Fon's growing international WiFi-sharing community is coming to the US courtesy of a partnership with AT&T that will give its "Foneros" access to the wireless operator's 30,000-strong network of hotspots across the country.
Or, to look at it another way, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s customer base now gets access to 12 million hotspots outside the US. [Update: AT&T says the deal only applies to hotspots in Poland and Portugal. Fon has 400,000 in both countries.]
This is Fon 's first deal with a US wireless operator, but the Madrid-based company suggests it won't be the last. In a blog post announcing the deal, Fon's Adolfo Arias writes that entering the US market is Fon's latest move to further grow its 12 million-strong hotspot footprint and that Fon fans should "stay tuned for more exciting developments in the near future."
The partnership is advantageous for AT&T, too. Both companies' customers can now roam on the other's WiFi network, albeit only in Poland and Portugal for AT&T. Its customers that download the AT&T WiFi International App and pay for additional international mobile data access will get a Gbyte of monthly WiFi download data for free.
For Fon, AT&T is its best bet to break into the US market, since the carrier has been the most aggressive in building out a national network of WiFi access hotspots. The company's business model is to encourage its users, called Foneros, to share (securely) each other's WiFi connections, as well as to partner with wireless operators for access to their footprints. (For more on Fon's operational and business model, see Smartphone Revolution Helps FON Find Acceptance.)
Earlier this year, Fon inked a similar deal with Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) in Germany and also counts KPN Mobile and BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) as partners. (See DT Preps Wi-Fi Push With FON, KPN Teams With FON for Wi-Fi, and BT Rebrands Wi-Fi Services.)
Why this matters
AT&T suffered a blow to its WiFi ego when its flagship Wifi partner Starbucks announced it would drop AT&T as a partner in favor of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), reducing by 7,000 the number of hotspots AT&T customers could access. The Fon deal strengthens AT&T's Wifi offer and gives it a broader international reach. (See Is Google the New WiFi of Coffee Snobs? and Google, Starbucks Start AT&T Router Swap.)
This partnership will be important to AT&T as it looks to offer a value-added service to its customers who travel, as well as to off-load traffic from its cellular network. The carrier will likely continue to look to partners for access to more hotspots. At the same time it's building out its own WiFi hotspots, integrating them with mobile small cells to bolster network capacity. (See CTIA: AT&T Works on Wi-Fi Integration.)
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— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading