(An much-expanded version of my comment to WiFiNetNews blog by Glenn Fleishman:)
The statistics that Fon throws around are nothing if not misleading, and Fon will make no effort to correct journalists who get confused! Martin has used similar figures as from the NYT article, but attributed them to *different* elements, and I compare them below.
Glenn Fleishman writes that “Non-Foneros” pay for access to the Fon Network’s hotspots, but this is not correct. The Aliens, who do pay for Fon wifi, are registered, and Martin counts them in his figure of 830k Foneros. They’ve registered their email addresses, they’re Foneros. It’s almost as though there was a table of figures “Registered Foneros – Registered Hotspots – Active Hotspots” which got bumped aside one notch in the NYT article! Well-researched indeed!***
NYT uses the figure of 332k as the number of active hotspots, but Martin blogs that figure as being total hotspots ever registered. I also suspect that the figure also includes Linksys and La Fonera routers, which were shipped by Fon but still never registered to join the Fon Network.
Martin’s blog posits the number of “active” hotspots is really only 212k, but by downloading the database of hotspots “POI files” (for use offline to find Fon hotspots), the total number of hotspots only comes to 198,366!* This “number” also disagrees with the figure provided by FrancoFON’s surveys (see below), but neatly comes almost perfectly in alignment if it includes non-reciprocative (they can hop on Fon’s Network, but no arrangement is made for Foneros to hop on theirs) “partner” hotspots hosted by Neuf, Livedoor, BT and others.
Examining these POI files shows that they are filled with hundreds, probably thousands of “junk” entries with fake addresses and impossible coordinates (like the North Pole). Though the blame here lies with Foneros who lied about their real personal data, it is Fon’s responsibility to weed them out. Additionally, Foneros have been complaining that the POI files still contain hotspots which no longer appear on the Fon Map, due to extreme length of inactivity.
Going further, a cursory examination of Fon’s Map shows that a signifigant percentage of the hotspots featured there are offline (ringed with grey). Foneros have also reported that their “offline” icons remain on the map for months after they have turned off their Fon hotspots. Clearly, Fon cannot be trusted to provide accurate numbers of online/offline hotspots, but FrancoFON polls Fon’s database directly and has determined that there are really only 96,170** online hotspots worldwide! That makes 37% of all Fon hotspots offline (Fon POI) or 45% offline (FrancoFON).
Last, but not least, just because a hotspot is “online” does not mean that it is accessible to the public. Most Fon hotspots are in people’s homes where the range may barely reach the street, or not. Even then, the street is an awkward place to sit and browse the web. Many Foneros reported that they could not connect to any of their neighbor’s hotspots, and could rarely even detect them.
Sadly, Fon does not motivate Foneros to place their hotspots in useful locations. The kickbacks for Linus/Bill Foneros (free worldwide roaming, 1/3 of daypass sales) just don’t happen often enough. Foneros who pull their hotspots down do not feel that they have lost something. In fact, they may feel relieved, and more secure from evildoers. In the English Fon Forum, we Foneros are currently discussing ways to display a public success-rating for Fon hotspots, but we doubt Fon will add such a feature when it will surely reveal bad news.
Many remaining Foneros are frustrated that Martin and Fon continue to pursue “partnerships” with major telcos. We don’t share Fon’s enthusiasm because these deals do not include anything for us. Martin grants free access to our hotspots to these “partners” as incentive, and this whittles away what remains of our profit opportunities.
Fon is charging ahead into new territory, (some of which isn’t even wifi related – but still sustained by Fon funds) and left unfinished business with the Fon Community. Fon has abandoned the repair of long-existing shortcomings and flaws in our firmware, security, hotspot management interfaces, customization options and profit-sharing terms. This makes us feel that we are taken for granted, and that Fon is more interested in selling the company than in keeping their promise to us to lead the “biggest” and best wifi-sharing community in the world.
* as of May 19
** as of May 21
*** ADDITION: In Martin’s latest blog entry today, he explicitly states that “People who are not Foneros (we call them Aliens) will be able to access Comstar-FON’s network using pre-paid cards, SMS or the usual options available on our captive portal.” Yet, in Martin’s recent blog about Fon’s statistics, he CLEARLY counts all email-registered Aliens as Foneros to reach the sum of 830,000. This includes all of those unverified crap email addresses which the leeches made up to get free 15 minute trial connections each day. Doesn’t it occur to him that, if the only way to become a Fonero is to register a Fon hotspot, then there would really be fewer than 332,000 Foneros (his figure for all Fon hotspots ever registered)? Some Foneros have more than one router, so the number of Foneros would logically always be less than the number of all registered Fon hotspots. 😉