FON tries to start wi-fi revolution

News that a new wireless company called FON has just raised $21.7 million to set-up a “a global network of shared wi-fi connections” has raised more than a few eyebrows, especially when the start-up numbers Google and Skype amongst its investors.

The service first started in Spain three months ago and, with the aid of a software download from the FON website, enables you to modify your router (currently only of the Linksys variety) so you can share a portion of your bandwidth with other FON members.

This can be done in one of two ways; either freely (as a “Linus”) or as a paid-for service (as a “Bill”). By choosing to take a cut, Bill’s can’t benefit from wi-fi connections offered by Linuses.

The idea is to get as many people to sign-up as possible so creating a blanket of wi-fi coverage, whether it be in Europe or the US.

It is, however, with ISPs that the main stumbling block to the scheme lies. Look at your End User License Agreement from your ISP and, more than likely, it will contain a clause preventing you from sharing your bandwidth outside of your household.

FON believes ISPs should see the network as an opportunity, and says it will pass on a share of any revenue generated, either from Bills using other FON hotspots, or non-FON members (“Aliens”) paying to use the network.

How many will be ISPs that will convinced remains to be sign and although FON says its has signed two ISPs on board, that still leaves a very large number still to be convinced.

Leaving aside questions over any ISP reluctance and whether the financial model is viable (what’s to prevent Bill’s also having a "free" Linus account), FON’s ultimate success will depend on how much momentum it can build up.

Unfortunately, unlike Skype, FON itself warns that:

Becoming a Fonero if you already have a Linksys router is not as simple as say, downloading Skype. If you are not sure of your technical skills it is better that you simply buy a FON ready router.

The idea of using social networking to create ubiquitous a wireless network is certainly tantalising, and having Google and Skype on board has undeniably made people sit up and take notice, but FON is going to have to jump through a lot of hoops if the vision is to be realised.

But what if FoN got together with Google Wifi? Now there’s an interesting thought to leave you with.