Free Mobile in France has taken the wraps off a “new” Wi-Fi hotspot network for mobile service subscribers. The network isn’t actually new, but Free Mobile is making it automatically available to mobile customers for the first time. And, this isn’t your standard hotspot service. The four million Wi-Fi hotspots on the FreeWiFi Secure network all come from home Internet users who have opted in to a broadband sharing plan. Much like with Fon’s service, consumers with Freebox Internet service agree to share their broadband connection in exchange for access to Wi-Fi hotspots hosted by other Freebox users.
The Wi-Fi hotspot network from Free Mobile adds an interesting dimension to the low-cost mobile service the company launched in January. Free Mobile has rapidly attracted customers since the beginning of the year with its low voice and data fees. However, that success has proven somewhat problematic for both Free Mobile’s parent company Iliad, and its subscribers. On the one hand, Iliad has had to pay substantial roaming fees to France Telecom in order to offer nationwide service. France Telecom said just this week that it could generate as much as two billion Euros from the roaming agreement. On the other hand, subscribers have been stuck with a three-gigabyte cap on monthly data usage, which somewhat undercuts the low-cost data service.
Now, Iliad is hitting back on both fronts by opening up its community-based hotspot network. The company gets relief from excessive roaming charges, and users get to avoid data overage fees by offloading to Wi-Fi wherever a hotspot is available.
Iliad is also making the Wi-Fi offload process easy for subscribers. Just as the Wi-Fi alliance is working to standardize automatic authentication with the Passpoint program, Iliad is doing away with Wi-Fi login screens for Free Mobile users. Devices on the Free Mobile network recognize when a Freebox hotspot is in range, and automatically connect users to the Wi-Fi network. No muss, no fuss.
The Freebox hotspot network has been around since 2009, and now any Free Mobile customer on a standard mobile plan (roughly $26 per month) can join the Wi-Fi party. It’s one more sign that mobile and Wi-Fi network convergence is picking up steam.
Image credit: Iliad 2011 strategy report