My friend Martin Varsavsky, an absurdly successful serial entrepreneur, has started a new venture – FON. FON is an international company based on the idea of sharing broadband connections through wireless routers. The basic theory – if you’re willing to share your own bandwidth, you can become part of a global network of people also willing to share their connections.
You can choose to share either as “Linus” or a “Bill”. As Linus, you’re agreeing to make your bandwith available to anyone. As a Bill, you’re selling bandwidth for 5 euros for 24 hours, and you split the proceeds with FON, allowing you to become a small-scale wireless entrepeneur. If you’re part of the FON network, you get access to a “Bill” access point for free – it’s only “Aliens” – non-foneros – who pay.
FON works by rewriting the firmware on your wireless router, adding an access layer, a billing layer and, ultimately, bandwidth shaping to the router. Right now, this means it only works on one model of Linksys router – in the future, it’s intended to run on any wireless access point that can be “flashed” with Linux. This is the same technical strategy a lot of smart mesh networking folks are exploring, making routers run Linux, then running mesh protocols on top of the OS.
Speaking at Les Blogs today, Martin tells the audience that he spent €30 million in advertising on his last company, Jazztel, and hasn’t yet spent any money on advertising FON yet. Instead, he’s inviting bloggers to join his board of advisors and asking us to try the product and become evangelists for it. I’ve joined, based on my enthusiasm for the idea – I think FON could potentially be very interesting as a model for setting up micro-ISPs around the world, and if the bandwidth shaping bit of it gets handled well, might be very, very interesting in developing nations. (While I’m planning on setting up an access point, I’m likely to be a lousy fonero as there’s basically no one within 300m of my router at home.) Martin’s got a funny post in Spanish about the other English-language bloggers who’ve joined the board and our “Escala Richter” – i.e., our respective Google rankings.
(Disclosure – Martin is sharing some equity in FON with his board of advisors around the world. My enthusiasm for the project has far more to do with my confidence in Martin and interest in the idea than in the equity, but disclosure demands I acknowledge the financial connection.)
Martin got a very pointed question about his personal blogging from an audience member, suggesting that he a) doesn’t respond to his comments and b) has deleted comments. Martin owned up to both charges, and Dave Sifry, sitting in the audience, came to his defense on one front – that it’s extremely challenging to be a blogging CEO, as it’s basically impossible, he says, to take part in conversations the way like other bloggers do while running a company.
Interesting, though, to see some of the challenges here – if Martin wants to use blogs to promote the product, it looks like some folks are going to ask him to follow a particular, strict blogger ethical code himself…