Fon is the largest WiFi community in the world. We now have around 45,000 foneros in 144 countries. We still don´t know how many Foneros have active hotspots because we have not yet finished the sofware that allows us to query routers on an hourly basis but we believe that Fon is larger than T Mobile´s in terms of network as well (T Mobile was the largest WiFi network in the world with 19,000 hotspots in USA and Europe). The key to our success is that as opposed to T Mobile Fon is user generated infrastructure. So far Fon has been promoted only at our web site but as soon as we can handle the massive sign ups, we are likely going to appear at the sites of our partners Skype and/or Google.
Fon´s infrastructure consists in foneros installing Fon´s Social Router. Presently our social router a hack. Foneros get a Linksys or a Buffalo, download our open source software flash this firmware onto their routers and they roam the world for free. Or as more and more are doing now (around 4000 last week) foneros buy our subsidized plug and play social router from us. In this case what they are buying is a Linksys or Buffalo router that we have reflashed with our firmware. In early September things will change as Fon will launch its own design Fonera, that will be manufactured by Accton. Accton will deliver the first 20,000 Foneras of a planned purchase of 1 million to be supplied by them and possibly other manufacturers, for the next 12 months. The Foneras will have many special features among them two wifi identities (SSIDs) one private and one public. The Foneras will allow foneros (members of the fon community) to socialize through their wifi signal in their neighborhood. Fon is working on a personalized home page that will allow foneros show others in their neighborhood pictures of themselves, their family, their pets, links to their favorite web sites, it will be similar to a My Space but viewable by their neighbors. So soon Foneros will be able to buy la Fonera, roam the world for free if they are Linuses foneros (Foneros must be subscribers to an ISP and pay for broadband at home before they can travel with their signal which explains why we have so many telecom partners), make money if they are Bill foneros and in both cases promote their views or their products in their neighborhood. Linuses will have something akin to a virtual bulletin board and Bills will have something akin to a billboard.
Now while we think that for most foneros a very competitively priced Fonera will be enough I believe that there´s another tremendously useful app for a large subset of Foneros that we can launch. It´s the Fon Downloader and it is now in the drawing board. The Fon Downloader will have all the features of the Fonera plus the Downloading capabilities and cost probably 20 euros/dollars more than the fonera. Here´s the plan. Fon is open source. Fon runs on linux. Many downloading programs are open source and run on Linux including Limewire, Azureus, iTunes. Steve turned out to be a Bill after all 🙁 Now think of this. We add extra RAM, flash memory cards and a USB port for external hard drives to the Fonera. Then the open source community hacks our device so users can install whatever downloading program they like in the Downloader and achieve something that all downloaders know can be very useful and that is to separate the process of downloading from the process of computing. With the Fon Downloader you would connect your iPod or any MP3 player or external hard drive to the Downloader freeing up your laptop from the whole downloading process. You will be able to manage this process from the web, from anywhere in the world. You could be in London and downloading movies at home from iTunes or uploading them in Youtube in San Francisco. User generated content is also becoming a HUGE source of downloads and uploads. Let me give you a personal example vis a vis downloading. My wife and kids love Lost, the TV series. They found out that in iTunes they could download Season 1 and 2 for $70 and somehow convinced me to pay this crazy amount and download Lost. Well, what can I say, it was a nightmare. My laptop became unusable. Not only did the download process take something like 24 hours and use around 20GB of my laptop but every time I would take my laptop to work the whole family would complain. Lost, Lost, Lost I could here them shouting at the breakfast table. I hated the whole thing. But in Spanish they say “no hay mal que por bien no venga” something like “there is always an opportunity in malfunctioning things”. And indeed there is one as this is how I had the idea for the Fon Downloader. The Fon Socila router that downloads straight in your hard drive while you do something else…with your laptop. What next? The WiFi iPod that automatically authenticates in Foneras and downloads desired songs. Something like the Music Gremlin that automatically signs up both to open networks and Fon networks. In this ways the social benefits of the Foneras will be coupled with a downloader to benefit you and to benefit all other foneros.
PS: the fon downloader should not be used to have access to content that the user has no right to use but as iTunes, Musicmatch, Yahoo Music, Music Gremlin and many others are showing the market for rights endowed music and movie downloads is becoming HUGE.
Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars