January 30, 2007 4:00 AM PST

Spanish start-up Whisher promises free Wi-Fi for all

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So far, broadband providers have not come down hard on other companies proposing to build free Wi-Fi networks that cobble together networks using existing Wi-Fi hot spots. But this could be because these networks are still relatively new, and their service models require additional equipment.

For example, Fon, based in Madrid, launched its service last year. Initially, the service required users to download software onto their existing Wi-Fi routers. The software on the routers then splits the Wi-Fi signals to provide a private network indoors and a public one outdoors. But downloading software onto a router proved too difficult for most users. In the fall, the company introduced the La Fonera router. The company has been giving away devices to spur adoption.

"Most people...want to be able to call customer care when something goes wrong, and they don't want to have to rely on their neighbor as their Internet service provider."
--Bobbi Henson, Verizon Communications spokeswoman

As of October, the company only had about 112,000 La Fonera and Fon-enabled routers registered as part of its network. Henson of Verizon said the company has seen little to no impact from Fon on its network so far.

Moreno believes Whisher's approach could be more successful, much faster than Fon's model. The main reason is that Whisher's solution is completely software-based. The company has developed peer-to-peer software that runs on any Linux, Mac or Windows machine and works over any Wi-Fi network. The software works by providing the necessary authentication registered users need to gain access to a particular Wi-Fi network. The company keeps a database of registered users and hot spots. When a user wants to connect to a Wi-Fi network, the software finds the best access point and automatically provides secure access to that network.

Whisher's solution is much more than providing free Internet access, Moreno said. The software also creates a wireless social network that allows users to send instant messages, share files and establish private and public micro-community networks using Wi-Fi hot spots. Members of the community are encouraged to tag, rate or leave comments about any wireless hot spot.

The interactive and social nature of the software also provides a lot of control to people sharing their Wi-Fi connection. Because all users are registered with Whisher, the person who owns the residential network can see which users are on his network at any given time. Users on the network can communicate with each other through IM. And if the network owner doesn't want someone using his connection, he has the option to block people trying to access his connection.

Like any other social network, Whisher's success is completely dependent on getting people to download the software and also to share their connections. Like Skype, which also uses peer-to-peer client software, Moreno believes that an easily downloadable client that provides free Internet access will have wide appeal.

But Henson of Verizon is skeptical that American broadband consumers will actually be willing to use other people's connections, even if it's free.

"Most people don't want to share their connection," she said. "They want to be able to call customer care when something goes wrong, and they don't want to have to rely on their neighbor as their Internet service provider."

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9 comments

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Interesting concept but..
3 points.

Why do you need special software. If you just leave the router with public access then it will do the same thing. I know there may be concerns around security, but how trustworthy are these systems.

From a legal standpoint I don't think it will be allowed to succeed. It would be like a gym membership. Where one person joins and then passes the membership card around so the gym is used full time. The pricing for gyms and broadband services for consumers is based on there not being 100% utilisation. If you want 100% utilisation then it will cost a lot more.

Finally, broadband is becoming a commodity. In the UK it comes free with cable, satelitte and some phone services, so why would I have to sponge.
Posted by ahickey (177 comments )
Reply Link Flag
plus...
Plus, I'm still too paranoid about someone joining the network simply to locate WiFi connections and then compromise the PCs connected.

Otherwise, I'd share my WiFi. I can't get DSL in my neighborhood because too many other people have it so I'm stuck with stupid overpriced cable. For the price I'm paying, it deserves free access.

Granted, my crummy little router would mean you'd need to sit in my driveway to access it and we can't have that.

So I guess that's two strikes against it already.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Link Flag
it's wrong to suggest this is targetted at 'spongers' looking for free web
I think far more realistically, this points the way toward a future where people are willing to pay for broadband, no-traffic-limit, access at home, but will become increasingly unwilling to pay more simply for the benefit of mobile access - which is what this is really all about! with ubiquitous WiFi access, or at least in cities - skype and other VoIP will become more and more used and eventually cellular providers will starting HAVING TO provide cheap or free calls and more importantly broadband-level-cheap data access.
Posted by benmantle (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Internet used to be FREE!
The Internet, yes even a wired connection used to be free. In fact there is no reason for ISP's to charge for anonymous access, its E-mail accounts, and web space that cost (little) money, not the actual access. There are 2 possible futures ahead, one where communication is free, and thus civilization will be freed, and one where it is controlled, monitored, and charged up the wazu for, then prosecuted for, against free speech. The later, which I am suprised no one is objecting to, will enslave us all. A wireless network is the best method of providing free communication (minimal infra structure costs), and ensuring free speech. An anonymous access point does not cost anymore than the electricity in the wire, or EM over the airwaves, the protocols and very design of the internet itself were made this way, to be free. The protocols and computers provide the service, most your money flows like a river (no trickle down here) right back to the top, and have nothing to do with your account or access or services. Granted there is real maintanence and infrastructure costs assoiciated with a wired network, but not a purely wireless one. Although I am sure many ISP's would have you believe that if you don't pay, the EM Spectrum will just stop working.

Free Communication = Free Knowledge = Free People
Posted by chash360 (394 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Food and transport should be free too!
Food and transport should be free too, since they are necessities by your definitions. While we are at it, how about clothing and shoes?

Fact is we need to pay for everything we want and work for it if necessary. Free is in Venezuela, for a limited time. Go live there if that's the lifestyle you want, and see if you will survive the day!

Communication is free, but you need to pay for the phone if you want one and your connection too, horror of horrors!!! There is no purely wireless network. If you must know, they are all connected to wired networks, that cost to build and operate.

When you grow up you'll discover, "There aint no free ride." (Economics 101)
Posted by v_noronha (18 comments )
Link Flag
ISPs are fascists!
I just got off the phone with my ISP. They're forcing me to upgrade to an $80/month plan from a $30/month plan just so I can host my own server because they block out port 80 (the standard web port) from incoming traffic. Not to mention that they "supposedly" give me 1.5 Mbits/s downstream and 512 Kbits/s upstream.

The only viable alternative to the autocracy is a cable provider, which gives fast speeds, but has god awful reliablity. So I'm in the middle of a rock and hard place, all caused by the lack of variety in terms of service provider here. Maybe I should start my own ISP business......
Posted by windsamurai (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Free.
Didn't Atlanta begin a program to provide internet wireless to
the poorer community? But that would violate the free-for-all-
as-long-as-you-bought-a-politician-rule. Soon they'll privatize
air, have a 2 year contract for breathing and add as many hidden
charges as they can.
Posted by flashfast (38 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The term "illegal" should be used carefully
I like this post
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.waltmire.com/blog/archives/2007/02/01/broadband-breach/" target="_newWindow">http://www.waltmire.com/blog/archives/2007/02/01/broadband-breach/</a>

because it tackles the WiFi sharing issue with arguments and not just based on a personal belief that everything outside the norm is illegal...
Posted by Ferran Moreno (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Once You download the bits, they are yours.
TOSs that limit connection porting are probably uninforcable.
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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