I had the idea of FON in late 2005 in Paris, France. I was desperately looking for WiFi. While I found a lot of WiFi signals, I could not access a single one of them. They were all locked. It was then that the key concept of Fon dawned on me “share a little extra WiFi at home and roam the world for free connecting to other people´s routers”. For a while the Fon idea seemed to be utopic. Now thanks to Fon itself and now to progressive carriers such as Free of France it´s becoming a global reality.

This week, the French ISP Free launched a community WiFi service similar to ours at FON. Owners of a Freebox v5 who share with FreeWiFi will be able to surf off the WiFi router of other Free customers. As with FON, Free customers must share to get access to the FreeWiFi signal, which is a second SSID broadcasted by their Freebox.


Still there is a big difference between the new community launched by French ISP Free and Fon and that is that it is a closed community available only to Free customers and only in France as Free only operates in France. Moreover since this community has no aliens neither Free nor its customers can make money offering their WiFi to non donors as is the case with Fon.

FON grows either by selling its own Fonera and by partnering with Telcos around the world such as British Telecom, SFR Neuf (Free´s competitor) and others. But even though Free is so far not a member of the Fon community itself and some people have asked me if we did not feel threatened by Free acting alone we congratulate Free for the move as it validates Fon´s concept. While it may not be apparent to journalist who cover the Internet and Telecoms sharing a la Fon is a way that operators have to reduce churn, provide more with no additional cost and differentiate themselves from carriers that only offer you internet at home when you pay at home.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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m. on May 28, 2009  · 

correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t your partership with Neuf also a closed community (ie. fon members who are not Neuf customers cannot connect to Neuf routers) ?

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Martin Varsavsky on May 28, 2009  · 

Neuf has two choices. If you want to be only Neuf you can, but many opt to be Neuf Foneros and they then share with the Fon community and get free roaming. If you are a Neuf customer you are welcome to the Fon community!

m. on May 28, 2009  · 

Oh I see. Unfortunately all Neuf spots I encountered until now required a Neuf ID (maybe the choice should be better explained to Neuf customers?)

Being both a Fonero and “Freenaute” myself, I do hope the too of you can reach a partnership. I’m not sure about having 4 active SSIDs on my connection !

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StuFF mc on May 28, 2009  · 

It might be a “closed” community but, correct me if I’m wrong, free has a *huge* market share in France so I guess it’s not a big deal. In a way it’s a bit like what companies like T-Mobile or NetCologne do with their own Hotspots for their own customers, but just here it’s using the people’s WiFi. You might have been the one coming with the Idea, Martin, it won’t matter if at the end Free is the one people remember. Who remembers Doug Engelbart as the inventor of the Mouse? 😉 Best of luck for all of you guys, WiFi sharing is cool anyways, as long as the law can cope with it 😉

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Martin Varsavsky on May 29, 2009  · 

We are partners with SFR Neuf in France.

AustinTX on May 29, 2009  · 

We Foneros provide your company’s bandwidth for free, and we paid for the network deployment by buying your access points and accessories. All your company needs to do is run some authentication servers and publicize, yet you couldn’t turn a profit, and most of us got nothing for our investment. I’ve been blogging for over a year about the fact that you only make significant profit off hardware sales, but I do thank you for finally admitting it today.

Yes, you’re forced to depend on sales of your proprietary routers now, because after 3 years you still have not produced enough wifi sales to sustain your company… Since there are too few wifi sales to share with Bills, then the profit are all yours anyway. You’re “forced” to sell controlling rights to your hotspots wherever you can, because they’re not leveraging you (or the Bills among them) any money otherwise.

What was Fon’s mantra last fall? “What Is Good For Fon Is Good For Foneros”. That’s what you people said when we objected to yet another “Fon partner” being granted free, non-reciprocal access to our hotspots. Bills make nothing from your hardware sales! Bills make little to nothing from your profit-sharing! None of that is good for Foneros!

