Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
4/25/2007
12:39 PM
David  DeJean
David DeJean
Commentary
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FON Dials It Up With Software-Only Hotspot For Mac, Linux

FON, the Spanish share-your-Internet-connection company, is moving fast this week. On Monday it announced a deal with Time Warner Cable that will officially let broadband customers do what some of them have already been doing unofficially -- set up FON routers that redistribute their Internet service via Wi-Fi. Today, FON announced software for Intel Macs and Linux boxes that does the same thing, no router required.

FON, the Spanish share-your-Internet-connection company, is moving fast this week. On Monday it announced a deal with Time Warner Cable that will officially let broadband customers do what some of them have already been doing unofficially -- set up FON routers that redistribute their Internet service via Wi-Fi. Today, FON announced software for Intel Macs and Linux boxes that does the same thing, no router required.You can download the software from Martin Varsavsky's blog. (Varsavsky is the CEO of FON, which is funded in part by Google, eBay, and Sequoia Partners.)

FON started out more than a year ago to get a million routers into the market. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time -- especially the part that expected U.S. broadband providers to let FON essentially give away the product they were working so hard to sell. Sure enough, Comcast and AT&T, for example, prohibit the practice.

With Time Warner Cable endorsing it, it seems a lot less crazy today. Time Warner probably has very good strategic reasons for its move -- and most likely they involve sticking a thumb in the eye of its competition's cell phone and telephone services. This could work especially well where Time Warner's cable broadband competes against AT&T's DSL.

It may be purely defensive, as well -- with the number of cities adoping municipal Wi-Fi, maybe Time Warner is trying to prevent competition from getting a foothold in its markets.

There's more competition in the share-your-Internet space, currently, too. Whisher offers a software-only package that competes directly with FON, and Meraki sells a Wi-Fi router that can share a signal and link up with other Meraki routers in a mesh network.

We're nowhere near a tipping point yet -- the FON service map shows only 13 foneros (the company's name for customers who operate FON routers) in my neighborhood, none of them close enough for me to connect to, while the Whisher map shows only one Whisher early adopter in my ZIP code -- and I still think the privacy questions are huge.

Technology is another issue, as well. Whisher's software runs on Windows, but FON doesn't -- at least not yet. As Varsavsky says in his blog, "The reason we don't have it for Windows or Vista is that Microsoft handles WiFi in a way that makes it hard for a laptop to shift from being a receiver of WiFi signal to being an emitter of WiFi signal. But if anyone knows how to do this for Windows pls contact me at martin@fon.es."

But if there's a business reason that gets a company like Time Warner Cable behind this, then we could be enjoying something like universal Wi-Fi access much faster than I would have predicted last week.

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