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Summary:

Fon is introducing its community Wi-Fi model to the U.S., selling its $59 router on Amazon. The idea is to create a shared bandwidth network that any Fon member can access for free.

fonera02 Fon shared Wi-Fi router
photo: Fon

If you thought Fon’s recent roaming partnership with AT&T was a first step toward the Spanish Wi-Fi aggregator’s launch in the U.S., then you would have been right. The company announced on Wednesday that it has begun selling its Wi-Fi routers to U.S. consumers.

Called Foneras, the devices work like any other Wi-Fi access point with one exception: they automatically partition off a portion of their Wi-Fi signals to create a shared broadband network accessible to any Fon member at no cost. Fon has been operating in Europe since 2007 and first expanded internationally to Japan in 2011 through a partnership with Softbank. It actually has a presence in the U.S. of a few thousand members (called Foneros), but they’re primarily European expats that have brought their Foneras over the Atlantic.

Starting today, Fon will begin recruiting members within the U.S., selling the latest version of its router for $59 on Amazon.com and on its website. It’s also opened up a U.S. office in New York City’s Soho neighborhood and installed U.S. CEO, Nina Sodhi, who I spoke to ahead of the launch.

Fonera Scale shared Wi-Fi router

According to Sodhi, the U.S. was always a target for Fon, but for the longest time the U.S. had a different view of Wi-Fi than Europe. Europeans embraced a Wi-Fi-first attitude toward connecting mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, while us Yanks seemed content to use our cellular connections, she said (perhaps a vestigial remnant of our old unlimited data plans). That attitude has shifted in recent years, and U.S. companies are starting to embrace the concept of shared Wi-Fi.

The most obvious example of that is Comcast, which recently began opening up all of its customer’s home Wi-Fi routers to other Comcast customers. “It really jumpstarted thinking about community Wi-Fi in the U.S.,” Sodhi said.

Comcast’s shared bandwidth efforts — along with those of outfits like Open Garden, Karma and the Open Technology Institute — aren’t just important to change the mindset around community Wi-Fi, but also as sources of potential partnerships for Fon. While FON has built up a global network of 12 million access points, 80 percent come from carrier partners like Softbank, BT and SFR that install Fon’s software on their residential broadband gateways are sell their own branded version of the Fonera, Sodhi said.

To scale its service in a market like the U.S., where the population is spread out and there are dozens of metropolitan cities, Fon will need to recruit many carriers to its side. It already has a deal with AT&T, but it’s only for international roaming (Fon members will eventually get access to AT&T’s public hotspot network). Foneros can’t access AT&T residential customers’ Wi-Fi networks. Sodhi, however, said Fon is in discussions with multiple carriers and ISPs.

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  1. Fon is terrible. I’ve used it in the UK and Portugal and at least 90% of the time it will look like you have a good connection but once you’ve paid for a pass you realize that it’s either unusably slow or doesn’t work at all. Hopefully they’ll resolve this issue in the US.

  2. my feeling are kind of mixed on this.

    i loved the concept when it was a bunch of individuals sharing there connections with each other.

    i do not like big carriers like AT&T being involved however, this should have been kept in more of any anti-carrier model and not working with the enemy so to speak.

    these days i actually believe the best way to share bandwidth and keep your home network protected is use the ‘guest’ option built into most modern router. set it up to allow any one passing by open access on a separate sub net. enough people do the same and no need for a community of ‘foneras’

  3. Checked their site, it is not available till November.

  4. Fon has been available in the US since the beginning.

  5. Kevin, fon has been available in the USA since they originally launched, and they have sold their devices and services here all along. I suspect you do not know any more about Fon other than what they pay you to print. For those who want to know about fon’s extraordinarily rocky start, read elfonblog.fondoo.net. I was the most widely-read english fan blogger of fon there.

    Most ISPs have to pay for land or space to place their equipment and antennae. They also have to pay for their own equipment and arrange for a network backhaul. With fon, the customer pays for the equipment and provides the space and network backhaul. Then, fon keeps 2/3 of whatever wifi sales are made at that hotspot. fon allows itself to grant free access to these hotspots for customers of other networks in order to obtain lucrative “partnerships”. Those who have literally paid for fon’s infrastructure deployment may rarely, if ever, make a profit, or find the promised complimentary access at other fon+partner hotspots elsewhere worldwide. The odds are more likely that they will be stuck providing free service for fon to exploit in it’s “partnership” ventures.

  6. And… EGAD. Did they tell you that most of the USA’s foneros were European ex-pats? Thousands of them? Does that even make the least bit of sense? It’s absurd. Just look at the online map of fon hotspots and ask yourself if most of these are really just ex-pats.

    Also absurd is how fon pronounces it’s name to rhyme with “fawn” and has claimed to the NY Times that they are named after the indigenous Fon tribe of Africa. Just because. It’s a vain attempt to scare away a discussion of how they originally conceived as a volunteer network of wifi hotspots dedicated to PHONE service based on linux running on old laptops. They abandoned the idea before they launched, but after they began promoting it. I think they may have ripped the idea off of author Corey Doctorow’s book “Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town”.

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