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Science

Spanish WiFi startup expands into Belgium

Fon members freely share or sell WiFi access, which will now be available to Belgacom subscribers. This is the sixth deal of its kind with a major European telecom firm.

WiFi router

Fon users need particular WiFi devices to share access

On Tuesday, the community WiFi network company, Fon, announced it would be joining forces with the largest telecommunications company in Belgium, Belgacom.

Fon, which was founded by a Spanish entrepreneur in 2006, sells customized WiFi access points and routers that make it easy for members to sell or share their wireless Internet connection. If a user makes her network freely available, then she will have access to all other Fon access points around the globe.

"Belgacom will create the largest WiFi community in Belgium," said Didier Bellens, Belgacom’s president and CEO, in a statement.

Under the terms of the new agreement between Fon and Belgacom, all Belgacom customers would gain access to Fon's four million hotspots around the globe. Belgacom said that it would make Fon available on its network by the end of the year.

"The deal with have with Belgacom is right now is that we put our Fon feature into their DSL boxes and their subscribers can become Fon members," said Alex Puregger, the company's COO, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. "We're hoping to have hundreds of thousands of [new] members in Belgium."

Martin Varsavsky, Fon's CEO

Martin Varsavsky, Fon's CEO, wants to expand to other European ISPs

Fon expanding at a rapid pace

In recent years, the Spanish startup had struck similar deals with other major European telecom providers, including E-Plus in Germany, BT in the United Kingdom, MTS-Comstar in Russia, SFR in France, and ZON Cable in Portugal.

Puregger described it as a "revenue-sharing" model, saying that no money has changed hands and adding that the UK has the highest concentration of Fon users of any country in the world so far. He also said that Fon users should expect more similar deals with other European Internet providers in the coming months.

With this model, Fon can undercut large commercial WiFi providers like Deutsche Telekom, which charge as much as five euros ($7) per hour for WiFi access in public places in Germany, especially airports and train stations.

Fon has become a darling of the European tech scene - the company announced just last month it had raised 10 million euros in a new round of venture capital led by Atomico, an investment firm founded by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström.

Fon’s founder, Martin Varsavsky, also echoed the enthusiasm for this deal.

"We love Belgium, and we can't wait to introduce Belgacom customers to the largest WiFi community on the planet," he added in the same statement.

Author: Cyrus Farivar
Editor: Kate Bowen

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