Qualcomm's $14-Million Funding in Fon Sets Out to Expand Wi-Fi Coverage in US

By Rachel Ramsey January 20, 2014

Qualcomm recently led a $14-million round of funding in Fon, which is a free crowdsourced Wi-Fi network -- Fon members share some of their home Wi-Fi to get free access at any of the more than 12 million hotspots. That number is expected to reach 35 million by 2016, as the company works on expansion in the U.S. and various projects, such as providing downtown Brooklyn with free Wi-Fi.

Fon collaborates with Facebook to develop a social router called Fonera, which allows users to share Wi-Fi with Facebook friends. Guests trying to access Wi-Fi that aren’t Facebook friends are still capable of accessing limited Wi-Fi, and the router can also work as a coverage booster.

This idea of a social wireless network isn’t entirely new – a company named Hotspotio also has the idea to try and share Wi-Fi and 4G connections via “favor-protected” networks, which can include social media interactions, like Twitter followings, Facebook “likes” or Foursquare check-ins.

However, Fon is working on developing a social-music router based on a chipset from Qualcomm subsidiary Atheros, expected to be available in the first half of 2014. Qualcomm Atheros is also integrating Fon as a feature, available as an SDK for its chipsets, to make it easier for Wi-Fi router manufacturers to integrate Fon with Qualcomm Atheros chipsets.

Fon reduces the number of packets telcos have to carry, and it sends packets much more cheaply than the wireless networks. Other Fon investors include Deutsche Telekom, Google, Skype, Index Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Coral Group, BT and Atomico.

“The amount of this round and the caliber of investors will propel us into our next stage of growth,” said Martin Varsavsky, CEO, Fon, in a statement. “We are excited about our new relationship with Qualcomm, which is an amazing company and a leader in mobile data communication. By integrating Fon into Qualcomm Atheros’ chipsets, more devices and systems will be automatically equipped to be part of Fon’s global Wi-Fi network.”

Qualcomm views the Internet of Things (and it uses Cisco’s term, IoE, for Internet of Everything) as something that will become a sixth sense – a natural extension of how we work and play. It has its hands in a number of different areas of M2M, including wearable technology and mHealth. When it comes down to it, the rise in the IoT is all about strong, reliable connections and the value of data. Qualcomm looks at Fon as a big enabler for both of those.

“Fon’s unique approach to crowd-sourcing Wi-Fi is going to play an increasingly instrumental role in the future of mobile data,” said Miles Kirby, senior director for Qualcomm Ventures, in a statement.  “Fon fits perfectly into our vision to solving the increasing demand for data.”

Image via Shutterstock

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Content Director

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