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February 12, 2006

Calling Fon--Your Questions?

I'll be talking to Fon's founder, Martin Varsavsky, tomorrow morning: After a week in which I expressed my opinion in my own and other forums while battling deadlines that nearly did me in, I'll finally have a chance to talk to Varsavsky, who is making time to speak while on what sounds like a very rare vacation.

I've already got piles of questions for him about Fon's relationship to ISPs, the potential revenue that an individual hotspot might achieve, and how Fon will work in different countries. I'm also curious about the number of router models they'll support, and whether mesh routing software and larger antennas are part of the way in which Fon's deployers (Foneros) will be encouraged to extend access. (Mesh would seem to be in conflict with the one Internet connection, one Fon hotspot model, but we'll see.)

If you've got a question for Varsavsky that you'd like me to pose about Fon, please post that question in the comments below, or email me with them. I can't promise to ask or get an answer for every question--startups like to keep their future plans close to the vest, naturally--but it'll be good all around to hear what other people wonder about when looking at Fon's publicly announced plans.

From my point of view, I'm hoping the furor around Fon dies down so that we can look at the broader scope of their aims. Read Ethan Zuckerman's post on Fon, for instance, from last week, where he talks about his role in the advisory panel in context of extending access in Africa and the developing world. He notes that the incumbent telecommunications companies there may be hostile to reduced revenue from networks that rely on very few paid injection points, while sharing a paid connection over a short distance and receiving a revenue share on that might be highly palatable. Zuckerman writes, "I've looked closely at projects designed to build community wireless networks and have been frustrated that many of these projects seem designed explicitly for nations where bandwidth is cheap."


My question: compare and contrast the FON business plan to Sputnik's.

So nice people should providing access to their network/toilet and ask money for it because public networks/toilets are so expensive. People rather prefer to keep their network/toilet private. Users searching for a network/toilet expect availabilty and quality. Thus rather then going to a toilet/network which can be available at that moment or not and has a certain quality or not, people rather go to a public toilet and pay for certain garanteed professional service level. So why should the model work?????

where ist the GPL source for the openwrt based FON software and why wasn't it made available?
and will future versions be based on openwrt or on dd-wrt? where are the sources for FON advanced as its based on GPL licenced code, why don't they make this available or why did they removed the source link?

how are they are going to cope with the fact that many former linux based routers have now switched to vxworks, and their software won't run any more on them.
how many of their 6000 users are really providing connectivity at the moment and where can i see it?

BILL: WHEN will they provide the bill solution where i can get money from users? How will it work?

installing third party firmware voids your warrenty and is not very easy, not easy enough to establish the tausends of hotspots they want. What is their approach to solve that problem.

Why should we as users help build your business - replacing thousands of telco monopolies with one new global monopoly?

What are your plans for the developing countries?

Why was it important to position FON as being only three months old in the press release about the funding?

Are any patents pending regarding FON?

From the deleted blog post by Martin Varsavsky from october 23rd (pdf available from google by googling "fon patent pending")

"FON is Patent Pending
When I invented call back I did not bother to patent it. I hated the way international telecom companies were ripping consumers off and while I wanted to make money with Viatel I also wanted to destroy the global oligopoly that the telcos had established. And Viatel and other call back companies like IDT did that. Still some smart guy out there patented call back and years later when his patent was granted he tried to collect payments from call back companies. I then had to testify that I had invented call back and in the end we had enough proof and we prevailed. In order to avoid the same this time with FON not only we have registered the brand FON but we have filed for patenting the FON idea, namely a piece of software that synchronizes the behavior of all the wifi access points to join into a network. This does not mean that we don?t want to collaborate with others and freely roam on other networks. But I don?t want the call back story all over again with someone else patenting my idea."

Could you describe what's new and patentable in FON compared to other companies/activities?

[Editor's note: Fon has decided to not pursue any patents despite Varsavsky's previous experience in getting burned. A number of companies have pursued patents as a way to prevent lawsuits. Amazon has a number of patents, and has enforced (to my knowledge) only one against for one-click. These kinds of patents have a chilling effect, but given the number of patent-owning companies that exist to sue, it may be foolish until the US patent system is reformed to not file preemptive patents and publicly state that you won't enforce them. You don't have to enforce an issued patent to maintain it, unlike trademark.--gf]

How many U.S. ISPs and Carriers have you signed up? When can we expect to hear announcements about deals with U.S. ISPs?


What is the 120 day membership rule? Is there going to be a minimum external traffic use to qualify for roaming?


Are you going to secure user access (instead of just authentication or secure credentials exchange)


Martin wants to offer service to everybody and says that Fon will enable people that can afford broadband to have an alternative. But if they don't have broadband, they will have to pay as Aliens (and it will be more expensive than home access). In the meantime, people that can afford home access will roam for free

my questiones for FON-Varsavsky...

- how is "FON" handeling the linksys decision to close the wrt54g router from running openWRT? and other routers?

- any plans on implementing a ratio-quota-system similar to what some bittorrent tracker uses on? Or is the network limited to share some bandwidth and you will get unlimited back.

- skype is a obvious hit in this context, what other service can benefit from a FON-enabled landscape? VoIP standard? only propietary?

- Somebody has some "URL" where Google INC confir to that it has invested in "FON"? "Representatives at Google did not return messages seeking comment on the search engine's investment in FON"... this is true?

- how are you keeping track on where you can get a FON-network? soft model?

- linksys router at 25 bucks is not a dumping? this is legal in USA?

[Editor's note: Google reps have said publicly in many articles that they invested. On the dumping part: you have to be a manufacturer attempting to undermine another country's industry on a mass scale for that to make sense. They pre-flash the units they ship with Fon software. This could be changed, but it's not in quantities or nature something that 'dumping' would apply to.--gf]