Wi-Fi: Sharing, Piggybacking and the legal implications

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Lately, there has been a lot of discussion on Wi-Fi access sharing. This is not a new topic but it has probably found a new life with FON building a business model around people sharing their Wi-Fi access and FON getting major funding from both Skype and Google. I probably have to thank Martin Varsavsky for all the press and blog coverage it is generating and the material I can use in my research.Lock

Since I am still in the middle of my Wi-Fi survey (you should take it if you haven’t done so already) that focuses on these issues of sharing, usability and legal implications, I won’t comment on the topic now but just provide some pointers and “interesting” quotes. I am also preparing a case study on FON, big municipal Wi-Fi initiatives like San Francisco TechConnect and the likes.
It is amazing what people will say to defend one or the other position of this topic. Especially the analogies!

From the New York Times story titled Hey Neighbor, Stop Piggybacking on My Wireless (Mar 5th 2006)

For a while, the wireless Internet connection Christine and Randy Brodeur installed last year seemed perfect. They were able to sit in their sunny Los Angeles backyard working on their laptop computers.

But they soon began noticing that their high-speed Internet access had become as slow as rush-hour traffic on the 405 freeway.

“I didn’t know whether to blame it on the Santa Ana winds or what,” recalled Mrs. Brodeur, the chief executive of Socket Media, a marketing and public relations agency.

The “what” turned out to be neighbors who had tapped into their system.

(…)

But they soon began noticing that their high-speed Internet access had become as slow as rush-hour traffic on the 405 freeway.

“I didn’t know whether to blame it on the Santa Ana winds or what,” recalled Mrs. Brodeur, the chief executive of Socket Media, a marketing and public relations agency.

The “what” turned out to be neighbors who had tapped into their system.

(…)

Many home network owners admit that they are oblivious to piggybackers.

Some, like Marla Edwards, who think they have locked intruders out of their networks, learn otherwise. Ms. Edwards, a junior at Baruch College in New York, said her husband recently discovered that their home network was not secure after a visiting friend with a laptop easily hopped on.

“There’s no gauge, no measuring device that says 48 people are using your access,” Ms. Edwards said.

(…)

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Fon Wi-Fi gets support from Google and Skype to build a (sort of) wireless freenet

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As I am doing research on the interaction design issues with wireless networking, I have been particularly interested in seeing how the story with Fon will evolve. I first reported on Fon in October before they launched and I have seen that the movement was gaining some momentum even before being officially launched. but then, I figured out that the solution they were offering was not that novel — Robert Cringely reports on a micro franchisee business model that looks pretty similar — . Experts in the field of wireless and broadband were questioning it too (see Om Malik, Glenn Fleishman).FON wireless

Now that Fon has get major financial backing by company like Google or Skype, this changes the situation. Not only are they getting money but also a lot of free marketing with nearly any major publications talking about Fon. Glenn and OM Malik have posted a nice update on the situation.

I believe that we need to come up with a solution to offer an unified and enriched user experience in regard to wireless networking. The question that stands is not if it is going to happen (I believe it will) but how and when it will happen.

Fon has definitely an opportunity to get it right and has partners that can help it . But there are still major obstacles for it to become successful.

NETWORK SIZE IS NOT EQUAL TO VALUE

The number of hotspots is not directly linked to the value of the network. While Metcalfe’s Law

The value of a network equals approximately the square of the number of users of the system (n2) (Wikipedia)

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Spanish company, Fon, wants to let wireless internet users share their connection

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(Update)

Fon, wireless community service

As I was looking at how network providers regulate the sharing of the Internet access they provide to their subscribers, I came across the initiative from Fon.
Fon is planning on being first a Spanish Internet Service Provider (ISP) that will make it possible for subscribers to share ADSL service through wireless connection (WiFi).

Principle

Basically, suscribers could choose between 2 models:

  • Resellers: in this case, subscribers could resell up to 50% of their connection capacity. Fon will manage the access to other suscribers and give the user a cut of the fees it gets from that particular wireless access point. (Identified in the business model as Bill for Bill Gates I guess!)
  • Community members: subscribers will then give up up to 50% of their connection capacity for free to others members of the service. In exchange, they will be able to roam on any of the other access points made accessible by other Fon members. (Identified in the business model as Linus for Linus Torvalds I guess!)
Fon Wireless Community Ads

Requirements and availablilty

As of now, the service will require suscribers to own a compatible router, the Linksys WRT54G Wireless-G Router
The service is not operational yet. It is supposed to open around Nov 15th of this year but the Fon community sign-up page is already available.

More details are available on the Martin Varsavsky’s blog

See also this other way of sharing your connection:
Ubicomp 2005 video: Yellow chairs