The No-Hardware Wi-Fi Community

By Eric Griffith

January 30, 2007

Whisher's wish? Internet access and community applications like IM shared by the wireless masses, but with no extra hardware beyond the laptop.

If you've got a wireless network and you want to share access with your friends and family -- or with the whole world -- you need to keep it open to all, or provide the encryption keys you use for entry, right? Not if Whisher gets its wish. The startup, on display this week at DEMO 07, believes sharing your network should be as simple as a quick software download.

"This is a way to create a Wi-Fi community without purchasing hardware or reconfiguring what you have," says Whisher co-founder and CEO Ferran Moreno, in a clear swipe at the competition from FON, which similarly wants to build a Wi-Fi community. FON requires special hardware or reconfigured hardware, usually routers with new firmware, though the company is preparing to release software to turn a Mac into a "FONspot."

Whisher says it can already do that with downloads running on Windows, Macintosh and Linux computers. The person running a network makes an entry about their WLAN in a database run by Whisher. The entry will include a "buddy list" of just who can have access. Friends and family then download the software and are given admittance to that network, as well as any in the embedded directory of networks allowing full access. It doesn't cost the admin or his visitors a thing.

Whisher users can chat with each other via instant messaging features built into the Java-based software.

"The access is restricted to people using the Whisher software, just like an instant message application," says Moreno. "Once you're on the Wi-Fi network, we see who's there and give the user the means to get in touch and eventually to make all users their buddies. The IM features we supply are local but at the same time global -- you can do this with buddies not at the same local Wi-Fi network." Users can also share files with others using the Whisher interface.

The Wi-Fi sharing is what Moreno calls the "most remarkable part," comparing it again to FON, which he claims to have worked for in the past, though this is disputed by FON CEO Martin Varsavsky. Either way, the two companies, both based in Spain, are now prepped for mortal combat for the hearts and minds of users. Moreno calls FON a "telco" that acts like an ISP. He claims Whisher is more geared toward community, be it the worldwide Wi-Fi community or just a small group that uses the software to facilitate access. And Whisher does it all for free; FON charges users for access if they're not part of the community providing access.

"You still have full control -- you decide who connects and when," says Moreno. "There's a private mode as well: click a button to prevent access to anyone but your VIP users."

Like the other Wi-Fi access tech at DEMO from Devicescape, Whisher plans to work with WISPs and providers. Moreno thinks the platform "can become a powerful local distribution platform" by working with them. "They don't, right now, have control with any direct channel to their users," he says. "They give access and that's it." Whisher could help the larger providers do promotions or advertising on a local level. Moreno says the company is working now with some prominent ISPs, but he won't say who.

Unlike Devicescape, and more akin to Boingo or iPass, Whisher's application is big and frequently updated to ensure users have the most recent listings of hotspots. Don't expect it on non-PCs for a while. However, with that big app comes the IM, file sharing, and even bandwidth controls. Skype-like VoIP is a possibility for the future. Moreno also hopes to integrate it with existing popular IM networks like those run by AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft.

Moreno says, "If you have this application for your default Wi-Fi, working with any IM platform, and you have local services and then  offer voice... I can't imagine, with critical mass, how it would not compete with Skype."



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