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La Fontenna Review

I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to blog about La Fontenna since Martin’s video blog where he demonstrates it in conjuction with a La Fonera and an 802.11n router he has in his office.

After the excitement left me, I realized that Martin was not actually performing a real test of his antenna, he was merely pointing out the window and making speculations. He fails to mention that any laptop hundreds of feet, to 1.5 miles away, would need to be along the beam of his fontenna, at the same elevation, and need a similar antenna to transmit back. Also, the buildings in his area would probably cause a problem due to the Fresnel Effect.

Here are the range of hotspots which Martin Varsavsky describes in his video blog. Martin also doesn’t make it clear that La Fontenna is highly directional. If one did not know this, they would think he was describing gigantic *circular* hotspots!

I recieved my promo code for a $2 (+ $5 shipping!) La Fontenna in an email from Fon on June 12. I thought about it for a couple of days, and then ordered it the evening of Thursday, June 14. My La Fontenna arrived by FedEx on the afternoon of June 21, exactly a week later! Not bad at all. It appeared to be shipped from the same outsourcer in Libertyville, IL who shipped my La Fonera.

I had been concerned that my Fontenna might be lost, since the invoice emailed to me showed the wrong zipcode. Fon’s Shop displayed my name and address when I ordered, and asked that I verify or update it, and I did. These corrections were NOT carried forward to the order I was actually making! Fon does not include the shipment tracking number with the invoice, so I opened a ticket on Fon’s HELP page for customer support.

Suprisingly (heh), I did not recieve a response within 24 hours, as Fon promises. Five days later, on June 20, a Fon representative responded with my tracking number and advised me that *I* needed to contact FedEx to resolve the problem. The tracking number was appreciated, and I could see that my package was on it’s way. But when I called FedEx, they told me that it is the *sender* who is the only one who they could accept an address correction from. Fon needs to update their procedures, and contact Brightstar US, Inc. directly, and then send the customer a resolution notice!

About the Tests

For each of 6 tests, I kept my laptop in exactly the same positon on my front porch, in exactly the same orientation. I was careful to avoid coming too close to it, or to stand between it and the La Fonera. I chose to move the Fon hotspot instead of my laptop because the object was to see how well my personal experience benefeited. This is where my laptop would usually be. My laptop runs Windows XP SP2, and my wifi card is a Proxim Orinoco Gold ABG PCMCIA card, which has a reputation for providing particuarly accurate signal strength measurements.

Admittedly, this was not a truely scientific test. I didn’t try a multitude of positions or use professional testing instruments. I attempted to make it as “real life” as possible. I do think my tests were very reasonable, given the fact that there were probably fewer obstacles for the wifi signal than average at my house.

When attaching the reflector and La Fontenna, I made certain they were pointed directly toward my laptop. La Fonera’s stock dipole antenna was carefully positioned fully-extended and upright. The stock antenna creates a torus (doughnut) shaped pattern, with the antenna in the center. The reflector focuses half of this torus in one direction, producing a sort of teardrop shape, and the Fontenna is supposed to create a large circular lobe with the antenna at one edge, and a much smaller lobe produced just behind it.

La Fontenna Technical Specifications

From Fon’s online shop:
Frequency Range: 2400 MHz 2500 MHz
Antenna gain-without cable: 7 dBi
Antenna gain-with cable: 6.5 dBi
VSWR 2.0: 1 Max.
Polarization: Linear, vertical
Impedance: 50 O
Temperature: -10 C to +55 C
Connector: R/P SMA PLUG
Cable: ULA168,L = 3M

Indoor Test

For this test, my La Fonera was inside the house, near the opposite corner from the porch where my laptop was placed. It hung 6 feet (just under 2 meters) above the floor. The house is wood-frame, and the only obstacle of any note is the stove in the kitchen, which may cause a slight Fresnel Effect on the wifi signal. The signal passed through my bedroom door, the central wall, and the kitchen window behind my seat on the porch.

