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The Five Stages of a Fon e-Movement

Preface: So the reader understands, the following is a summary of changes in direction which Fon has gone through since conception. This is not a parody nor wish-list. You may not have been aware of some of these former lives of Fon, but you can verify everything with your favorite search engine.

Stage 1) Distribute free Fon hotspot-for-VOIP-handset software, and build a community of volunteers who will run it on dedicated PCs, so that the public can save money on voice calls wherever such a (ad-hoc) Fon hotspot can be found. These are comparable to today’s femtocells, only they use wifi instead of rebroadcasting cellular frequencies, and are comparable to Fon’s experimental “FonSpot” software which is based on Linux. Fon to openly challenge monopolistic telco companies by selling cheaper services. Fon to profit by reselling Internet bandwidth donated by the volunteers.

Stage 2) Stage 1 plan fails to attract enough press or jump certain legal obstacles. Fon disavows it’s original plans, and remarkets the company as a community of volunteers who run Fon hotspots for PCs, with emphasis on the fairly obligatory “free roaming” feature offered to members. Changes the pronunciation of the company from “phone” to “fawn” and claim that they are named after the North African Fon Ethnic tribe. 😯 Ad-hoc-wifi PC software is dropped, and Fon is retooled as router firmware for popular wifi routers. Distribute free router firmware, and sell a supply of Linksys routers pre-flashed to get things moving. Official Launch of Fon as a Revolution, a Network, and a Community. The populist, community friendly facade permits Fon to attract fans and gloss over shortcomings in their membership terms and business plan. Most adoption takes place among techie hobbyists. The Press applauds.

Stage 3) Stage 2 plan fails to establish sustainable market for wifi sales, and Fon never explores whether it is their terms, their price point, or their chosen market which is at fault. Linksys routers ran out of stock. Product partnerships failed due to Fon’s exaggerated promises, creative alternate definitions and numerous unmentioned conditions. Member churn is high, because the Fon program does not keep their interest* long enough, and the routers are very easy to improve with better firmware (designed by an disgruntled ex-Fon developer). Fon invests literally no resources on the “revolution” or “community” aspects of their network, unless it makes a good soundbyte for the press. After an extended period of inactivity, during which the Fonero Community nearly completely dies away, Fon begins replacing the old open-source routers with a proprietary one. In key areas, a supply of those routers is given away or sold at cost, to encourage rapid growth of the Network. Most adoption now takes place among newbies, people who need a cheap wifi solution but did not read the fine print, and others who are far less likely to be dedicated to something because they weren’t asked to really invest in it. The Press applauds loudly. Fon now to profit from router sales, and by inflating the value of the company for eventual resale.

Stage 4) Stage 3 plan fails to generate sufficient nor permanent network growth. Proprietary routers prove to be hackable, but most owners simply discard them now when they lose interest*. Fonero Community, which Fon has failed to establish a relationship with, and has little influence over, is reaching out to The Press independantly. Foneros have studied and analyzed Fon’s TOS now, and are growing increasingly unhappy. Fon focuses on profitable router sales, and actively conceals statistics which reveal real growth, churn, and actual service availability. Fon diverts resources to non-wifi related gimmicks and side projects, neglecting the usage complaints and bug reports from the members. Fon to perhaps profit from side projects, when they become independant companies, by bleeding Fon for research & development resources, thus saving them expenses.

Stage 5) Fon forges “partnerships” with other wifi networks by granting “free roaming” for their members, to the whole network of Fon hotspots. These roaming agreements are typically one-way, free only for the partners, and the rest are subject to many conditions for the Fon members. “Partner” hotspots are quickly added to Fon’s census to suggest rapid and healthy growth. Everything is marketed as “good for Fon”, as it is suggested that members of the public are more likely to purchase a Fon router of their own if they are aware of the Fon concept. Emphasis is placed on “network growth”, but this is measured primarily by router purchases now. Fon claims to operate openly, but has never revealed statistics on day pass transactions, repeat sales, or membership churn. Fon continues to profit up-front from router sales, and continue to craft clever statistics to make the company seem more healthy. Fon still reports no churn, and the available figures strongly suggest that they are deliberately ignoring it. Fon CEO and Fon PR contradict each other’s growth statistics, but both suggest that Fon will cease operating at a loss by the end of 2009. Fon to profit if there is a buyer after that point?

Fon claims to have gained it’s one millionth “member”, using a brand new definition of such, and stretching that to a rather wide interpretation. Only a small handful of blogs reported this event. The Press at large ignored it.

*Foneros lose interest for various reasons, including: attracting too few customers, being unable to find hotspots to roam onto, unanswered questions about Fon’s legality, doubts about Fon’s security, objections to Fon’s membership and profitsharing conditions, incompatability with Fon’s router hardware/firmware, other hardware failures, discovering that they were unable to expand an existing LAN on a budget as hoped, or other reasons which Fon did not live up to their expectations.

