2 Comments

Summary:

Crowdsourced Wifi network operator Fon is getting ready to launch a new product called Gramofon, and we were able to dig up some photos as well as other details ahead of its official launch.

gramofon feature art

Spanish crowdsourced Wi-Fi operator Fon has a new trick up its sleeves: The company plans to launch a social music router dubbed Gramofon as early as next month. Fon hasn’t officially announced the product yet, but an FCC filing, as well as some previous statements from Fon executives, hint at this: Gramofon will be a router that offers Fon-like Wi-Fi sharing functionality, but also includes an audio out port, as well as some music-specific features.

gramofon detail device photo

The device, which goes by the model number FON 2415, is a black square cube with a footprint of 3.1 by 3.1 inches, and it features an LED ring on the top that’s used to display different device states. Gramofon features two Ethernet ports, one for connecting to the network and one to connect a PC.

gramofon ports photo

There don’t seem to be any USB ports, which suggests that Gramofon either accesses music stored on other devices within the same network, or through cloud or subscription services. Gramofon also seems to ship without a remote control suggesting that music playback is launched from a PC or mobile device.

As a router, Gramofon supports 801.11 b/g/n. It uses a Qualcomm Atheros chipset, which makes sense, since Qualcomm was part of a $14 million investment round in Fon earlier this year. Back then, Fon hinted at the release of a new router that would “combine social WiFi with social music,” but declined to provide further details at the time.

gramofon logo

Gramofon’s logo, which seems to incorporate the LED circle on top of the device.

However, this hasn’t been the first time Fon has hinted at the release of this product. Back in November, Fon CEO Martin Varsavsky even gave away the name of the prodct, when he wrote this on his Tumblr: 

“Fon will launch a new product in April called the Gramofon. It’s a Fonera with a music player and other undisclosed features. It is a truly amazing new category killer product and we want to handle it like a start up inside Fon. We are looking for the start up CEO for this product. ”

It’s unclear whether Fon ever found that “product CEO.” The company’s FCC filings were signed by Borja Osorio, who is serving as Head of Products and Services at Fon U.S., according to his Linkedin profile.

Also unknown is which other undisclosed features Varsavsky is talking about. Fon has started to work with Facebook to give users a way to share their Wi-Fi access with friends without exchanging complicated login information. It’s possible that Gramofon uses similar features to share, or collectively listen to music.

Given that it is a music product that would in some ways compete with products like networked speakers from Sonos, one could also imagine that Gramofone could synchronize music playback across multiple units; a potential benefit of such functionailty could be that each additional router could work as a repeater, thereby maximizing Wi-Fi coverage across a user’s home.

Speaking of Sonos: I’ve said before that 2014 is the year during which everyone is trying to take on the connected speaker maker. Spotify has partnered with a number of home audio brands, Qualcomm is pushing its own Allplay multi-room music technology and startups like Beep and Aether are trying to find their niche with a unique twist on connected audio devices.

A router that also plays music would definitely stand out in this crowd — but pricing, features and last but not least support for music services could decide whether consumers will actually bite.

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  1. Janko, it would be wise to find totally independent sources of information about fon to corroborate their claims. It will be worth a follow-up correction article. I have found fon to be terrifically slippery. Some of the statements they’ve made to other gigaom reporters were entirely false. I see they’ve moved on to you now. How did you enjoy your interview with Varsavsky’s new wife? Did she not mention that? I was once the most read english speaking blogger of fon at elfonblog.fondoo.net. I gave it up because fon has betrayed every one of it’s fans, several times over. They systematically falsified adoption and usage figures, and recategorized groups of non-members to suggest healthy growth. They don’t deserve any attention.

    Fon already had a “social router” or two. Embedded with a bittorent client. Cost too much, had too many problems, they ceased support for previous “Fonera” wifi router models immediately, and gave up on the social one before ironing out all of the bugs. If you look harder, you will find other companies have already produced this new “gramofon” because fon typically just rebadges surplus equipment from companies like Accton. They might go as far as making a custom case, perhaps shaped like a scary looking orange figure with hand haughtily held up (seriously).

    Fon is not “crowd-sourced”. Fon tricks it’s customers into paying for it’s equipment, deployment and backhaul. It’s customers become helpless thralls who have no say over how the wifi is priced, or handed out for free to the customers of other companies which fon wants to “partner” with. Fon wifi is insecure and, in most places, overpriced. They could have solved that by making them VPN endpoints, which would make even those many hotspots that are out of range of actual customers useful, but they had no interest.

    One bright spot I see in this “new” announcement is that fon is finally pronouncing their name properly! GrammoPHONE, not GrammoFAWN. For years, they have insisted that “fon” is pronounced “fawn” and that they had named themselves in honor of the Fon ethnic tribe of N. Africa (rivals to the better-known Zulu). In reality, “fon” is pronounced “phone” even in Spain. In the year before fon’s official launch, fon intended to be a wifi voip telephone company. Instead of hawking wifi routers, they distributed an edition of Linux that worked like a poor man’s femtocell. I have this s/w linked on my blog. Some of it is still hosted on fon’s own servers. They’ve tried to erase this false start, which failed for unknown reasons. I’ve often written that the only unique works fon has ever created is their logo and their list of email subscribers. Everything else was stolen from the open-source community.

    AustinTX,
    El Fon Blog

  2. Janko Roettgers Thursday, March 20, 2014

    Elfonblog, Fon didn’t return my requests for comment for this story. In other words: They didn’t tell me anything.

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