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9/27/2006
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DEMO Speakers Ponder Almost Free Wi-Fi Access For All

A panel at DEMOfall 2006 asks: Would consumers pay $5 for a router to create a free Internet access hotspot if they in turn got free access at other hotspots around the world?

Would consumers pay $5 for a router to create a free Internet access hotspot if in turn they got free access at other hotspots around the world?

That was one question pondered by a panel at DEMOfall 2006 in San Diego featuring Sun Microsystems Laboratories Director of Research Tom Jacobs, FON North America General Manager Juergen Urbanski, IBM Vice President Corporate Strategy Joseph Ziskin, and Attitude LLC President John Patrick.

The discussion began with questions to Jacobs on digital rights management (DRM), who said "the focus has been on how to make it a worth while technology" and meet the needs of content owners who have intellectual property concerns, but quickly switched gears toward FON and free Wi-Fi access.

"FON is about freedom to connect to the Internet, a peer-to-peer community," Urbanski said. "You surf for free when you're near a hotspot."

FON aims to build a global network of one million wireless hotspots within four years. The company will seek out people to help build a network by installing firmware on their residential routers, turning them into a unified community of global hotspots.

The router costs $5 at FON.com. It transmits two SSID signals, one for personal use and another for open use by passersby. Premier members, called FONeros, surf for free where there's a hotspot. Others are charged $2 per day.

Urbanski declined to disclose member number, but said FON is the largest Wi-Fi network.

Patrick suggested the greatest barriers and the enablers to this vision come from the biggest players, telecommunication carriers.

"We are working with them to help open up what they have done traditionally in a very closed world to become collaborative," Ziskin said. "If we look at the industry 10 years ago, it was a closed black-box industry, tightly integrated, everything was siloed. Today, they have a more collaborative view that no one provider can solve all the problems."

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