Gimmicky WiFi Networks No One Needs
from the millions-of-dollars-down-the-drain dept
In the mad dash to build out WiFi networks as a broadband network, there are an awful lot of questions that have remained unanswered. There’s the question of whether or not the technology is really right for the job. There’s the question of whether or not the incumbents will actually let the networks exist. However, perhaps the biggest question (and one discussed the least) is whether or not anyone actually will use these networks? Last year we got worried that too many cities were rushing to offer muni-WiFi just because everyone else was, and not because of any evidence of need. This may be playing itself out in Taiwan, where a well hyped WiFi network apparently isn’t getting very much usage at all. It seems that people just don’t see the value — though, some may start to use it as a backup.
With that in mind, it’s interesting to note (with skepticism) the latest announcement from the massively overhyped, extremely gimmicky “FON.” The company, as you’ll recall, wants people to share their WiFi connections to build an international network of WiFi built on the backs of individual accounts. If you contribute to the network, you can use the network for free (basically wiping out the revenue potential from those most likely to use it). There are numerous problems with this plan, many of which we’ve outlined in the past — leading off with the fact that almost no ISPs allow their users to share WiFi. Another issue has been that users need to set up a special router — which most people probably weren’t will to do. To get around this the company has now announced plans to sell pre-configured WiFi routers for only $5. In exchange, you need to agree to leave your router open for the network for at least 12 months (though, of course, most people doing so will be breaking their ISP’s terms of service). This, apparently, is what the $20 million plus that the company has raised is going towards — but doesn’t do much to explain how they’re actually going to make money. On top of that, if you add in the incredibly dispersed nature of this network, combined with the idea above that there just might not be that much interest in these types of networks, and you have to wonder if some VCs just bought a bunch of people super cheap WiFi routers for no good reason.