In the NetStumbler screen shots below, the “A” section is the signal using La Fonera’s stock 3-4db antenna, “B” is the stock antenna enchanced with a single “Windsurfer” reflector, like I have blogged about before, and “C” is using La Fontenna.

The signal seemed strong at first, then dropped 8db for some reason. This also occurred with my neighbor’s wifi signal on the same channel at the same time. I was unable to convince La Fonera to change channels (my Linksys was unaffected on ch 6), and subsequent tests showed even poorer reception. My guess is that something nearby had cooincidently just begun to generate interference, and continued until I was out of time to perform new tests.

The result is that indoors, La Fontenna performs somewhat better than the stock dipole antenna, but only slightly better than the reflector, and seems to suffer more “dropouts”.

Outdoor Test

There is an empty lot across from my house, and since I use an electric mower and trimmer, I chose to run an extension cord across the street and all the way to the rear of the property. This was about 120 feet (36 meters). The La Fonera and La Fontenna were suspended 8 feet (2.5 meters) in the air, in direct line-of-sight of my laptop.

I performed the same three tests. The result is that outdoors, La Fontenna performs noticably better than the stock dipole antenna, but worse than the reflector, and also suffered more dropouts.

Conclusion

I was sincerely disappointed in the results I got. Either I have a defective Fontenna, or there is considerably more than .5db of loss in that 3 meter antenna lead!

Perhaps La Fontenna was worth $7 to me, since I was looking forward to performing these geeky tests, and blogging about it for other’s benefeit. But it performed only marginally better than the Windsurfer reflector I built, which cost me nothing at all. I honestly would not recommend paying $19.95 (plus $5 shipping) for it, but I might pay an extra $2 for it with the purchase of a new La Fonera, as offered in Fon’s Shop, in case it solves some kind of installation problem.

I urge Fon to retire this flaccid device, and instead offer a $19.95 kit comprising a waterproof case to mount the La Fonera into, with an embedded flat-panel antenna on a *short* cable, and a built-in Power over Ethernet (PoE) adapter, so that La Fonera’s 5v DC and network connection can be sent together down a long Ethernet cable. We can buy 100 foot Ethernet cables here for the same price as La Fontenna, which is both cheaper and more flexible than 100 feet of antenna cable. With such a kit, we would not need to worry about running AC power to within 3m of the access point, and where to stash the AC/DC adapter.

If anyone would like to discuss my tests, or even suggest some additional ones, please comment below! ;)

Addition: Check out Marshall’s blog for a La Fontenna unboxing!

0 Responses to La Fontenna Review

  1. Roetzen says:

    Sorry that you are disappointed in the Fontenna, but when I read the specs, I saw this coming. The 0.5 dB cable loss is totally unrealistic. For my oudoor antenna I use Aircell 10, which is 10mm in diameter and has a foam dielectric. It has a 0.2 db/m loss at 2400 MHz. So even that thick low loss cable has more loss than FON claims for the Fontenna cable. At best the cable used for the Fontenna is something like Aircell 7 (0.4db/m at 2.4 GHz) and at worst it is RG58 like (1 db/m at 2.4 GHz) And at 3 dB loss in the cable, it starts looking like a placebo doesn’t it?

    A well conducted experiment though, chapeau for that.

  2. austintx says:

    The 3 meter cable is colored white, and is stamped “168 50 O”. Fon’s tech specs page says it is “ULA168,L” cable with 50 O Impedance. From what the gain calculators i’ve found online have told me, the cable is not likely to be the source of the problem (if properly assembled). It would seem that the antenna is simply weak. 🙁

  3. Dan says:

    I can only agree… I got a free Fontenna, got it home, plugged it in, aimed it out of the window of my third floor flat, and then went wandering around the street outside. I’d aimed it down at a crossroads about 60-70m away, where I can normally get a weak signal from the Fonera. I’ve also got a Netgear WGR614 that is quite strong down there. With the Fontenna plugged in, I didn’t even get a sniff. The Netgear was still strong though. I’ve been meaning to do some more thorough testing and see if FON will replace it to try another…