Your opportunity to saturate the market with enough Fon hotspots to make it worthwhile to us has long passed. Too bad; the opportunity might still be there if you had opened the platform up instead of blowing your investment money by imposing weak proprietary hardware. You would be profitable by now if you hadn’t done that, but then you’d be sitting on investment money which you couldn’t tap, by way of paying yourself wages while you spent it. Admit it; when the last of this is gone, you’ll fold the company rather than pay out of pocket!

Your system might still be attractive if you didn’t lock the wifi fee at an arbitrary number, take two thirds of it for yourself and your mysterious “partners”, attributing only 30% of it toward Bill’s “piggy bank” (which is really YOUR interest-bearing bank), until he may withdraw it with your permission. Your community might still exist if you hadn’t responded to our thundering enthusiasm by abandoning us from the very start.

And I will hear no protests about “business realities”. You forget who your customers and partners actually are. The Foneros. We are not your employees. We are franchisers of your Brand, and purchasers of your actual products: an instant hotspot solution with customer authentication services, customer billing and revenue delivery. There are many alternatives which have existed longer than your “inspiration in Paris”. Your company is the imitator. Your company has failed to recognize the business reality that your customers have determined that your services don’t fit their needs. Now you serve only your own needs, as you spin down into the softest landing you can arrange.

I write all of this to you most respectfully. I am not angry, just very, very disappointed. I assure you that I am not in the minority.

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Charbax on May 29, 2009  · 

I would like to see you partner with FreeWiFi, this way most of France will be covered on the same WiFi roaming network.

Let FreeWiFi users roam on FON and vice-versa, including also FreeWiFi have their own or same as FON for monetization of users that connect who are not Foneros or Freenautes.

I think it makes no sense to compete, collaboration brings much better coverage, and that global coverage is achieved instantly!

A Free – FON – Neuf WiFi roaming agreement would probably also force Wannadoo boxes to also jump on the same global bandwagon. That would basically turn 95% of French ADSL connections to function on the same global WiFi network.

Another thing that I think Free should consider doing, is to activate WiFi sharing by default and only let people actively opt-out. Neuf should do the same. There is a huge difference between opt-in and opt-out, my guess is probably something like 10 million extra hotspots. You can’t expect all French people to understand what all this is all about and actively go to activate it, however where they need to fill out forms and stuff. Clicking on one link on a well formulated attractive email sent to all customers might be okay, but rather it should simply be opt-out.

As long as you guarantee the bandwidth of the customers own usage is not being affected at all, that only non-used bandwidth is part of this system, also the thing about the IP address not being the same to prevent piracy to be blamed on the connection owner. I don’t think there should be any risk of anything bad happening by launching this as default firmware update pushed to everyone with an opt-out option.

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Charbax on May 29, 2009  · 

It would be totally acceptable that internet service providers monetize their networks by this WiFi roaming deal.

So I would think that the solution might be some sort of payment that may go on for example for Foneros to use FreeWiFi, the price should be very reasonable per gigabyte, for example 1€ per GB. The Fonero could for example pay automatically using some of his FON WiFi credit, earned selling passes on his FONspot.

Anyways, the roaming fees should probably be for data, or it could be by the minute, or by the hour/day or something.

The point being that roaming agreements between FreeWiFi and FON should provide cheaper prices for Foneros to use the FreeWiFi network. And the same for FreeWiFi users to roam on FONspots.

Yet Neuf-FONspots might have their own roaming prices towards FreeWiFi users, and vice-versa.

Though the vision being that we share a home and can roam the world for free, though I wouldn’t mind that as a transition, to make this work, we start by making it really easy and reasonably priced to roam from one network to the other using one same account and using one same compatible way to eventually pay for the access.

Same thing for roaming on BT-FONspots, BT Open Zone, Boingo and all these other networks.

Main thing is we should eliminate those 10€ Airport 1h sign-on credit card type in ridiculous fees. Users of the global wifi roaming network should be able to check their email, use less than 10mb bandwidth for 1 minute and pay automatically less than $0.10 for that without having to take out any credit cards. The cookie on the computer or WiFi appliance may even auto-login the user otherwise a simple username and password and “OK” button to pay roaming fees at the given rate.

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David on May 29, 2009  · 

Hi Martin,

What do you think of the recent patent ruling concerning browser hijacking (among other things)?


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