One of the anticipated features of the Zune HD was the inclusion of the built in web browser, which I thought might be nice for casual web browsing.   While I have both a Blackberry Bold and a HTC Touch Pro handy,  I liked the screen interface of the Zune HD better for reading sites like Google Reader, or checking financial stock statistics.  Other than web browsing,  the desire to have on the go downloading of music from the Zune Marketplace which is one of the benefits of the Zune Pass. However, due to some limitations with how Microsoft implemented the WiFi interface,  I had issues using WiFI access outside of my home network.

At work,  the Zune is not capable for connecting to an WPA2 802.1x Enterprise network which requires a trusted certificate.  I was also not successful when trying to connect to our guest zone which requires a web page based acknowledgement of our wireless policy.

I recently had to go on a business trip to Europe, and decided to pick up a new Zune HD 32gb to take along with me.  One of the nice things about spending time in Germany, was that there are many cafes with free Wifi access in many of the towns and cities, so I anticipated I might be able to use the Zune HD in places I didn’t want to use cellular broadband.

Unfortunately,  due to how the Zune HD supports WiFi networks,  there were limited places I could actually use it for browsing the web.  In several hotels,  their internet access was provided by the Ganag network, which requires you to login to a web page on the device to get on the Internet.  The Zune would associate to the access point and simply give the “local network only, Try again?” error without bringing up the web page to login with.

After some quick perusing of the Zune forums, where many students are having similar issues with their college networks, I came upon this post by a member of the Zune Support team which describes what is not supported by the Zune HD:

Zune HD does not currently support the following protocols:

1.        WPA/WPA2 Enterprise

2.        Some forms of 802.1x

a.  Where a separate application is required to login

b.  Where a certificate must be downloaded to the device after a web based login
Colleges and large work networks are common adopters of these types technologies for network security reasons.  Check with your network administrator to determine if the network you’re attempting to connect to might employing any of these technologies.

To add more information around using public portals for WiFi access this was also posted later in the same thread:

The Zune Device Team is aware of the problems being experienced by some customers when trying to use wireless on the Zune HD to connect to the Internet.

  1. Zune HD does not support connecting to an AP that is not broadcasting a SSID for internet browsing or marketplace
  2. Zune HD has been reported to have issues connecting through a Verizon FIOS AP/router configuration. We are actively investigating
  3. Zune HD does not support wireless 802.11N connections.  Most 802.11N routers support Zune HD compatible 802.11B and 802.11G connections.
  4. Zune HD does not support WPA Enterprise and WPA2 Enterprise
  5. Zune HD does not support any 802.1x connection that requires non web based credential entry or certificate download
    1. NOTE: Zune HD supports most public portals with web based agreement pages as found at many coffee shops, public libraries, etc.

So as we can see, they know of the existing issues, and hopefully we will see some fixes in future firmware releases to resolve them.

It is reassuring that Zune staff has acknowledged the problem, and has a thread on the forums detailing some of their plans to resolve it here:

It’s great to see the passion around ZuneHD connectivity!  We hear you: WPA Enterprise and WPA2 Enterprise connectivity is something our users care about, especially our customers on many college campuses.

Shipping ZuneHD was a balancing act between schedule, features, and quality; adding support for this network type just didn’t fit in this release as we decided to focus on other great features.  But we have received your message loud and clear, and we’ll certainly use this input for future releases.

We’re also actively looking into the FIOS Verizon router/AP issues.

Keep on providing constructive feedback, after all, we’re building this for you 🙂

It was later clarified to mean that a firmware release would be the resolution to the problem, when it was ready.  I’m currently using the Zune HD shipping release of the firmware, which is 4.1 (137), and I hope some of the problems outlined above will be corrected in future software updates.  I have confidence that Microsoft will resolve this with a firmware update, based upon how well they did support the Zune 30/80 with feature updates, but I think it is hurting their image when many students can’t use the wireless features on their campus network.  I hope with enough users complaining about the issue, it makes it to the top of the list of fixes to make it to the next release.