Madrid-based Fon, which encourages users to share their Wi-Fi router signal with others in exchange for free access to other Fon hotspots around the world, jumped into the U.S. market with a new router that accepts Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) credentials in lieu of a password.
The company tried once before to enter the United States but saw little take-up. Fon contends the market is now ready for its offering.
"The U.S. is at a point where Wi-Fi has become ubiquitous in terms of need and demand, and the user base is starting to look for more Wi-Fi," said Nina Sodhi, CEO, Fon U.S. "Wi-Fi is really becoming a critical part of the whole ecosystem here."
Fon's mesh network stands at 12 million Wi-Fi hotspots globally. The company has a few U.S. hotspots, mainly used and operated by expatriates from Europe and Asia as well as some early tech adopters.
Fon generally enters a market by selling its router direct to consumers via its website and now via Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). It also sets up partnerships with telcos, which provide Fon-capable CPEs to their subscribers. Sodhi told FierceWirelessTech that Fon is "absolutely" looking for relationships with U.S. telcos and Internet service providers.
Fon's existing relationships could position it for quick U.S. expansion. Last month, AT&T (NYSE:T) and Fon signed a global Wi-Fi roaming agreement via which their respective subscribers can access each other's networks. In addition, Fon has a partnership with T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) parent Deutsche Telekom in Germany as well as Sprint (NYSE:S) parent SoftBank in Japan.
Fon's upgraded $59 Fonera router combines its usual Wi-Fi sharing features with new functionality that uses Facebook Connect in place of Wi-Fi passwords, which can be challenging both to remember and enter. A guest who is a router owner's Facebook friend, will be recognized by the router can bypass the process of entering a Wi-Fi password to get online. Visitors who are not the owner's Facebook friends or Fon members can also use Facebook Connect to log in and get 30 minutes of trial coverage, Sodhi said.
The router splits an owner's Wi-Fi signal in two, with a private signal for the owner and a shared signal for other Fon members as well as the owner's guests. The two signals have different SSIDs.
Fon also upgraded the Fonera router to act as a signal booster. That is because many people in the United States already have their own Wi-Fi routers, but they could use help extending signals to dead spots in their houses.
Sodhi said Fon manages each Fon member's shared signal so it never becomes a significant part of a member's bandwidth usage. Such management could become essential to Fon's U.S. expansion plans if home broadband providers ever implement tiered billing plans on a broad basis. Just this week, Michael Powell, former FCC chairman and current head of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said during the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2013 in Atlanta that now is the time for cable TV operators to move toward usage-based billing.
Further, Fon faces competition from cable providers such as Comcast, which intend to build similar mesh networks. Comcast said in June its new Wi-Fi gateways can broadcast a second signal to create neighborhood hotspots to extend its Xfinity Wi-Fi network.
Comcast using Wi-Fi gateways in subscriber homes to power neighborhood hotspots
Qualcomm: Your in-home small cell may be opened to the public
Deutsche Telekom partners with Fon to build largest German Wi-Fi network
Operators turn to Wi-Fi for service differentiation