Tomorrow a new startup will launch from Spain called Whisher that is adding a new twist to the concept of a WiFi sharing community. Like Fon, another Spanish startup backed by Google and Skype that is up and running with 50,000 shared WiFi hotspots around the world, the idea is that you make your WiFi router available to other members and when you are traveling or in another neighborhood you can gain access to their WiFi networks. The difference is that Fon requires you to use a WiFi router it ships to you and you have to install, whereas Whisher is a simple software download that turns your existing WiFi router into a shareable Whisher router.
It's no coincidence that both of these startups are from Spain. Whisher CEO Ferran Moreno helped start Fon, but had a falling out with Fon CEO Martin Varsavsky a week before it launched. This is how he explained the rift to me:
I am one of the founders of Fon. I was running a wireless ISP, and presented the idea to Martin. After half a year, I didn't want to continue with him. A week before launch, he wanted me to go 70/30 instead of 50/50 and put in more money.
That sort of thing will happen when Google, Skype, and Sequoia want in on the round. Varsavsky—who is also an investor himself in many Web 2.0 startups like Technorati, NetVibes, Wikio, and Plazes—has a different version of events:
Ferran Moreno did not work for Fon. He was the CTO of a failed Swisscom company known as Air Bites. I considered investing in Air Bites but decided against it. He´s been telling people that he was involved with Fon, that is not the case.
I looked at investing in the company [Air Bites] in mid 2005 but passed.
I had the idea of Fon in September of 2005, which, of course, I had and not him ( I am a blogger the whole episode is well documented in my blog
Regardless, Moreno decided to compete against Fon with what he thinks is a better product. Whisher's interface is certainly cleaner (in contrast, Fon's Website and homepage has a jarring, graffiti-like design to go with its anarchistic vibe). With Whisher, you download the software, enter the password and location for your router, and decide whether to make it private, public, or accessible to individuals you select. Then Whisher takes care of securely circulating the password and credentials to anyone you allow onto your WiFi network, without them ever having to actually know your password. They launch Whisher, and the software does the rest. If you are traveling somewhere you can search on a map to find Whisher hotspots, and if they are not already public you can instant message the owner to ask for access. Contrasting his service with Fon's, Moreno explains:
Fon is a telco business. It is about shipping boxes. This is more about promoting a community than acting like an ISP. If you want to start just with your friends, do it. Because over time you will be global.
The software also includes a local search function, and the ability for Whisher members to leave comments and tags about that WiFi hotspot as well as local stores, restaurants, hotels, bars, and the like. The comments can work s a message board for local events. You can also share files—music, movies, photos—locally (hello, piracy lawsuit).
Some broadband Internet providers might not take too kindly to its customers sharing their bandwidth so freely. But where both Fon and Whisher get really disruptive is if they can convince cable and telephone companies to partner with them to compete with the cell phone companies. Get a big enough WiFi network out there and Verizon or Comcast could start selling WiFi phones that bypass the cellular networks and run over their pipes instead.
Let me advance you a picture which clearly shows that I did work for FON. Those 4 guys on the business cards are the initial founders of FON. Anything different from this is pure bullshit. I could have prepared these with Photoshop...but to be honest, we are pretty busy preparing our presentation at DEMO.