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(by Andreas Schiffler, IC-Agency)
Someone in the office told me about FON (https://en.fon.com). OK, nice WiFi startup idea with some good funding. Looks certainly like a good idea ... a bit tech-bubbly ... but "free" can never be bad.
The question is though, Will FON actually work? After some pondering, I come to the conclusion: No, I don't think so - not with their business model, not with the current state of technology. There are number of reasons I say that, so let me elaborate.
On the surface of things its looks very cool. Universal Wifi access can't be bad! Right? As a canadian cave dweller its sounds like a great idea - open the laptop in the on the open-lake ice and surf, eh, freeze. Maybe not so good.
It seems to me that WiFi as a technology is also the wrong horse to bet on. Its an old and lame horse. What's the meagre coverage area of a Linksys access point running at the legal 32 milliwatts (+15dBm) ... a circle with a 100ft radius? Maybe 200ft with a nice shiny omni-directional antenna. Hardly good coverage - and oh, forgot to remind you about the fact that you've got your house in the back if we follow FON's instructions. "Where is the best place to situate routers? In the windows." I think, the next generation technology like WiMax would work well, but when the time comes we'll all have to buy new Linksys routers.
On a side node - I'd be willing to do that, as long as they change the color of their plastic housing this time around. That ugly blue and black box just cannot compete with the current crop of iPod inspired designs.
An additional hinderance is a part of the Wifi technology itself - its security model, or should I say: insecurity model. To advertise itself to the world a public broadcast occurs - unencrypted. Also, for the user to get connected, one has to login to the network. So, to use the free network, one will need offer an unprotected network. That's a bad idea - we all want a protected network. Sorry, routers cannot offer an encrypted and unprotected network at the same time - its either protected and encrypted or not. In FONs case (haven't tried it) likely NOT. So great - free Wifi, but with all my traffic out in the open now, I get the feeling this is a big privacy and security issue. All that is needed is a tool to "sniff" the airwaves, a rudimentary function offered by dozens of easily downloadable utilities, and your free WiFi access point can be used by neighbors and strangers alike to extract valuable information from your activities. It bothers me already that the US government can do that and get 1 weeks worth of search records from major search engines - but my neighbors sniffing around my hopefully firewalled Windows machine? No thanks! (plus, I am using Linux anyhow.)
And what about the competition. There are WiFi networks in McDonalds, Starbucks, Hotels, housing developments, inner-cities and many other places. There is https://www.publicip.net, https://metrofreefi.com, https://www.broadscape.net, etc. ... heck there is even a WiFi enabled Mosquito Magnet (https://news.com.com/Wi-Fi+mosquito+killer+coming+to+a+porch+near+you/2100-11395_3-5961535.html). So what's the point in getting into the game now. I guess Google wants to get into any game where they can push their content (i.e. Ads) these days. Combine that with the fact that they are relatively rich, and a few million invested for some exposure on the WiFi login screen makes sense. Business sense at least.
I am sure these issues will all be solved in due time. After all FON got a few million to play with. But maybe its time look at a few years down the road. Multiple "free" Wifi providers including every homeowner with a broadband access are fighting for the airwaves. Fighting to get YOU onto their FREE Wifi LAN. It's a fierce battle for territory, a war about SSID's and Milliwatts in the Gigaherz range, the time when Wifi jamming becomes organized ... the age of the Router Mafia (dot com)!