FON, the Spanish company who wants to make free WiFi sharing ubiquitous on a global scale, has welcomed the 1,000,000th member to its community this week. Its members come from over 150 countries, which translates into 400,000 wifi hotspots worldwide, according to the company.
The concept of FON is based on the idea that anybody with a broadband subscription can join, simply by purchasing a special router which is sold online and through a network of partners. The router enables FON members to share their internet connection securely with the community and roam on all FON WiFi Hotspots for free in return.
FON boasts a sharp, experienced founder / CEO (Martin Varsarvsky) and management team, impressive investors including eBay/Skype, Google and Index Ventures and a high-profile team of advisors with many recognizable names like Loïc Le Meur, Esther Dyson, David Weinberger, and many more. In addition to that, FON has a number of strategic partnerships with telecom operators and ISPs including British Telecom in the UK, Neuf Cegetel in France, Comstar in Russia, and ZON in Portugal.
But an impressive group of people and companies backing up a good idea is not necessarily a guarantee for success. While FON achieving 1 million members is admirable, there are a couple of sidenotes to be made.
With over $50 million (34 million Euros) in funding, according to an April TechCrunch story, how come it took the company 3 years to achieve this 1 million members? How many hotspots are actually active, and how easy/hard is it really to find FON hotspots in and outside of urban areas? More importantly, is FON making money, and if so, are these revenue streams going to prove sufficient for the company to move to the next level or not?
Also, as Silicon Alley Insider points out, U.S broadband providers are starting to limit how much bandwidth their subscribers can use from their “unlimited” monthly subscriptions, which could make people more reluctant to share their Internet access. Who’s to say this trend won’t be followed by providers in other nations as well?
Some Foneros are openly criticizing the company and its CEO Varsarvsky for dabbling with side projects like FON Labs and Twitxr, dumping its own stock, censoring blog comments and not responding to criticism about the security of the FON routers. Also check out this post on WebWorkerDaily about ‘coping with FON-liness’ for reference.
And for balance, there are nice things being said about FON too!