But finding a Wi-Fi signal when you need one can be a problem – and a big opportunity for Fon, a Spanish company that’s building a global community of hotspots one router at a time.
The idea for Fon hit founder Martin Varsavsky in late 2005 while he was strolling through Paris with his PDA in search of a signal. Companies like T-Mobile were spending millions of dollars to build hotspot networks and charging dearly for access.
Varsavsky, however, saw the potential for a worldwide Wi-Fi network in the home broadband connections already in place. All that was needed was a service to tie them together.
How it works: Fon sells a $30 wireless router to consumers. They hook it up, register their node, and agree to share their broadband with other “Foneros” for free. Those who want to charge outsiders for access can do so, and Fon gets a cut. Likewise, if someone wants to pay $2 or $3 to use the Fon network for a day, Fon takes a share of that revenue. Just over a year old, Fon’s network boasts more than 70,000 hotspots. Initially focused on Europe and Asia, Fon plans a big push in the United States in the coming months.
Question: Is the company a Web 2.0 winner?
Funding: $22 million (Google, Index Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Skype)
Business model: Subscription, router sales
Bragging rights: 400,000 users (including 40,000 Americans added since October); signed as-yet unannounced deal with first major U.S. broadband service provider
Next up: In deal talks with U.S. cellular service provider
Loopt offers around-the-clock friend tracking. Cell-phone customers are using Loopt to let their buddies see their locations. It’s already a hit with some 100,000 Boost Mobile subscribers who want to know not just what their posse is up to but where it’s at.
Funding: $5 million (New Enterprise Associates, Sequoia Capital)
Business model: Advertising, subscription
Bragging rights: Partnership with Sprint
Next up: Signing up sponsors; in talks with second U.S. carrier
Mobio offers mobile-phone mashups and widgets that figure out where you are and serve up on-the-go services like movie listings. Other widgets will book a cab or a seat at a restaurant.
Funding: $9 million (InterWest)
Business model: Advertising
Bragging rights: Sprint and Cingular customers will be able to download widgets to their phones this spring; working with OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation service.
Next up: Service launches Feb. 26
It’s Flickr on the fly. Tiny’s Radar service lets you snap photos with cell phones and send them to friends, who can both access and comment on the shots. Radar will be a built-in application on some devices made by Danger, creator of T-Mobile’s Sidekick.
Funding: $2.8 million (Mohr Davidow Ventures)
Business model: Sales of downloadable client, advertising
Bragging rights: 55 percent monthly user growth; 500,000 videos and pictures swapped on network per month; SunCom Wireless plans to distribute Radar
Next up: To have 1 million users by year-end; sign up more carriers; add premium subscription service
Access your home or office PC from your mobile phone. SoonR allows you to use your phone to pull up and search data on your desktop – everything from Word docs to Photoshop files.
Funding: $6 million (Clearstone Venture Partners, Intel Capital)
Business model: Subscriptions
Bragging rights: Approx. 250,000 users; partnerships with Swisscom, WebEx
Next up: Premium services