Can Wi-Fi Community save the world?

Can Wi-Fi Community save the world?

In today’s connected world, access to the internet should be an essential service, like water or electricity. And just like water and electricity, it should be available to everyone, regardless of circumstance.

Building entirely new networks, cities, supported by internet service providers and mobile carriers is good but it would be better if you are able to leverage already existing networks, like all the private residential Wi-Fi networks that are already spread throughout the city. Imagine turning every home currently connected to the internet into a mini Wi-Fi hotspot serving the public, so that anytime a subscriber walked past a participating home network their phones would automatically connect to that Wi-Fi network, thereby lessening their own data charges and significantly reducing the strain on mobile carrier networks. All this is made possible by home subscribers giving up a small, likely unused, percentage of their Wi-Fi to make it available for public use.

This kind of initiative started a couple of years ago in Spain, where Martin Varsavsky founded a company (Fon) with the mission of blanketing the world with Wi-Fi. Now Fon is an international company, supported by some of the world’s most important telcos (Google, Microsoft, British Telecom and Deutsche Telekom and Qualcomm) and in 2014 it broke the barrier with 14 million Fon hotspots.

This project is very important because it aims to help people overcome the barriers they might face when using technology, giving access to the internet to hundreds of people who currently can’t get online. That means you can check and send emails, use your social network, watch videos and browse the web, all without spending money.

Luckily, all over the world there are a lot of Wi-Fi communities that have a common, simple and fast operation. First of all, it is necessary to join the community and there are two ways to go: either you are a customer of the company that provides broadband services (in this case, by agreeing to get free and unlimited access to other consumers’ hotspots) or you have to buy pre-paid vouchers or subscriptions to be part of the Wi-Fi community. Secondly, you must download the dedicated app for smartphones and tablets where entering your username and password. Once installed, the app will use your location to show a list of nearby free hotspots that can be in bars, hotels, shops, schools, hospitals, banks but also in private homes. Finally, when you choose your favorite hotspot, you are connected and you can surf the net.

In addition to this, as Alison Powell pointed out in 2011, Wi-Fi communities could have a positive outcome on civic culture because it is clear that these projects are able to “motivate volunteers to participate in building technology and working towards shared social goals. They also hold the potential to shift the provision of communications access away from corporate and towards more public interest models”.

The World Bank estimates that for every 10% penetration of internet access, a country’s GDP grows by 1,28%, so it is useful to work with local, provincial and national government to provide Wi-Fi in communities for the purpose of education, economic development and social inclusion, enabling access to the internet as a catalyst for change. Community Wi-Fi holds a lot of potential for enabling a functional connected future, where the barriers between private and public Wi-Fi blur to the extent that both humans and machines are able to be constantly and reliably connected. The key to ensuring that the connected city, and indeed the connected world works, is to make sure that just as the traffic on our streets is regulated, so too is the data traffic in our air.



Il futuro della diffusione della “connettività per tutti” non risiede solo negli investimenti infrastrutturali delle grandi compagnie del settore tech ma anche nella condivisione della connessione privata dei vari utenti. Le Wi-Fi Community, in modo spontaneo, stanno riuscendo sempre di più a fornire l’accesso ad Internet a milioni di persone in tutto il mondo che altrimenti non ne avrebbero la possibilità