  4. Dan says:

    one would argue that an antenna will bring real coverage and exposure to their hotspot BUT, if all that was needed was a simple passive antenna like the Fontenna, major operators would be slumping us in wonderful wifi beams to feed our online hunger. that’s clearly not happening.

    the fontenna will simply work nicely in my case where i’d like to polarize my coverage alongside a boulevard and not in a circle. granted, that would be only in one direction and for sure not satisfying to hotspot clients as laptops can not communicate the same strech the antenna does. two fontennas aimed at one-another is a whole different story.

    dan
    http://wirelessisfun.com

  5. austintx says:

    I added a link to Marshall’s blog for unboxing photos. Am I the only one who has noticed how La Fontenna looks sort of like a Claymore Mine?

  6. steven says:

    what’s so special about marshall’s pictures?
    still no one that opened his “claymore mine”? 🙂

  7. marshall says:

    @steve: That’s what my wife asked! Of course, if it doesn’t involve a shoulder massage, she’s not terribly interested.

    @all: My fontenna sits about 2 inches away from my fonera, so I was pondering opening it up, trimming the cord, and mounting the two together somehow to make it look a little cleaner. Anyone willing to help me out with some knowledge concerning which cable lengths would still get the signal across properly? (Maybe cable length isn’t an issue, but I used to sit next to a HAM radio guy who talked for a loooong time once about the importance of cable length on signal quality, so I thought I should at least ask).

  8. […] Till I get my own oppinion (read other good reviews at ElFonBlog’s for example) will share some unboxing pics below. […]

  9. Anonymous says:

    […] Respecto al analisis besico que Martin realize de la Fontenna, austintx, uno de los foneros mas activos y criticos en los foros en ingles, rebate el analisis de Martin, obteniendo resultados muy similares a los de la Fontenna utilizando la antena que lleva la Fonera junto a un reflector. […]

  10. […] Respecto al análisis básico que Martín realizó de la Fontenna, austintx, uno de los foneros más activos y críticos en los foros en inglés, rebate el análisis de Martín, obteniendo resultados muy similares a los de la Fontenna utilizando la antena que lleva la Fonera junto a un reflector. […]

  11. cinnamongirl says:

    Most interesting. I have been getting no enhancement whatsoever, and am waiting for my replacement Fonera+ to retest it. So methinks that mine must be faulty given what I have read. As you said, at 2Euros, you don’t mind, but you do expect it to do what it says it will do. I too get this drop in signal strength after connection, but with both the Fontenna and the attached supplied aerial ! So I cannot help but wonder if the drop in signal is more to do with a problem in the Fontera+ rather than the fontenna. Just my bit of mulling.
    Thanks… willl keep an eye on your blogs now.

  12. Enrico says:

    Apparently the fontenna is not doing a very good job at focussing the signal. I fond on a italian website the instructions to buld a similiar one and a how-to dissassemble it and solder a better cable (which allergedly helped recovering a pair of dbi). But for 2€ each you can’t be too picky.

  13. austintx says:

    I agree, Enrico. 2€/$ is a great price for this antenna, but the full price of 20 is crazy. Basically, it gives very slightly better reception than the aluminum foil reflector, which costs nothing.

    La Fontenna is useful in case you have a problem positioning your router, since it has the cable and offsets the hotspot to the side, instead of resting in the center of the hotspot.

    As long as Fon sells this little stinker, they will not be putting meshing in the firmware. Martin V says these range-extending antennas are better than meshing, though they don’t even do the same thing.

    I still think, for $20, they should have built a weatherproof box with an embedded antenna and PoE adapters. I would buy a dozen of those at that price. Then, we could mount our Fon routers outside and run data and power over relatively cheap Ethernet cable.