The Foneros Are Coming to a City Near You!Monday, April 23, 2007
I am confused! Last week in England, the police cited two people who were stealing Wi-Fi Internet access by parking their cars in front of someone’s house. This, as you know, has become common practice and arrests go back to at least 2005. The fear is that those who park in front of your house and steal your Wi-Fi connection to your DSL or cable modem could be using it for illegal purposes such as child porn, stealing credit card numbers or simpler reasons like being too cheap to pay for their own service.
Meanwhile, in today’s news, we see that Time Warner has made an agreement with FON, a Spanish company that advocates sharing your Wi-Fi access point with anyone who wants to make use of it. According to the article in Fierce Wireless, FON and Time Warner plan to team up to let home broadband customers turn their connections into public wireless hotspots. FON has, according to its Website, about 60,000 hotspots already deployed in the United States.
Foneros—as those who use the system are called―have access to any of these sites and Aliens, as FON calls nonmembers, can sign up for $2 or $3 for a 24-hour period. Obviously, these access points are encrypted and you must be a Foneros or have paid your $2 to gain access. Those wishing to make access available to others can determine exactly how much bandwidth they will provide to the outside world using the special La Fonera router that splits the signal into what users want to keep and what they are willing to share. In return for sharing, the customer gets access to any and all of the FON access points that are in operation.
I wonder how the police are going to know who to arrest? Is the guy in the SUV on the corner stealing access or a Foneros? I also have to wonder about Time Warner’s ability to provide these services. On the one hand, it is going to promote this new idea to its 6.6 million subscribers and, on the other hand, like many cable and DSL providers, it is having problems with data hogs on its network.
The idea that $2 or $3 is cheaper than what is charged by T-Mobile for Starbucks usage is correct, but there are also more hotspots available every week that are free. Last week at the car wash while I was waiting for my car, I saw a sign that said free Wi-Fi here while you wait for your car! But then I would rather sit in a Starbucks drinking coffee and checking my email than sitting in my car in front of someone else’s house doing it.
Next up on my “what is going here?” list is that many of the 6.6 million customers on Time Warner’s network also live in places where muni-Wi-Fi either has been installed or will be soon. This should be interesting. In Anaheim, during our tests of the EarthLink system, we discovered that the local cable provider was sending out cable modems with built-in Wi-Fi on channel 6. Each one is encrypted so it cannot be used by anyone other than the owner, but even if the owner does not make use of it at all, these boxes are still sitting on channel 6 and putting out a beacon. This has caused the muni-Wi-Fi system problems and prompted an attempt to use the only other two channels that do not overlap in the 2.4-MHz band: channel 1 and channel 11.
So we are going to end up with huge muni-Wi-Fi networks that cover fairly well outside (now they are talking about 60-70 access points per square mile instead of only 30), thousands of FON shared hotspots in the same areas, plus all of the other hotspots that are there. An aside, I keep checking at my favorite intersection in downtown San Francisco. When I started checking three years ago, there were 16 SSIDs I could see, about half of which were open. On my last visit, the count was 47 with at least 12 of them being open access. Hard to believe that on one street corner there are so many access points in use, even before San Francisco’s muni-Wi-Fi system (if it ever gets built) or FON coming onto the scene.
It certainly is going to be fun to watch all of activity on Wi-Fi, all of the different ways in which it will be deployed and, of course, all of the interference issues that will continue to crop up! I don’t give the Time Warner/FON idea much chance of succeeding in the United States, but perhaps it will in Europe where a hotel connection is 20 Euros for 24 hours. In this country, many hotspots are already free, we are building muni-Wi-Fi systems like they are going out of style and everyone who wants to is deploying Wi-Fi, with the smart ones turning on the encryption and the others exposing their own networks and high-speed connections to anyone who drives down the street. What a fun time we have ahead of us!