As you know, FON is a global community of people who share WiFi connections. We call these people “Foneros”, as a tribute to our heritage as a Spanish company. In order to become a Fonero, you go to FON, to download software that you install in your router, you place your antenna by a window and you share bandwidth with other Foneros from anywhere in the world. You can also buy the FON Ready router from our web site, plug and play. FON creates a free WiFi roaming environment for those who contribute WiFi signals, namely those who have already signed up with a local ISP and downloaded our software into their WiFi routers.
The success of FON, like the success of all online communities — such as eBay, Skype, ICQ, IM — depends on many people joining. At the very beginning, when there are no obvious advantages to joining FON, it is not so easy to get Foneros, even though the service is free. But as Foneros continue to join, and there are more and more Fonero hotspots, the dream of a unified global broadband wireless signal becomes a reality. The FON movement, as we call it, can achieve what 3G or EVDO has not — a truly broadband wireless Internet everywhere. 3G/EVDO are great for coverage, but their throughput is pitiful compared to WiFi and they are way too expensive.
FON was launched just 90 days ago and we already have over 3,000 registered Foneros. While that number may seem small, 3,000 registered Foneros puts us at 10% of our 2006 objective in only 3 months: to become the largest hotspot network in the world by the end of the year. Currently, the largest global hotspot networks have around 30,000 hotspots. But after having built the second largest Spanish Internet company, Ya.com and the second largest publicly traded telecom company in Spain, Jazztel both with significant backers, I realized that at FON was going to need very special alliances to succeed on its objective of having 1 million hotspots around the world in 4 years. I knew that our method of downloading firmware was a much faster way of building a unified global WiFi signal than the traditional method used by local hotspots companies. Their way — buying WiFi boxes and deploying them hotspot by hotspot — is costly and inefficient. Ours is simple: download and install. Ours is a people’s network. But for FON to succeed we need tremendous magnifying power for our message.
So I sought the ultimate alliances in the industry, and aimed high, very high. And today I have a great announcement to make: FON can now count Google , Skype, Sequoia Capital, and Index Ventures as investors and backers. They’ve joined us to help advance the FON movement, leading a group that has put 18 million Euros into FON and also committed to give us a strategic boost that should help us make this great idea into a great platform for everyone who wants a faster, cheaper and more secure wireless Internet. We’ll invest this money in R&D so we can make it quicker and easier to become a FONERO and so that we can expand the number of things you can do with your FON service. Our goal, after all, isn’t just to share bandwidth. It’s to use the power of people to people networks to create a global wireless network. What makes each of these firms great backers for us is that deep in their DNA is the idea of brand-new business models, tons of innovation and a commitment to making the digital world easier and cheaper. We feel the same way. So while we’re excited about (and responsible for!) their investment, we’re even more pleased to have their support. Also I am pleased to announced today that we have obtained the support of two significant ISPs for FON. In America Speakeasy has said that they welcome FON and in Europe, Glocalnet and FON have signed an agreement so Glocalnet sells its services FON ready and the Swedish foneros will soon be able move around Stockholm and other cities with their WiFi enabled gadgets. FON shares revenues with ISPs making it attractive for them to join the FON movement.
In coming days I’ll use this blog to tell you how we ended up here, including all the adventures we’ve had in the past few months moving from Madrid to Stockholm to London to Silicon Valley. I’ve promised to blog FON since the beginning. I’ve had to be quiet during the past weeks as we finalized our arrangements, but now I can use this space to tell about how backers like Niklas and Janus from Skype, our friends at Google or Danny Rimer of Index and Mike Moritz of Sequoia were so helpful in shaping and supporting our idea. I had never been to Silicon Valley until FON came about. Showing up from Spain with a business plan in my pocket and getting the support of two of the largest internet companies in the world in less than one month made me realize how it is that American dominates the internet. It´s all about willing to take risks. In this case what was unique was how rivals got together to collaborate at FON. This is understandable as unifying all the disparate WiFi signal out there and offering the internet everywhere has benefits for all Internet sites and ISPs involved (in the case of ISPs because FON is only free only after you sign up with a broadband ISP so FON is an added advantage at no cost to the ISP).
Now we turn to the task of building the movement. As you’ll see if you go to download our software, one of our first priorities is going to be expanding the platforms we work with. Today, if you’ve got a Linksys router (version WRT54G 4 and below, and WRT54GL/GS) you’re just a few clicks away from becoming a functioning Fonero. This router is costing us around 50 dollars at Linksys but for a limited time we are selling it for 25 dollars FON ready as we want to have as many Foneros as possible. A warning here. Becoming a Fonero if you already have a Linksys router is not as simple as say, downloading Skype. If you are not sure of your technical skills it is better that you simply buy a FON ready router. A second warning relates to your ISP. While we do know that some ISPs like Speakeasy in America allow FON do check with your ISP before installing FON as they may not yet allow it. At FON however we believe that as we sign more revenue share agreements with ISPs they will end up allowing FON since FON is not a free WiFi platform but a free roaming platform among paying customers. In the meantime we’re already working on software for other routers and we’ll roll them out as quickly as we can. (You can click here to sign up for an email note from us when we’ve got software for your router model.) In the future people will become foneros by working off more router models. At FON we have one simple idea: if you have broadband at home, you should have it wherever else you go — free. Like Skype, FON is one of those low cost high advantage proposition as the chance of other foneros coming by your place is low (and in any case our software limits their bandwidth consumption to 50% at most) but the benefit to you and your WiFi enabled gadgets of having free WiFi roaming will be big when many foneros sign up.
Now how do we plan to make money at FON? At FON we plan to make money with characters we call the Aliens. To us the world is divided into Linus, Bills and Aliens. A Linus shares his/her bandwidth for free with other Foneros, Bills share their bandwidth for a small fee, and Aliens don’t share their bandwidth at all.
If you capture FON´s signal and you are not a fonero in 120 days you will have to pay to use the FON signal. Our rates for Aliens will be like those of public transportation, a price of a subway or bus ticket. So FON will provide either free WiFi or very low cost WiFi. Still if you are using FON everyday it´s better that you become Fonero by signing up for broadband with your local ISP cause those low cost rates add up to more than their monthly charges if you log in everyday. What do we do with the money from Aliens? We share it with the ISPs so they support FON. Also in case you are interested in FON only to make some money and not to get free WiFi roaming we also share it with you. At FON you can choose. If you become a fonero to obtain free WiFi everywhere you are a Linus fonero, if you become a fonero to make money out of your WiFi connection you are a Bill fonero. We at FON think the world is built by Bills and Linuses (Bill comes from Bill Gates and Linus from Linus Torvalds) and enjoyed by both builders (Foneros) and Aliens who just like to enjoy things without caring much about building them.
Let’s have FON!
Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars