BT gets on the FON to drive Wi-Fi usage

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BT yesterday pledged to create the world's largest wireless broadband community through a deal with the company FON, which will allow customers to share broadband capacity.

The telecoms giant described the project as "a people's network of Wi-Fi" and will urge its three million broadband customers to join the service. The project already includes around half a million existing FON customers around the world.

Customers will get free access to FON's Wi-Fi hotspots in countries including Japan, the USA, Spain and France, as well as when in range of other BT FON users. The opt-in service, which will be delivered via an over-the-air download, makes around half a megabit of a customer's capacity available for use by other BT FON members.

The two companies aim to build a secure worldwide network of Wi-Fi users who can access potentially millions of hotspots to wirelessly connect to the high-speed internet free of charge.

Martin Varsavsky, the founder and chief executive of FON, said: "This is the push that Wi-Fi needs to make it ubiquitous."

FON already operates 190,000 hotspots around the world, but its growth has been constrained in countries including the USA by the need for the user to buy special hardware.

As part of the deal, BT will take a stake in FON, joining the 18-month-old start-up's high-profile backers Google, eBay's Skype unit, Index Ventures and Sequoia Capital (the private equity company that backed the likes of Google and YouTube).

FON makes revenue when non-BT FON users log on to its Wi-Fi hotspots, with users charged roughly £3 a day. For BT, the deal will stimulate the use of Wi-Fi following its own investment in hotspots across the country, and will act as a customer retention and acquisition tool.

Gavin Patterson, the head of BT's consumer division, said he expected most customers to become BT FON users.