Spanish Wi-Fi sharing company Fon has raised $14 million from Qualcomm Ventures.
It’s an indication that Fon’s collective approach to sharing bandwidth, while slow-growing, still has some attraction to investors — particularly a strategic investor like Qualcomm, which makes chips for broadband wireless communications. It might also be finding some traction now that the notion of “collaborative consumption” is catching on, thanks to startups like AirBnB and Lyft — although Fon predates those startups by several years.
Fon will use the funding to develop a new device, based on Qualcomm’s Atheros chipset, that enables users to share music as well as their broadband signals, Recode reports. In addition, Qualcomm will build Fon’s Wi-Fi sharing capabilities into its own Atheros chipset, GigaOm states.
Fon has also struck a deal with Facebook so you can share your Wi-Fi with your Facebook friends whenever they come over to visit you “in real life.” (That might not be often, as it turns out, since most of us see very few of our Facebook friends IRL.)
Fon’s main business is selling a hotspot device, the $49 Fonera, which shares some of your Internet bandwidth with other Fon users. In exchange, you get to use the shared bandwidth on other people’s Fonera routers for free. That’s an attractive model if you have more bandwidth than you need to use most of the time and you like the idea of being able to travel and have access to free hotspots.
The new Fonera, which is currently available on the company’s website, includes the ability for your Facebook friends to log on to your Wi-Fi using Facebook Connect.
For carriers, it can help shift data load off their cellular networks and onto more manageable Wi-Fi hotspots that are connected to wireline data networks.
The company has found much more traction in Europe (particularly France and the U.K.) and in Brazil than it has in the U.S., where carriers are opposed to the notion of rampant Wi-Fi sharing. It may also be a more effective business model in densely-populated areas, where the odds of finding a hotspot to share are greater, given the limited range of Wi-Fi signals.
Fon has been around since 2006 and is currently used in more than 12.3 million hotspots worldwide, according to its website. Previous investors, who contributed about $58 million prior to this round, include Sequoia Capital, Index Ventures, Google, and Skype (now owned by Microsoft). The last funding round was in 2011.
Correction 1/23/2014: Google, not Google Ventures, is an investor in Fon.