FON: Cringely to Spain to Britain to U.S.?

logofon.png Cringely claims credit for wireless craze:
Several years ago I wrote a column describing a system I had thought up for sharing Internet hotspots that I called WhyFi. Among the readers of that column were some entrepreneurs in Spain who went on to start the hotspot sharing service called FON, which now has more than 190,000 participating hotspots. Those Spaniards have been quite generous in attributing some of their inspiration to my column. And now this week FON signed a deal with British Telecom that promises to bring tens of thousands more FON hotspots to the UK and beyond. This isn’t FON’s first deal with a big broadband ISP — they already have contracts with Speakeasy and Time Warner Cable in the U.S. among others — but it is one of the biggest and points to an important transformation taking place in the way people communicate.

You Can’t Get There From Here: The myth of bandwidth scarcity and can Team Cringely really make it to the Moon? By Robert X. Cringely, Pulpit, PBS, October 5, 2007

Much like really fast broadband in Japan, FON is an American idea that people in another country adopted and ran with.

Links Cringely’s original WhyFi column of 8 Jan 2004

It’s successful because it is simple, cheap, and unlicensed. And that lack of a required license is taking WiFi places nobody ever expected it to go.
WhiFi is quite similar to what Brewster Kahle was advocating earlier, except that Cringely has thought out a business model, which is what was lacking in Brewster’s idea. The key WhyFi differences seem to be to forget about charging the hotspot owners directly, to hand out free hardware and software to them, including firmware that lets the hotspot owner use as much bandwidth as he wants to, while giving the public the rest. By give I mean the public has to pay for access, just like with other hotspots. Except for WhyFi hotspot owners, who get free access to any hotspot anywhere. This plan not only gets hotspots out there with minimal cost to their owners; it also bypasses the problem of getting backhaul from any one provider. Instead it puts them on as many providers as possible without asking first.

In some more thoughts he had on 15 Jan 2004, Cringely points out the hardware would probably be leased, thus making it harder to resell and simplifying updates. He also settles on fixed access as a more likely use than roaming. He alludes to rural access, but doesn’t quite get it that WhyFi could solve quite a bit of rural access problems, as well.

I don’t know how closely FON follows Cringely’s original idea. More on that later. Meanwhile, it seems that by starting in Spain, FON got arouund the $150 million investment hurdle Cringely alluded to: smaller country, easier to network. I see no reason some state or local ISP or even government couldn’t do the same thing.

BoingBoing has links about FON in the U.K., Spain, and the U.S.