Introduction: the rise of the sharing economy
Nowadays, the sharing economy has become a worldwide phenomenon. It has come in many different forms, in many different industries. One can share, exchange, trade, swap; one can do this with cars, housing, clothing, etc. (Habibi, Davidson & Laroche 2016). Many startups are creative in continually thinking of new ways to participate in the sharing economy. Well-established companies in the sharing economy, such as Airbnb, Uber and Zipcar, can be used as an example by newer startups; either by following them in what has gone well, or by being cautious in what went wrong for them in the past.
Industries that can be innovated in, by utilizing the sharing economy, seem to be endless. As such, a startup called Fon, is a pioneer in Wi-Fi sharing, managing 21 million hotspots globally (Fon Wireless, Ltd., 2018). You might have already seen this name in the past, either consciously or unconsciously, in the list of the Wi-Fi signals on your phone, laptop, tablet, or any other device. Actually, as I am writing this post, there is currently a Fon signal on my laptop.
In the Netherlands, Fon has partnered up with KPN (Fon Wireless, Ltd., 2018). But partnerships are just a part of Fon’s business model. Are you interested in getting to know more about what Fon exactly is? Then continue reading.
Fon: a wireless network
So, what exactly is Fon, and what does it do? Fon is a wireless network, aiming to create a global network of wireless access to Wi-Fi, based on Wi-Fi routers, that members should own and share with one another. There are two separate ‘signals’ coming from Fon’s Wi-Fi router, the Fonera, where one is meant to be used by the owner of the router, and the other is meant to be used by the members of the Fon community, who are in the neighborhood looking for a Wi-Fi signal. Due to these separate signals, privacy issues do not pose a concern. (McGarry, 2013)
One can buy the Wi-Fi router from Fon’s own branded routers, the Fonera, offering free lifetime membership, but most of the hotspots provided by Fon are coming from the partnerships it has with broadband providers. As mentioned earlier, for example in the Netherlands, Fon has partnered up with KPN (Fon Wireless, Ltd., 2018).
The Fon for members app
To enhance convenience for its customers, Fon has also created an app for its members, offering several utilities. This app is not available in all countries, so to partly overcome this issue, Fon has set up other versions of the app for which they collaborate with other brands. On the app, members can, for example, check their own profile, and open a map that shows all available hotspots in the area. (Fon Wireless, Ltd., 2018)
What about its revenue model?
Interestingly, Fon is a not for profit company (Schriber, 2018). When purchasing a router, you become a member and you pay the price of the router, after which you are offered free lifetime membership. The Wi-Fi sharing of Fon is enabled by the software it has developed.
Fon is continuously aiming to expand, however this has unfortunately not been easy in every part of the world (Ricknäs, 2015). Its strategy to expand is often via partnering up with local broadband providers. In January 2014, Fon raised $14 million in funding, which it wanted to use for expansion in the United States. However, expansion in the United States did not seem easy for them (Ricknäs, 2015).
One drawback of the service is its limited Wi-Fi signal, making the service better suitable to dense, urbanized areas (Jackson, 2016). As such, have a look at the map below, where it can be seen that the service is much more used in denser countries, such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Nevertheless, if Fon mostly focuses on denser, more urbanized areas, it can definitely remain a strong player in the market. In current times where data usage is continuously increasing and access to the Internet is almost becoming a hygiene factor in developed countries, Fon can fill a gap in the market, as constant access to Wi-Fi is not yet globally covered.
A factor that Fon has to take into account that could work against them, is the increasing global availability and the reducing costs of data on your phone. For example, roaming within Europe has recently become free of charge (Europa, 2018). This causes less people searching for a Wi-Fi signal, because they might just as well use the data on their phone.
Europa. (2018). Roaming in the EU. [online] Available at: https://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/consumers/internet-telecoms/mobile-roaming-costs/index_en.htm [Accessed 10 Mar. 2018]
Fon Wireless, Ltd. (2018). Fon is the global WiFi network. [online] Available at: https://fon.com [Accessed 10 Mar. 2018]
Habibi, M.R., Davidson, A. and Laroche, M., 2017. What managers should know about the sharing economy. Business Horizons, 60(1), 113-121.
Jackshon, M. (2016). 1 in 3 Home Broadband Routers to Double as Public WiFi Hotspots by 2017. [online] Available at: https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2016/01/1-in-3-home-broadband-routers-to-double-as-public-wifi-hotspots-by-2017.html [Accessed 11 Mar. 2018]
McGarry, C. (2013). Sharing with strangers: Fon wants to be the Zipcar of Wi-Fi. [online] Available at: https://www.techhive.com/article/2056719/sharing-with-strangers-fon-wants-to-be-the-zipcar-of-wi-fi.html [Accessed 10 Mar. 2018]
Ricknäs, M. (2015). Fon keeps adding WiFi Hotspots but struggles to crack the US. [online] Available at: https://www.pcworld.com/article/2942552/fon-keeps-adding-wifi-hotspots-but-struggles-to-crack-the-us.html [Accessed 11 Mar. 2018]
Schriber, B. (2018). Understanding Fon Wi-Fi Hotspots. [online] Available at: http://internet-access-guide.com/understanding-fon-wi-fi-hotspots/ [Accessed 11 Mar. 2018]