We can spin up an environment for a customer in a couple of hours now―that’s more than 99% faster than before.
 
Francisco Martín de la Fuente Director of Operations, Fon

Fon was founded in Madrid in 2006 with the goal of WiFi-enabling the world. Initially, each of its members would share a small portion of their home network’s bandwidth in exchange for being able to use the networks of other members when on the move. Fon soon saw that it could use its expertise in managing WiFi networks to help telecoms operators such as British Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, and Vodafone roll out their own networks of hotspots. The company also began to offer solutions in the form of a WiFi service management platform (WSMP) for enterprises, municipalities, and transport providers to manage network access for visitors, guests, and passengers.

The firm currently runs 20 million WiFi hotspots, and has customers in five continents. Its ambitious approach has earned it more than $70 million in investment from its telco partners and major Tech & Digital companies. 

Deployments of Fon’s software can often take months. A typical project would include installing its virtual platform on local hardware with complex configurations based on each customer’s requirements. As Fon moved to serve a greater range of customers, however, it needed a way to deploy more quickly. “There is a finite number of telcos in the world, but there are hundreds or thousands of other potential clients for our WSMP,” says Francisco Martín de la Fuente, head director of operation at Fon. “We needed a fast way to get them on board and a platform with wide geographical coverage to serve a global client base.”

Scalability, too, was crucial. “Our goal was to grow the client base for our managed WSMP. A platform that lets us expand easily would help us,” he says.

Whatever Fon chose, it needed the same level of security it could ensure with its physical deployments, where it had to be Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliant. Finally, Martín de la Fuente and his colleagues wanted a way to better understand the cost of running Fon’s environments. “We offer our products as a service to clients, but with a physical deployment it’s difficult to identify precisely what the running costs are,” he says. “We knew that with the cloud we could have clearer insight into this, and could price our services more effectively.”

Fon looked at a number of cloud vendors, and concluded that Amazon Web Services (AWS) offered the global reach and quick deployment capabilities it was looking for.

Currently Fon is deploying all its new Wireless Managed Service Provider (WMSP) clients on AWS. It has also developed a WiFi roaming platform on AWS that manages connections and billing between different WiFi networks. Finally, it has embarked on several big data and analytics projects. Ricardo Edo, business intelligence (BI) manager at Fon, says, “We had reached the limits of our old, physical BI environment, where we were ingesting up to 100 GB a day, so we decided to see if we could find a more robust, flexible platform in AWS.”

In all its deployments, Fon uses segregated Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) subnets for each of its clients. It then hosts its application on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances, with Auto Scaling to handle fluctuating capacity and Elastic Load Balancing to distribute traffic between instances. It launches pre-configured environments using AWS CloudFormation, and AWS CodeDeploy handles deployments to instances. The company has also started using AWS Lambda, the serverless compute service, to manage the logic behind its WiFi roaming project.

Regarding Fon’s BI environment, Edo says that he “fell in love” with AWS when he found out that he could integrate so many AWS analytics tools with Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). They managed to set up a platform and began processing huge amounts of data very quickly. This includes the Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Amazon Redshift, Amazon Elastic MapReduce (Amazon EMR), and Amazon Kinesis. “It’s much more transparent to see how resources are being used in AWS, so we can better understand our usage and how much it’s costing,” says Edo.

As it continues its journey into the cloud, Fon is confident that it will get all the assistance it needs from AWS Business Support. “Our contacts are always open to help with any problems we have, and they understand our business. They helped drive our initial development and shape the way we do business in the cloud, so we’re very happy,” says Martín de la Fuente.

Martín de la Fuente believes that the greatest benefit of using AWS is the speed of deployment. “Typically, a large on-premises deployment would take us around two months,” he says. “We can spin up an environment for a customer in a couple of hours now―that’s more than 99% faster than before.” This agility will be crucial as Fon looks to address new market segments outside its traditional telco customer base. “It’s also less expensive and more efficient, because we used to have a high number of resources on the deployment, and now they can be focused on the integration” says Martín de la Fuente. “A small group of DevOps engineers can do the job now.”

Edo is equally positive about the contribution AWS has made to Fon’s analytics and big data operations. “Our project has been well received internally,” he says. “We’re using our massive network of routers to provide data about signal quality and the flow of people around cities, and analyzing this with AWS tools. Intelligence from this is already directly contributing to the other, non-BI projects on AWS, and we could potentially use it as a new line of business by selling the anonymized data to marketing companies, for example, who want to know how people move around a city. The best thing is that it took only one or two developers to set it all up and run the whole BI project over a couple of months.”

Not only can Fon get customers on board quicker, but it can also deliver a better service. Martín de la Fuente says, “Thanks to the changes we’ve made to our software, and the managed tools in AWS, we have a continuous integration pipeline. All changes are based in code so we can move fast and keep our customers happy.” Security, too, is something that the team is extremely satisfied with. “We have the same level of security in AWS as we had using on-premises hardware,” says Martín de la Fuente. “With VPC isolations and IPsec tunneling to connect our customers’ platforms with the virtual one, AWS provides everything we need.”

Saving money is important to Fon, but “it’s also important that we have a clear picture of cost per customer,” says Martín de la Fuente. “Pricing a project used to be difficult, but with AWS we have tools that let us understand what services cost, and it lets us charge our customers more accurately.”

To learn more about how AWS can help run your application in the cloud.

Fon teams up with Pay with Amazon to provide customers with a fast, familiar, and secure way to purchase WiFi access passes. To learn more, read the Amazon Payments Case Study.