Fon, the Spanish company that aims to get people around the world sharing their Wi-Fi networks, announced a broad partnership with the wireless chip company Qualcomm.
Qualcomm Ventures led a $14 million round of strategic funding in Fon. Fon said it is developing a new version of its Fon router that will combine Wi-Fi sharing with social music features that will be available in the first half of this year. It will be based on a chipset from Atheros, the Qualcomm-owned Wi-Fi chipmaker.
Fon, which allows its members to freely share their Wi-Fi networks with other members, also announced a partnership with Facebook that will allow people who have Fon routers to automatically share their Wi-Fi network with Facebook friends who visit. Varsavsky announced the deal with Cory Ondrejka, head of mobile engineering for Facebook at the Digital-Life-Design conference in Munich.
Varsavsky told me that when a Facebook friend comes to visit, the Fon router performs some authentication in the background, checking to make sure that they really are in your Facebook network. If they are, they’ll get access to your Wi-Fi network without needing to remember any new passwords.
Fon is turning out to be the rare bit of common ground where telco companies and Internet companies can agree they both like, Varsavsky told me. Its investors include Deutsche Telekom and Google “For the telcos the main benefit of Fon is that we reduce the number of packets they have to carry. We send packets much more cheaply than the wireless networks,” he said. “And that makes a lot of difference for them, especially with video. They not only tolerate us but they embrace us.”
For a look at the future of Fon, he suggested visiting Japan. There, Fon partner Softbank hands out a Fonera router (pictured) with every iPhone it sells. The result is a wireless market where users aren’t sure exactly which network they’re using, the cellular network, or Wi-Fi. “About half of iPhone traffic travels over Fon,” Varsavsky told me.
He’s currently looking for a wireless partner to create a similar situation the US. “We’re talking to them. We don’t have a partner yet, but we’re talking to them,” he said.