of your WiFi and 4G antennas – turning them on momentarily to scan the area for reception and then choosing the “best” connection for your phone or turning them off if no connection was available. The update boasts that battery life will be drastically improved by using the best connection and only having the antennas on when they are able to be used instead of scanning constantly. They also cite individuals that leave their WiFi and 4G antennas on all the time and then later complain about low battery life.

Even more apparent is Sprint’s desire to offload their congested 3G traffic. They have been pushing a campaign over the past few months for users to use WiFi when it is available. “It’s faster and consumes less battery than 3G.” For the last cellular company offering unlimited data, there is clearly business concern to distribute some of that data to other networks. Streaming Netflix and other bandwidth intense applications over the 3G network could certainly create a problem in high population density locations. To take care of the problem, Sprint is automating the process with Sprint Connections Optimizer.

The Samsung Epic 4G received the update beginning March 26th rolling out over 6 weeks and the Evo 4G received the update beginning May 3rd.

My phone received the update about a week ago and I’ve been trying to figure out its behavior since then. I found that my WiFi would sporadically be turned on instead of using 3G data. I’m not sure how the phone verifies that it is connected. Is it satisfied with connecting to a SSID or does it verify a connection to the Internet? I believe it only connects to an SSID, unfortunately. This means if a network requires authentication before being able to send traffic, SCO might put you on WiFi even though the phone isn’t automatically able to pass traffic through. This could prevent you from receiving emails and other notifications because your data is derailed.

I don’t believe the automatic connection causes an immediate security concern because it only connects to remembered networks. The solution to SCO connecting to networks that require authentication could be to forget those networks though that could be annoying in the right circumstances. Fortunately, you can also disable the Sprint Connections Optimizer.

Q: Can the Sprint Connections Optimizer be deleted?

A: The feature cannot be deleted from the device like applications, however, it can be disabled by selecting Settings > Wireless & Network > Mobile Networks > Automatic Connections and unchecking Sprint automatic connections.

For more details on the Sprint Connections Optimizer, you can view the write-up in Sprint’s blog article on the technology.

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