October 27, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Taking Wi-Fi power to the people

The Spanish start-up FON wants you to help it unwire San Francisco and other cities around the globe by providing ubiquitous Wi-Fi access.

On Friday, the company will give away its Wi-Fi routers, which will allow broadband subscribers to share their Internet connections with Wi-Fi users throughout their communities. "Freedom Friday," as the company is calling the event, will kick off at noon in San Francisco's Union Square.

Citywide Wi-Fi networks, which are built and managed by a city alone or in partnership with a private company, have become popular in the last couple of years as large cities such as Philadelphia, New Orleans and San Francisco have promised ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage within their borders.

While access to Wi-Fi itself is cheap--it doesn't require expensive radio licenses and is readily accessible by just about every laptop on the market today--building and operating these citywide networks still costs money. Philadelphia estimates it will spend $10 million to build and maintain its network over the next several years. And San Francisco said it will spend $15 million--including maintenance and upgrades--over the next decade.

In total, network providers and local governments building their own networks are expected to spend $235 million to build and operate citywide networks in 2006 alone, according to MuniWireless.com, a Web site that tracks the market. And by 2010, more than $3 billion will spent on these networks, the Web site said in a recent report.

Despite all the hype, only a handful of major cities have Wi-Fi networks up and running. San Francisco, for example, is still negotiating its contract with EarthLink and Google, which were selected to build the network. And New York City is still studying its options.

This is where FON comes in. The company, which, ironically, counts Google as one of its backers, says it has a solution that can be deployed now at very little cost to the city or its residents.

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Video: Free Wi-Fi anyone?
Spain-based FON handed out free "La Fonera" routers in San Francisco, and CNET News.com's Neha Tiwari was there.

"San Francisco or any other city doesn't have to wait for new Wi-Fi networks to be built," said Joanna Rees, chairman of U.S. operations for FON. "There are 400 million Wi-Fi connections around the world. If we could get all of them to become part of the FON community and share their Wi-Fi, we would have ubiquitous coverage around the world today. And we wouldn't need to build municipal Wi-Fi networks."

FON's software allows broadband subscribers to split their Internet connection so that it offers a secure connection indoors and an open connection to people outside the home. Initially, the software could be downloaded onto existing home routers. But this proved too difficult for most people, so FON built its own, small router, called La Fonera.

The La Fonera router, which uses standard 802.11g technology, was introduced only a few weeks ago. It was designed for easy installation. Users simply plug the device into their existing broadband modem, and, voila, their broadband connection is converted into a FON access point.

Currently, about 112,000 La Fonera and FON-enabled routers have been registered with the company. To help spur adoption it's been offering the routers on its Web site for $5 apiece. It's also taking its promotion on the road, offering routers for free in cities such as San Francisco and in New York, where it's planning an East coast "Freedom" event for later this year.

Once users have registered, they become part of the FON community, which allows them free access to any FON hot spot in the world. Non-FON members can also access the network, but they must pay $1 or $2 for 24 hours of access. This small fee is actually how FON generates revenue.

See more CNET content tagged:
San Francisco, Wi-Fi network, Wi-Fi, city, Philadelphia

10 comments

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Economics says this is a silly idea.
Unless service providers are will to cut down the price of providing internet service to the home, I don't see the benefit of sharing my internet service so that FON can make money.
Posted by techisgood (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
exchange...
Your profit is in the fact that you will be able to access the Internet via other foneros's , so Fon users are called, wi-fi access point. You trade part of your bandwith at your home with some of the bandwidth "owned" by others... it's the same concept behind P2P, and recent history told us P2P was not killed by economy's rules at all, it rather told us that those rules were shaken to their very foundations by P2P. The only enemy Fon can fear is the law... I live in Italy, and here you can't transmit on the wi-fi wavelength if you're not an internet provider or an authorized institution, so a fonero sharing his/her bandwith would be abusively transmitting and therefore an outlaw. Thus, I think you should just appreciate to be able to, at least, try and evaluate such a chance.
Posted by cxar71 (13 comments )
Link Flag
see the point
you don't see the point of sharing, uh?,
if you share you'rer conection for free you can conect to internet with your laptop for free, everywhere in the "fon network" with your login username. This is called "linus"
Also if you don't want this fon offers to pay you some of the revenue generated by the "aliens". this is called "Bill's". :)
Posted by jonytk (18 comments )
Link Flag
Economics says this is a silly idea. Not.
Sharing services with free riders in order to share their services AS a free rider makes eminent sense. Whether you personally value the service provided you by others depends, of course, on whether you have any need for it. If you do home swapping, then you are using the same model as Foner. If you never travel then you'll not have any need of it and therefore will value it low enough that your resentment of the profit made by the coordinator (Foner in this case, the home-swapping agency in the example) trumps your enjoyment of the opportunity.
Posted by terrasegura (2 comments )
Link Flag
Why not satelite or Cell?
If I can get streaming media over a cell phone why do we ned all of these silly routers and wi fi terminals?
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Link Flag
Health-Related
Researcher will claim this would put people in higher risk of cancer.
Posted by iRhapsody (46 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Looks good but...
How about security?

Otherwise, I think it's ok. It's like peer-ro-peer on an infrastructural level.

Hope this one kicks-off well.
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Looks good but...
How about security?

Otherwise, I think it's ok. It's like peer-to-peer on an infrastructural level.

Hope this one kicks-off well.
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fon Security -- or Lack of
Fon is unsecured, shared text among users.

-www.AeONsafe.com
Posted by darhsiung (4 comments )
Link Flag
Free computer, Free million, now free AP
First we had free computers, if you tolerate ads. I can't remember the company names.

Then we had iwon with chance to win one million dollars.

Now, it's Fon blowing $20 million giving away APs. In 60 days, the 500 APs will disappear into the closet of old junk. Users who install it, risk losing their broadband service for reselling.

I guess we never learn that technology should be cool products first, and marketing second. Fon clearly has no product and no web2.0 sense.

- www.AeONsafe.com
Posted by darhsiung (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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