BT creates nationwide Wi-Fi sharing community

BT creates nationwide Wi-Fi sharing community

Summary: The FON tie-in effectively extends BT's Openzone network to every street in the UK where its Home Hubs are being used

TOPICS: Networking

BT and FON have finally confirmed their long-expected tie-in, thus creating the largest Wi-Fi community in the world.

FON was founded in Spain in early 2006. Broadband users who sign up to FON's community agree to share their Wi-Fi connectivity through a separate, secure channel. They do this either for a 50 percent cut of the fees charged to their visitors or for the privilege of being able to surf other users' connections for free, although the community has since changed its rules to allow its members to do both.

One of the biggest hindrances to FON's expansion has been resistance from ISPs, whose terms and conditions have tended to prohibit sharing of broadband connections.

Now BT, the largest ISP in the UK, has given its approval. By doing so, the telco has effectively extended its Openzone Wi-Fi network across the two million BT Home Hubs — or at least those Home Hubs whose users agree to share their broadband connection.

BT customers who share their connection will not get remuneration for doing so, although they will gain access to BT's new nationwide wireless network and FON's global network of almost 200,000 hotspots. Subscribers to BT's top-tier "Option 3" broadband package will get unlimited access to these networks, while subscribers to the cheaper packages will get that access as part of their bundled Openzone minutes. There is no current related offer for BT's business customers.

BT has also invested an undisclosed amount in FON and gained a seat on its board.

"This is the start of something very exciting for BT," said the managing director of BT Group, Gavin Patterson, on Thursday. "Today we are launching a people's network of Wi-Fi, which could one day cover every street in Britain. We are giving our millions of Total Broadband customers a choice and an opportunity. If they are prepared to securely share a little of their broadband, they can share the broadband at hundreds of thousands of FON and BT Openzone hotspots today, without paying a penny."

"We have built a public Wi-Fi network and 12 wireless cities already, but today we are saying to customers: let's build a Wi-Fi community together, which covers everywhere and serves everyone," said Patterson.

Martin Varsavsky, FON's founder and chief executive, said: "From the beginning, FON users believed in the concept of sharing and in the people's ability to participate in building something important that would benefit everyone," he said. "With BT FON, those beliefs have proved to be well-founded."

Rumours that BT and FON were in talks about the deal have been circulating for over six months, but Thursday's announcement is the first official confirmation of the tie-in. The collaboration between the two companies also raises the possibility of a comprehensive global Wi-Fi sharing network — with the blessing of ISPs.

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FON has inked similar deals with Time Warner Cable in the US — although that service is yet to be rolled out — and Neuf Cegetel in France, so BT broadband customers who agree to share their connectivity will soon gain free access to their counterparts' broadband  in those countries.

Robert Lang, FON's European chief, told on Thursday that FON had compromised, in that its users will have to pay to use BT's Openzone hotspots and Wireless Cities hotzones, rather than gaining access for free. However, its users will be able to access BT customers' shared connections for free.

The deal means that users of BT Fusion dual-mode handsets will be able to use those devices in far more locations around the world than had previously been possible. FON also has a software client that can be used on Nokia's Wi-Fi-enabled Nseries handsets.

Topic: Networking

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • A social issue?

    "No Officer, I am not a stalker/kerb crawler/peeping Tom/pervert/etc I am just parked in this residential street using my wireless laptop."
    "No, I don't know which house has the wireless."
    .......... !?!?
  • We're going to war(driving)

    Chatting to one of BT's execs yesterday, he did actually say something to the effect of "we're making wardriving legal".

    So, you're pretty much correct!
    David Meyer
  • and the gov worries about terrorism?!?

    so.. BT and FON are going to make it easy for people to use each others connections , IP addresses etc.. to access the net.. this should make tracing illegal activity pretty much impossible then..

    Or is the subscriber responsible for what goes through their IP/wifi box?, should be some interesting legal issues with this.. Bet the record/film industry are overjoyed!

    If anybody with a BT homehub considers doing this i hope they get legal advice first.
  • Is your world still flat?

    I would hope that before these comments were posted a quick check of the BT site was made... but obviously not!!

    The other FON users accessing your HomeHub do so on what is, in essence, a VLAN with a seperate WiFi channel and, I believe, seperate IP addressing schema. Any activity by a passing user is identifiable as that user, and not the households.

    As for the Film/Record industries worries, I'm sure that your local Neighbourhood Watch members will report the white van that's been sitting outside No. 42 for 18 hours while he downloads the latest blockbuster on the NOT guaranteed maximum of 512kbps link that he will share with any other FON users conspriring to bring Sony to there knees!!

    Rather than looking for issues with this idea, why not embrace the first step in the arrival of the true Global Village... with the recent WiMAX/3G anouncement, the increase un HSPA, UMA and Edge devices being offered to the unsuspecting public isn't about time we found a way to use them without paying the exorbitant fees levied by the mobile providers?

    Well done BT!! Who's got the nerve to follow suit?