Sunday, October 14, 2007

BT Wants You to Give it Away

Generally speaking, telecoms don't like it when you share a wireless network. If you're sitting in an apartment building and decide to make your home wifi network open and unsecured, then the neighbor can use it - instead of paying a monthly broadband fee. In fact, your terms of service likely prohibit doing this, though it's unlikely that your provider can really tell that it's somebody next door, not a family member in the next room, connecting.

That makes BT's decision to encourage this, by way of the offerings of a Spanish outfit called FON, really interesting. Here's what FON does: you buy a router from them that creates two wireless networks - a secure one for your use, and an open one that others can use.

If someone else wants to use it, the can, but there's a catch. If they are also FON users, it's free. If not, they pay. The idea is to make wifi more available by letting users create their own hotspots - and you can make money doing it under some of their plans (clearly intended for, say, a coffee shop owner or other such commercial enterprise).

Here's what BT is doing:
BT will encourage its three million broadband users to pick up a FON router and start sharing signals. The router provides two channels: one for public access, and one for access by the owner. The public channel is bandwidth-limited so as not to disrupt the user's own connection. Other "Foneros" can access the public channel for free, while non-Foneros can pay a few dollars a day to use the access points.
FON has signed a similar deal with Time Warner in the US.

I love this, because it shows telecoms thinking like marketers - real marketers, who see services in terms of customer benefits and appeal. That's been quite rare in that industry, and so I think this is a notable change:

For BT, the move makes its broadband offering more useful to customers, who can access the Internet from more places, and BT doesn't need to build out a new wireless network itself. BT's Gavin Patterson, a managing director, holds out hopes that the FON scheme can someday "cover every street in Britain."

Making their service more useful to customers? Now there's an idea! I hope this kind of thinking spreads through the telecom industry, whose focus has usually been limiting users in order to create more opportunities for revenue collection.

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