With new Qualcomm-based products, more funds and a U.S. expansion, free Wi-Fi aggregator Fon expects to reach 35 million hotspots by 2016.
Since its inception in 2006, Fon has been working to build a crowd-sourced network of hotspots, where users share their broadband connection via Wi-Fi and in return get free access to other hotspots around the world. The company also has programs for small businesses and enterprises that are invitation-only, for now. The recipe has been successful: Fon's network now stands at over 12 million hotspots.
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To continue to grow, Fon is working with Qualcomm on new products, including a customized router. To share their Internet connection with other members of the Fon network, users need a special router that creates two separate signals -- one private and one shared. The company is now developing a new router that will ship during the first half of the year. It uses a chipset from Qualcomm and will add a social music component, Fon said without offering any details.
To increase the number of compatible routers and potential users, Fon and Qualcomm are also working on integrating the necessary features with some Qualcomm chipsets. That will make it easier for Wi-Fi router manufacturers who use them to integrate Fon with their products.
Qualcomm's involvement doesn't stop there. Its investment fund, Qualcomm Ventures, was among the companies participating in Fon's latest $14 million investment round. Others included Google and Deutsche Telekom, Fon said on Monday.
Google and Deutsche Telekom have provided funding in the past, but Qualcomm is a new addition.
Fon first focused on covering Europe and then expanded coverage to include Asia and Latin America. In countries such as the U.K., France and Belgium, more than 10 percent of households have a Fon router. Other regions such as Japan and Brazil are catching up as well, the company said.
Fon's improved coverage has largely been possible thanks to deals with operators such as BT, Deutsche Telekom, SFR and Belgacom in Europe and Softbank in Japan.
Recently, Fon has started to take aim at the U.S. In September, it signed a roaming agreement AT&T, which allows customers of both companies to surf via Wi-Fi when travelling. Fon's latest router then went on sale in October, and in December it signed a deal to provide free Wi-Fi to downtown Brooklyn, New York. To jump start residential coverage, Fon said it would give away 1,000 routers to local residents.
The company is mum on what will happen next, but prospective users will be hearing more about Fon in the U.S., a spokesman said via email.
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