Share and Share Alike

By Naomi Graychase

October 09, 2007

FON and BT join forces to provide a massive, secure, public Wi-Fi network.

FON, the international company trying to build a global network of freely available Wi-Fi, took a big step forward last week when it signed a deal with British Telecom (BT) to form BT FON, a joint venture, which BT’s reps say will become “the world’s largest Wi-Fi community.”

 

FON’s existing (and somewhat inscrutable) business model has garnered them a following of what they claim is a half-million-member community of people offering up their own Wi-Fi networks for sharing. FON users (Foneros) can also access 190,000 hotspots worldwide for free or nearly free, based on whether they are “Bills” or “Linuses” (as in “Gates” and “Torvalds”). No word yet on whether BT FON customers will get new monikers--“Bonos” perhaps?

 

BT’s more than three million paying broadband customers will be invited to join the new BT FON community of users who open their home (or business) Wi-Fi networks to other Foneros. BT FON will also offer a significant number of additional free hotspots.

 

If you think the notion of communal Wi-Fi sounds too good to be true, it’s worth noting that Google is among FON’s investors, which lends the venture a serious bit of credence. While Earthlink and other vendors struggle to find the magic beans that will sprout into profitable, affordable, or even just practical municipal Wi-Fi, BT FON is trying a distinctively UK-version that actually makes some sense—at least in cultures inclined to share.

 

“We are launching a people’s network of Wi-Fi, which could one day cover every street in Britain,” says Gavin Patterson, BT Group managing director, Consumer Division.
     
“We are giving our millions of Total Broadband customers a choice and an opportunity. If they are prepared to securely share a little of their broadband, they can share the broadband at hundreds of thousands of FON and BT Openzone hotspots today, without paying a penny.
    
“We have built a public Wi-Fi network and 12 Wireless Cities already, but today we are saying to customers, let’s build a Wi-Fi community together, which covers everywhere and serves everyone.”
    

BT and FON are building it; now we wait and see if the people will come.



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