FON sounds great, but will it work?

It’s nice to hear that FON, the share-your-Wi-Fi network founded by entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky, has gotten an investment from Google, along with Skype founders Niklas Zenstrom and Janus Friis – but while that is a huge vote of confidence, it doesn’t remove some of the uncertainties surrounding the FON business model. For one thing, as more than one person has mentioned (including in the comments on Scoble’s post) almost every major ISP specifies in their contracts that this kind of wide-open sharing isn’t allowed.

According to comments Martin sent to Om, the company is trying to bring ISPs on-side, but has so far only managed to strike a deal with Speakeasy (Update: According to Om, Speakeasy says it has no arrangement with FON). Alec Saunders of Iotum says that most ISPs don’t enforce these agreements, and that’s true – but they might decide to change their minds about that if they find widespread sharing of the type FON has in mind.

Glenn Fleishmann of Wi-Fi Networking News, who has been a major skeptic on FON, says the investment by Google and the Skype gang (as well as Index Partners, which made a bundle on its investment in Skype) makes him a little less skeptical, but he still has concerns – including the difficulty of getting ISPs on-side, but also the difficulty of building out a robust enough wireless network to make what the company has in mind actually feasible.

Not only that, but how many people are going to feel the same concerns over security that the commenter on Scoble’s post feels? FON has a response here, but that might not satisfy enough people to open up their networks – especially after everyone has been telling them to lock them down so no one piggy-backs on them. FON has a response to the ISP question too, but that amounts to trying to convince the ISPs they will share revenue with them (assuming there is any). Like my friend Rob Hyndman, I think many providers (particularly in Canada) would be skeptical.

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