FON's Asian test

10 Nov 2006
00:00

FON, begun in Spain a year ago, aims to create unified Wi-Fi coverage by selling memberships.The bandwagon came to Hong Kong last week, led by regional partner Outblaze, a local email and messaging firm.

The idea is you buy a router and add it to the FON network, and in return get free Wi-Fi roaming wherever you go. There are other options for those who want to sell a Wi-Fi service or become a guest user ($3 a day), but most members join on the you-use-mine-I-use-yours basis.

There's a lot to admire about FON. In 12 months it has signed up more than 130,000 members, mostly in Europe, the US and Korea. It's also reeled in some smart investors, like Skype, Google and Sequoia.

"The mission is to unify global Wi-Fi into one business," said Outblaze CEO Yat Siu.

In its first week in Hong Kong FON gained 1,400 members. The company maps the spread of FON on their Web site at http://maps.fon.com/, where you can see a lot of base stations around Hong Kong island and a smear of unified green around Central and SoHo.

FON Hong Kong has begun with a router offer of just $5 (HK$39). Next on the roadmap is Taiwan in December, followed by Singapore. At some point in the future is China but, as Yat Siu mildly puts it, that's a "very different market".

Crowded space

The problem for FON is it is contesting a very crowded space. Between DSL, cable, 3G/3.5G and hotspots, there's a lot of broadband coverage already in Asian cities.

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