Fon breaks into the U.S. with AT&T Wi-Fi roaming deal

The Madrid-based Wi-Fi sharing community Fon is finally moving into the American market, through a Wi-Fi roaming deal with local carrier AT&T(s t).

Fon’s customers, known as “Foneros”, have been able to use each other’s Wi-Fi connections since the company launched in 2005. But the real boosts to the community come from deals with big carriers who want to give their own customers free Wi-Fi access while they’re on the move – Britain’s BT(s bt) was the first big win 6 years ago, and this year has already seen Fon sign with Germany’s big player, Deutsche Telekom.

Now it’s AT&T’s turn. In a statement on Tuesday, the companies said AT&T customers would be able to access hundreds of thousands of Fon-friendly hotspots around the world, through the AT&T Wi-Fi International app. The app gives customers 1GB of free Wi-Fi data usage per month, if they already subscribe to a Data Global Add-On package.

Meanwhile, Fon’s users will get their first big sprawl of hotspots in the U.S., as AT&T’s network has 30,000 of them in restaurants, hotels and stores.

In a blog post, Fon noted that its customers can already access almost 12 million hotspots around the world. It also suggested that further American deals could be imminent:

“This deal is only the first step in our mission to cover the U.S. (and eventually the world!) with Wi-Fi. Stay tuned for more exciting developments in the near future!”

The carriers that sign with Fon get to use the network’s reach as an extra draw for prospective customers, but they also have another motive: offloading. As mobile broadband networks come under strain from increased usage, it becomes a bright idea to offload that traffic onto Wi-Fi hotspots wherever possible.

Some of those hotspots will come from communities such as Fon, but the mobile industry is also working on ways to integrate Wi-Fi into their own networks as one of several complementary wireless technologies – this is known as the heterogeneous network or “hetnet” approach.

In Europe, proposed changes to the EU’s telecoms rules would ease planning restrictions around such deployments and force regulators and ISPs to allow their customers to share their connections via services such as Fon.