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 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.