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Summary:

People of Japan are using their smartphones during the earthquake and tsunami tragedies to share news and pictures but with damaged infrastructure, the cellular networks are struggling. To keep information flowing, Madrid-based Fon quickly acted to open up one million free Wi-Fi hotspots.

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It’s a warm feeling when in the face of tragedy, people and companies come together to provide some service or comfort to those in need. As residents in Japan deal with the massive infrastructure devastation caused by both a magnitude 9 earthquake and the tsunami that followed, there’s one less problem to manage: wireless connectivity to the web. Martin Varsavsky, the CEO of Fon, has decided to make the Fon Wi-Fi network free in Japan during the crisis. This dovetails with earlier reports that Japan’s undersea cables providing Internet service are still working.

It’s been some time since I last heard about Fon: the company began by offering free wireless routers to people who are willing to share their home Internet bandwidth. Today, the routers range in cost between $49 and $99, but the concept is the same: a large network is created by regular people who contribute free Wi-Fi for the good of everyone in the Fon community. Normally, sharing of the Wi-Fi signal through Fon routers is completely up to the individual, but in light of the recent events, Varsavaky decided to enable free Wi-Fi for all Fon routers in Japan to help keep people connected.

The decision temporarily open up more than one million hotspots in Japan and took several hours of software changes from Fon’s headquarters in Madrid, Spain. From there, updates were pushed to all of the Fon routers in Japan to enable the open hotspots. In a blog post, Varsavaky expressed condolences to those affected and urged any Fon owners in Japan to plug in their wireless routers to help keep communications and connectivity running. Given that cellular communications have suffered, Wi-Fi may be the best way for the smartphone to keep sharing information between Japan the rest of the world.

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