BT and FON had a baby… and it's a WiFi community!


FON is a fascinating concept in this age of Web 2.0. We’ve all heard reams about user-generated Web content: Wikipedia, YouTube, and many others have become household names. FON goes a step farther and brings us a global user-generated WiFi network, and what’s more it does so free of charge. Or, rather, for USD 39.99, the price of a small proprietary WiFi router called La Fonera that grants you entry to the world’s largest (and free!) WiFi community.

Now the Net is abuzz with the news: FON has joined forces with BT to make FON accessible to over 3 million of BT’s Total Broadband customers, creating a potentially unrivalled WiFi community.

This is just the latest in a spate of innovations from the relatively young Spanish company launched in 2006 by serial entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky. It is a particularly interesting bit of news because telecoms are normally not very receptive to FON – and a number of them, as you might imagine, are openly hostile to the idea of shared WiFi. Kudos to BT for recognizing and welcoming the future!

Furthermore, as MartinVarsavsky explains on his blog, BT has become a FON shareholder and partner, joining such names as Google, Skype, Index Ventures, and Sequoia Capital. With BT’s telecom clout behind it, FON seems unstoppable.

So how does it all work? You go to the FON web site and buy the La Fonera WiFi router. You register as a member of the FON community, earning the nickname “Fonero”. You set up the la Fonera router at home or at your place of business, and let it do its thing. La Fonera operates on dual channels: one is for your own private WiFi network, and the other (completely separate) channel shares a portion of your Internet connection with other Foneros in the vicinity. You can still be a member of the 500,000-strong FON community if you don’t have the La Fonera router, but you won’t be able to take advantage of free access to over 190,000 (and growing) existing FON hotspots around the world.

What’s more, you even have the option of earning money through your router by charging for access to your shared bandwidth. And imagine the advantages of being a Fonero and using a phone with WiFi capability – you could theoretically reduce your phone bill (landline or mobile) to almost nothing. If you want to learn more I’d recommend doing so on the FON web site in order to enjoy their amusing line drawings.

I should also add that Outblaze is a strong supporter of FON. We came across them in early 2006 and offered to help their cause, which we found fascinating. In November of 2006 we launched FON in Hong Kong, and today we have a thriving and growing community in this city – although the fact that Hong Kong is built in a primarily vertical manner (i.e., very high buildings) makes strong signal coverage quite a challenge! Here’s the link to the Chinese blog page about the BT FON announcement for those of you who read Traditional Chinese.

So congratulations to BT FON and here’s to the future of WiFi.