Foneros at Starbucks

As WiFi networks become more prevalent, many states and localities are contemplating making the stealing of WiFi signals a crime. At times, however, the sharing of a WiFi signal may be a win-win situation. Madrid, Spain-based FON is offering Starbucks' visitors a $2-a-day deal for access to the Starbucks' WiFi service. This is significantly less than the $10 a day price tag that T-Mobile USA charges for its hotspot access in most U.S. Starbucks coffee shops.

FON can offer this deal because it makes its wireless routers free to residents who live next to or above a Starbucks' store. The routers split the broadband connection in two--one signal for personal Internet use, the second for public use. It is that second signal which anyone within range, whether a coffee drinker or a neighbor, can use for $2 a day.

FON has been conducting a similar project on a much larger scale also. FON was founded 18 months ago by Argentine telecom entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky with $22 million in funding from Sequoia Capital. Varsavsky's ambitious plan called for building the world's largest WiFi network by persuading as many of the world's 300 million broadband customers as possible to become "Foneros"--that is, to buy La Fonera routers and share their wireless access with other FONInternet subscribers. Varsavsky beileves he is on track to realizing his dream by 2010: One million global WiFi hot spots to which all Foneros will have access of the FON community.

The Foneros, by the way, come in three groups: The "Bills," named after Bill Gates, charge $2 for signing to their network and pay $2 to sign onto any other Fonero's network. The "Linuses," named after Linus Torvalds, the creator of open-source Linux system, offer their extra bandwidth for free to other Foneros and can themselves access any other Fonero network for free. The "Aliens" are users from outside the FON community who may sign to any Fonero's network by paying $2 using PayPal. FON says that, globally, about 85 percent of Foneros are Linuses and 15 percent are Bills. 

For more on FON
- see this DailyTechRag article
-Mary Crane's Forbes report
-and see FON hot spots map