There is an interesting development in France concerning Wi-Fi sharing that I haven't seen anywhere else so far:
Fixed line network operators are now offering to their customers to share their DSL Internet connection over Wi-Fi with others in a number of ways:
- FON is officially endorsed by SFR. They have upgraded the software of their customer based and operator managed DSL/Wi-Fi routers for the purpose.
- SFR and Free now allow subscriber the use of DSL/Wi-Fi routers of other subscribers unless a customer specifically disables it.
While it is nice to be able to use someone else's Wi-Fi while being out and about there are two issues which are not addressed by this:
- I am aware of FON for a number of years now but I have never seen one when I needed access. The number of FON hotspots might be impressive, but the range of the Wi-Fi signal is just too limited.
- I imagine the same applies to the Wi-Fi sharing for French subscribers. As there is no way to ensure that one will find a suitable hotspot one can use for free the usability in practice is quite limited.
On the other hand, many locals might prefer such a kind of nomadity over 3G at the moment, as prices for 3G Internet access are still very high compared to other countries in Europe. With a bit of luck, though, that won't last forever. And once we have a situation like in Austria and other countries, where 50 euros buy you an unlocked 3G USB stick and a reasonable amount of data, I can't imagine that many people will go through the hassle of looking out for a suitable Wi-fi hotspot when it's much easier to just get connected over 3G.
This shows a bit of a dilemma with a future off-loading 3G traffic to Wi-Fi hotspots which might be a good thing in case we get a situation where cellular networks become too crowded: Today, users need to figure out themselves if there is a Wi-Fi hotspot close by and then use it instead of 3G. No way the majority will do that unless there is a severe price pressure or the 3G network is so loaded that the speed is not acceptable anymore.
So what is needed to make this work is an automatic means for a device to automatically use the network operator supplied Wi-Fi when found and to change back to 3G, seamlessly of course, when the user moves on. Not an easy task. In that regard, Femtos might be a better solution as they give extra capacity with a similar range without the hassle of installing software for network switching on mobile devices.
So in the end I think it's likely that we'll see a triumvirate with Wi-Fi and Femtos at home, Femtos in public hotspots, Wi-Fi in public hotspots for locals and travelers without a 3G subscription and 3G cellular for the general coverage.