Whisher, wishing on a FON

It is never a good idea when the founder and chief executive officer of a start-up gets into a public fight with his ex-boss, claiming that he came up with the idea first.
Yes, we are talking about Ferran Moreno, co-founder and CEO of Whisher, who has gotten into a very public and ugly spat with Martin Varvansky, the founder of FON. You can read the whole sordid and tragicomic tale of he said, she said on the Business 2.0 blog.
374362069_f226dbcae2_m.jpgWhisher launched at DEMO 2007 today and has gotten maximum press coverage, mostly because the company positioned itself as a FON competitor that uses software instead of hardware to share bandwidth. I call it wishful thinking, given its limited utility and even more limited business prospects.
What is most amusing is that Moreno dismisses FON as a telco business, and yet is happy to talk about his involvement with FON. “FON is a telco business. It is about shipping boxes. This [Whisher] 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,” Moreno told Business 2.0. How?
Anyway, once you are done with the salacious pleasure provided by the dueling corporate dons, come back and read about why Whisher might be overhyped.
Wanting to try out the service and compare it with FON’s rather straightforward hardware-based solution, I went to Whisher’s website, only to find the downloads so painfully slow that an 11 megabyte file would take about 31 minutes. Now that is a quick and easy way to lose prospective beta testers.
The software, once downloaded, is easy to install, and you can use the software to register with the system. For now, that is the only way to register, though they do have a “register” link on their website.
After downloading, you can easily share your bandwidth with other Internet users, without changing the security settings. Whisher allows you to set up buddy lists of your friends and visitors, who can share your wireless connection without using your password or “network key.” Eventually there will be other features that would be added to Whisher, including file sharing.
Whisher is a great tool to discover Wi-Fi networks, a task that is also done admirably by say a Kismac or an iStumbler. Its sharing ambitions are laudable; except they are can come a-cropper when faced with the draconian terms of service most broadband service providers impose on us.
Whisher is a great piece of software, clean and elegant. Still, one is hard pressed to see how this company will make money in the future, and thus build a sustainable business. Those who had questioned the validity of FON’s business model should question Whisher’s as well.
Of course, it could be my limited imagination, or simple cynicism that comes after hanging around Silicon Valley too long, and watching mediocrity rear its ugly head again and again. Whisher, from the press reports, has been quick to point to its links with Swisscom, a marginal European incumbent, which is known mostly for its decision to become the guinea pig for the great Microsoft IPTV experiment. What is more confounding is that Whisher has received the backing of Benchmark Capital, who clearly should know better.