Spanish firm seeks to build a nationwide network on the cheap
By Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff
A Spanish Internet company is selling a million wireless Internet
routers for just $5 each. But there's a catch: Buyers must share their
wireless Internet connections with their friends, neighbors, or even
total strangers. It's all part of a daring plan to create a nationwide
WiFi network on the cheap.
"I think it's an idea whose time has come," said Juergen Urbanski,
North American general manager of FON Technology S.L., of Madrid.
Today, finding WiFi access is a hit-or-miss affair. Starbucks coffee
shops and McDonald's restaurants offer fee-based WiFi connections, and
a growing number of cities are building municipal networks. Urbanski
wants to recruit millions of ordinary people who would make WiFi
available to anyone within range of the wireless routers in their
People who join FON (pronounced 'phone') are eligible to purchase a
new wireless router for $5, plus an $8 shipping fee. This router is
programmed with software that lets other FON members connect to the
router for free Internet access. The router also protects the owner's
privacy by blocking access to any other data on his home computer
network. If enough people join FON, they'll create a nationwide WiFi
network, with free service to all FON members. The FON website
features frequently updated maps showing where FON service is
FON will make money by charging nonmembers about $3 a day for access
to the network. Half of this money goes to the FON member whose router
is being used.
FON has already signed up over 60,000 users, including about 10,000 in
the United States. But since standard WiFi routers have a very short
range -- less than 300 feet -- the company must deploy millions of
routers to create a truly comprehensive network.