Wi-Fi-Sharing Communities Rise Up

Posted by: Olga Kharif on April 23, 2007

The Wi-Fi business is about to change, big time. One indication: A deal between FON and Time Warner Cable. The cable company agreed to allow its customers to share their bandwidth through FON’s global Wi-Fi sharing community, whose users can use each other’s Wi-Fi access points for free.

The announcement is ground-breaking, in my opinion. Until now, few Internet service providers have liked the idea of their bandwidth being used by non-subscribers for free — much less encouraged such sharing. So, why this change of heart? I suspect that Time Warner believes that Wi-Fi sharing communities like FON, financed by the likes of Web-calling service Skype, will, eventually, displace commercial and muni Wi-Fi services, and the cable company wants to be in the midst of this huge transition. I think Time Warner is on to something, as I know quite a few people in Portland, Ore., who’ve enrolled into FON’s program already. Wi-Fi-sharing communities are rising up and taking off.

As Andy Abramson notes on his blog, if more cable companies follow Time Warner’s suit, they will greatly boost FON’s growth and will make many citywide muni Wi-Fi efforts obsolete. FON and its cable company partner could also emerge as serious competitors to commercial Wi-Fi service providers like Boingo and T-Mobile. After all, why would anyone pay for Wi-Fi access if, with FON, they can get it for free? Frankly, I will be surprised if, in two years, anyone pays for Wi-Fi access. I believe that most people will either be using free Wi-Fi hotspots or FON-like shared community hotspots, instead.

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Reader Comments

Esme Vos

April 24, 2007 02:03 AM

I also believe that most people will be using free Wi-Fi within a short period of time. However, I don't agree that FON or initiatives like that will replace the type of municipal Wi-Fi networks that the cities are building. You can't walk or drive down a street with a Wi-Fi enabled mobile phone and keep a conversation going using Wi-Fi if there are only individual access points like the ones supplied by FON. The problem is the handoff between the access points. What happens when you leave the range of one FON network? You are hoping that there is another apartment or house with another FON network and even if there is, where's the handoff? A city-wide Wi-Fi network which is set up using wireless mesh nodes offers you (and municipal workers) the ability to be mobile -- doing voice calls and data transfers as you are walking. This is very useful for all kinds of municipal applications.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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