Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Fon to Starbucks: Can you hear me now?

Ever hear of Fon? If you aren't from Spain, the chances are - probably not. Fon is a self-dubbed "Social Router Community" that allows people, through a common WiFi router, to share their WiFi connection with other Fon members. Fon has a world-wide footprint, and claims to be the largest WiFi router sharing community on the planet.

Membership in Fon, plus $39.95 (or, oddly, 39.95 Euros - what kind of conversion rate is that??) for a Fon sponsored router called "La Fonera" (hey, could I make crap like this up?) which allows you entrant into the world of Fon (or, "El mundo de Fon," I guess). So, how does this organization make its money? Uh...from "aliens." (Again, I can't make this stuff up.)

Anyone not in the Fon community is termed an "alien," and is charged $3/day (or 3 Euros/day...again, someone get these guys a conversion table, quick) for access to a Fon community router. (A portion of the profit - 50% I believe - goes back to the owner of the router. So everyone wins.) Actually, an excellent business model - if they can work the deals with ISPs to allow this type of shared activity.

..weeelllll....uh, looks like they just found one. A big one. Time-Warner and Fon have just signed an agreement that allows that very arrangement. Under this partnership, Time-Warner would be the first ISP in the US to allow bandwidth sharing. And this, my friends, spells trouble for coffee.

Specifically, Starbucks. Fon has just launched a campaign called "Fonbucks," targeted at city dwellers next to Starbucks coffee shops. Get a "La Fonera," plug it into your Time-Warner ISP connection, and turn it on. The aliens drinking their lattes and working on their computers at Starbucks now have choice: $10/day for their Starbucks sponsored connection, or $3/day on the Fon network.

Is it working? Well - examine the Fon map and check for yourself against the Starbucks maps provided through Google maps. There does, in fact, seem to be clustering taking place. That is pretty damn amusing.