Network Share and Share Alike

Whenever the talk gets around to wireless applications and services, the question of the infrastructure to deliver all this whiz-bang stuff always seems to get glossed over.

It’s like Futurama (the 1939 version, not the 1999 cartoon). No one back then spent much thought on the underlying technology that was going to whiz us around town at light speed or make the kitchen obey our every wish. Likewise, the ubiquitous WiFi that’s going to deliver every imaginable service to mobile phones and laptops.

I’ve written several times about the problems of trying to connect in the mobile present — forget the future. Most recently, yesterday afternoon.

So I was interested today when I saw “The No-Hardware Wi-Fi Community” by Eric Griffith in WiFi Planet. Some people aren’t waiting for the second coming of the Internet.

They’ve started a grass roots movement to create WiFi communities by sharing their own networks. You let me use your network and I’ll let you use mine — the same way Skype users share their networks.

Now, my neighbor is already doing something like this. He doesn’t have any security on his network by choice. (No, I’m not going to give you the address). But these companies offer a way to limit use of your network to your particular WiFi community.

Spanish startup Whisher Technologies launched a beta version of its service yesterday. Whisher offers free downloadable software that lets you share your WiFi network with other Whisher users and use theirs.

The plug-in lets you control who has access to your network, but eliminates the need for all users to have the password or key. You can leave your network completely open to all other Whisher users, buddies only, or open only to you and specific individuals.

Another company promoting the same type of grass roots WiFi liberation is one year-old Fon — another Spanish company — which sells a customized router for $30.00 that lets users share their networks. If you don’t open your network to other members of the community (Fonsters?) you have to pay $3 a day to use the network — still a bargain compared to typical ISP day pass charges.

The fly in the ointment here is that sharing your WiFi network past the front door of your house may be illegal, according to a story by Marguerite Reardon at CNET News.

“We’ve taken steps as a company to inform our customers that passive or active theft of our services is illegal, and people who violate these agreements can be prosecuted on a criminal and civil basis,” a Time Warner spokeswoman is quoted saying in Reardon’s story.

Isn’t that always the way with big companies? They’re all for competition and free markets until someone acts on those free market ideas and starts competing. Then they start acting like schoolyard bullies.

It makes me want to put up a sign on my front door: Steal this network.