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Summary:

The maverick French broadband service provider, Iliad, and the company behind the Free, broadband service has made a habit of anticipating disruption; embracing it and then extending. Cheap broadband – they did that. Cheap (and almost free) Voice – they did that. Cheap IPTV, check. So […]

The maverick French broadband service provider, Iliad, and the company behind the Free, broadband service has made a habit of anticipating disruption; embracing it and then extending. Cheap broadband – they did that. Cheap (and almost free) Voice – they did that. Cheap IPTV, check. So what’s next to do? Open up wireless (WiFi) networks for one and all, and thus create one giant mesh.

Here is how it is works: the new set-top box from the company, called (what else) Freebox, has FoN like wireless network sharing features built into it, and thus every one of its 300,000 boxes can become part of a big wifi mesh. They are using WiFi with MIMO technology in their boxes. Basically if you have a wifi phone (or a laptop) you can hop on to one of these networks and stay connected.


The company is also introducing two special phones – one pure WiFi phone and the other is a combo WiFi/GSM phone.

Our friend, Yannick Laclau thinks that in one swoop, FON is squashed. “I think all this highlights that operators still have a lot of leverage here to make things happen, and quickly, *if* they have the will to do it,” he writes. Or perhaps, this means FoN could become a quick way for an incumbent to do roll out their own network. Not taking sides, just taking into account Martin Varsavsky’s ability to flip companies.

By Om Malik

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  1. Well, Free copied us, yes. But we are deploying with their archrival Neuf, with 1.4 million users. We are porting the Fon software to their boxes and will reflash them as soon as the development is ready and in one week there will be hundreds of thousands of our hotspots. And hopefully FON/Neuf and Free will roam, so France will benefit and finally be freed from the hugely expensive 3G rates with a better service.

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  2. “Free copied us”, yeah, right, as much as you copied Ozone here in France too. But it is really a comparison of oranges with apples… Where is FON’s phone anyway? (no pun intended)

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  3. I think this mash up of network as a solution has a huge potential to be successful. There is an initiative in Melbourne, Australia which is going on and is operational.Its becoming popular here day day. THese guys are helping tibetan origin people in northern part of India to get this going as well.
    Melbourne Wireless

    Vishal

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  4. Just purchased a Fon unit online. Hopefully will get it sooner than the 3 week prediction that they stated on the website. I am not sure I understand Martin’s value proposition with a cheap (heavily discounted) multi (SSID) device. I would like to ask Martin as to what he envisions the business to evolve into? Is it just create a community free WiFI mesh only? To be honest, what is it for Martin (from business point of view), in it? Why would somebody invest money in this venture? Not trying to be rude, just simple and genuine business question.

    Thx

    sganguly@yahoo.com

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  5. Gotta say it, Om, this sounds similar to more 2005 Cringely speculation. Only this time he had the wrong country.
    http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20051124.html

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  6. I’m not convinced about the Fon model either and I still haven’t stumbled upon a Fon router when “on the road”. I live in Paris and you can almost be sure to be in range of a Wanadoo/Orange or Neuf Telecom or Free access point. Most of them are protected of course but in a majority of cases you can get a connection with an open AP. I suppose we’ll have to wait for Neuf to “flash” their routers with the Fon software to see if being a “Linus” is really useful.

    And by the way Fon is NOT a mesh network. It’s more of a “community hotspot network”. If you want an example of a mesh network you have ozone.net for example.

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  7. Not surprisingly, Free lauches their own solution, fast, efficient and “free”—while Cegetel tries to leverage a third party, and just after France Telecom (Orange) launched their proprietary, closed and expensive alternative “unik”.

    Seen that with:
    - modem-connection,
    - free (just pay the phone call) modem,
    - ADSL, TVoIP (the mainstream programs & network),
    - VoD (like Apple’s iTV, except films are 2€ for a 24h rental). . .

    Will there ever learn?

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  8. Om, I think there is a little mistake :
    you can only connect to other’s Freeboxes to pass VoIP phone calls (they use the open SIP protocol, so you can use your own devices), and not to access the internet.

    It still doesn’t remove the interest of this service, as Free has exceptional rates (for example: free calls to USA and Canada, even to mobile phones, do you have that in the States ?)

    By the way, I had tested Fon with the WRT54G (there were a few usability problems with the firmware), but I now use their Fonera (double SSID), and it works well.

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  9. Martin said :
    “Free copied us”

    You make me laugh every morning Martin , What free has done has nothing to do with the FON Thing !

    Free Is opening a provite SSID on FreeBoxes and FreeUsers authenticate through a certificate ( WPA-Enterprise), this channel is limited to access their SIP gateway.

    This is really different than FON who is selling cheap routers to transform your DSL line in a FON Clear-Radius-Auth paying Hotspot …

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  10. With a FON-like, 802.1X service built into every wifi modem, we could have a load of fun world-wide. It doesn’t matter if coverage is spotty sometimes, then you can revert back to other versions. But boy this is how networks should work, with all horizontal layers integrated.

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