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Wi-Fi-sharing community Fon gets French coverage boost thanks to new SFR deal

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The global Wi-Fi network Fon is all about scale – users, or “Foneros”, typically share their own Wi-Fi connections with strangers in order to use those other Foneros’ connections for free when out and about, so making coverage as wide as possible is both an incentive and an indicator of success.

Which is why Fon will be very happy to have convinced the major French operator SFR to upgrade its agreement with the Madrid-based firm. Because ISPs tend to forbid their users from sharing connections, Fon benefits greatly from making deals with those fixed-line operators (the carriers benefit too, as they can offer their subscribers free web access on the move). SFR was Fon’s first ISP sign-up, but it previously required its customers to opt in.

Now SFR has turned on Fon capabilities by default for all its roughly 5 million broadband customers. Those subscribers can still opt out, but automatic opt-in – as is the case with other Fon-partnering ISPs such as BT(s bt) and Belgacom — adds a welcome boost to Fon’s global user base. Before the new SFR deal, that user base totalled 8.5 million — now it’s just north of 11.5 million, Fon tells me.

This has already been a pretty good year for Fon, with ISPs coming on board including Deutsche Telekom’s Croatian and German operations, as well as the Netherlands’ KPN. The company said it expected more partnerships to be signed this year.

From SFR’s side, it’s probably worth noting that key rival Free is pushing its network of Wi-Fi hotspots as a boon for its mobile subscribers. SFR also has a big mobile business, and the expansion of its Fon network may prove handy for those subscribers who are signed up to both fixed-line and cellular services — and handy for SFR too, as it would provide a way of offloading more mobile data to Wi-Fi, in order to ease the load on its mobile network.

UPDATE (3.40am PT): This article has been updated to reflect the impact of the new SFR deal on Fon’s user base. It previously suggested that the user base totalled 11.3 million before the deal, whereas that figure (obtained from Fon’s website) already takes into account the coverage boost brought about by the revised SFR arrangement.

3 Responses to “Wi-Fi-sharing community Fon gets French coverage boost thanks to new SFR deal”

    • elfonblog

      And THAT is the world-famous Fon hisss-growl. Another reason a whole generation of fans gave Fon the finger and left. You challenge my honor, sir. Here is my reply.

      What are ‘lots’? Hundreds sounds like a lot to me. Your statement is useless without disclosure of how many thousands were disappointed, and how many “customers” were opted-in by their ISP, and are just unaware or too lazy to opt out again.

      All of the partnerships are not reciprocal for the Foneros. Not. There’s no negotiation of that fact. The rubes who bought your routers cannot opt out. And this is another way Fon monetizes the resources of their router-purchasers and circumvents the already-anemic profit-sharing plan for wifi sales. The rubes who bought your routers, who expect to find free wifi among partners, may find that they only get a brief complimentary session, or they are at a “Fon” hotspot which they are not permitted to use. Every partnership is a bit different, except for the Fon logo appearing somewhere on the landing page.

      It’s a bit like me selling you a cordless phone, which you hoped to rent out for a bit of change, but I make a separate deal with others to come use your base station for free, using your telco account.

      The statistics were crystal clear. Most of the routers that Fon sold were never registered with their system. This is if you compare Fon’s sales claims with the number of unique hotspot IDs detected online. Most which were once registered had fallen offline for months or years (but still appeared on their “active hotspot” map, including all of mine). The population numbers provided by Fon never matched the numbers from the “POI” database exports, or independent (FrancoFon) probes, EVEN when Fon decided to lump every fake email given for free demo access as a “member” in the same standing as a hotspot provider.

      Noone but Fon was privy to the exact numbers, of course, but the collection methods were quite clever, and produced consistent results. The gaping difference with Fon’s claims, which Imperial Fon chose to never address, was different enough to prove to “many customers” that there was a skunk afoot.

      The staggering majority of “Fon” hotspots today are nothing but other ISPs giving Fon a separate login process on their preexisting landing pages. This does not equate to customer enthusiasm and confidence. This equates to corporate enthusiasm for the pretense of acquiring additional coverage for their own customers.

      I’m not spamming. I have never profited, even socially, from chronicling my personal experience with Fon. As an ex-customer, I’m entitled to share my experience with Fon. I have always done so truthfully and with concern for the wifi community.

      Also, the comment was written from scratch. Does it sound familiar to you? It’s because I’m consistent. The facts speak for themselves… provided you can still unbury them.

      MAYBE Fon has turned everything around and are running a much better operation today. Don’t be surprised by my skepticism. I will say one thing about Fon that is clearly positive: They have provided a wealth of inspiration in others to do better.

      Now stand by for your flustered call from Martin Varsavsky saying “jus ignor heem!”

  1. elfonblog

    Fon works by profiting from the sales of proprietary routers and paying themselves wages as they burn through “investor” money. The router purchasers provide Internet connections, locations and maintenance, and must also provide free service to whichever Internet providers or competing wifi networks it chooses to “partner” with. These deals are rarely reciprocal, meaning Foneros cannot access the other networks, or are subject to severe restrictions. Partnerships bring Fon free advertising. In practice, Fon hotspots themselves are difficult to find, insecure, and substandard quality. Most people won’t find free wifi as they travel, or make money from their own hotspot. From the very beginning, Fon has played insulting word games with their promises and descriptions to the volunteer members, and have outright lied about their growth to the press as well. I used to be their biggest fan blogger at but I said goodbye after several years of their crazy games. The blog remains up as an archive of technical tutorials and to preserve the past deeds of Fon which they would prefer to be long forgotten.