I have left out a few twists and turns, because they either didn’t last very long, or didn’t result in signifigant change in Fon’s growth, method of operation, or culture. It would be an interesting excercise to draw up an academic timeline of Fon events and announcements, with references, and emphasis on points of contradiction. As for La Fonera 2 and Fonosferatu; we shall see. At the moment, I fear that they are just time-killers to make the company look lively until it recovers or gets sold. Fon has time on it’s hands now, and has those expensive La Fonera+’s to unload. The Linksys are gone, the La Fonera 1.x are probably running low, and there are only 1000 La Fonera 2’s. Fon is still relatively idle. Even their directors and developers are starting to wander into the message board now, looking for amusement.

So in a nutshell, Fon has clearly been sailing for a long time without anyone with a firm grip at the helm. The exaggerations and eroding credibility began quite early on. Fon has lost passengers and officers at every port, and Fon’s final destination changed frequently, with little regard for the remaining passengers. Fon hopes to pay for the cruise by selling the passenger’s belongings, and eventually the ship. 🙁

Interestingly, Fon CEO Martin Varsavsky has begun to carefully admit that Fon isn’t doing so well these days. He’s blaming it on the pending economic collapse, of course. However, we know that Fon has been showing signs of floundering and rebooting for a long time now. The layoffs Martin frequently mentions in the present-tense actually happened months ago. If the economy was strong, Fon would be doing just as bad, but still pretending things were rosy.

0 Responses to The Five Stages of a Fon e-Movement

  1. drummerdude says:

    good stuff. Do you think Martin will see this?

  2. austintx says:

    Who can say? This blog gets web hits from many readers in Spain, New York, and from various anonymous proxies. It’s too time-consuming to try to figure out who is likely who. I honestly have little idea who my audience actually is.

    Martin is welcome to comment, of course. I look forward to receiving something more persuasive than indignation and blunt denials. 😉

    For the time being, I watch with interest as Stage 6 gets underway. Would anyone like to guess how that transpires?

  3. Tobias Bluhme says:

    What’s your point?

    FON works for me. I have free internet access when I’m on business or holiday travels (it works!). I receive PayPal payments from time to time from my La Fonera (it works!). I have neither paid for my La Fonera nor for my La Fontenna.

    Why should it matter to me if Martin exaggerates or not? Why should it matter to me if it’s 1 million foneros, half a million or a mere 100.000? Why should it matter to me if a partnership turns out to work or not to work?

    The clear fact is that FON works.

    Btw: Please order your time line. At the time the FonSpot software was announced, a La Fonera happily did its job in my home.

  4. austintx says:

    Tobias, thank you for your thoughts. I am glad to hear that Fon meets or exceeds your personal expectations, but I am not so cynical as you, to accept their deceit, revisionism and other misbehaviour as “business as usual”. We were invited to join Fon with the promise that it would be an entirely different experience. We were also promised that we would have much more active roles in the Fon Movement.

    We Foneros are part of a Community. We feel a responsibility to look out for each other and to be aware of what is, and is not good for us as a whole. Historically, Fon has not lived up to our expectations. However, for some of us, we have made such an investment in Fon, that we would rather keep working on it, than to abandon Fon and start over with some other start-up.

    About FonSpot: this is an excellent example of why 3rd party archives like this blog are necessary to really understand what has gone on with Fon. Joiku FonSpot is really the third time Fon has introduced software like this, and actually the second time they’ve used the name “FonSpot”. Joiku FonSpot is really just JoikuSpot with a Fon “theme” applied to it. Joiku will customize their flexible software for any company.

    Fon previously offered experimental, OSX and Linux-based software by that EXACT same name, which essentially did the same thing as the Joiku software, except using a PC instead of a cell phone. Links here: http://elfonblog.fondoo.net/?page_id=114

    And, as the first paragraph in this blog post describes, Fon originally intended to distribute software to run on dedicated PCs, not router firmware, which would create Fon hotspots in ad-hoc mode. Fon hotspots were intended for VOIP handsets, not PCs, and would function essentially like today’s femtocells, using wifi hardware instead of cellular.

  5. PJMDS says:

    Stage 6) FON sells La Fonera 2.0 without any of the announced features hoping that the community developers can build them.
    Martin continues not listening to the community, they raise prices to strangely high values above the competition, FON now is expensive and many of their costumers (Aliens) use another service that’s cheap, secure and with more coverage.
    FON continues to loose income and active hotspots, people lose interest on the fonera 2.0, FON cuts again their staff, no need to pay the developers,
    a few months later FON just disappears.

    The end

  6. austintx says:

    LOL! Not with a bang, but a whimper?
    OK, anyone have other predictions?
    We’ll revisit this blog entry in time. 😉

  7. PJMDS says:

    “LOL! Not with a bang, but a whimper?”

    Yep, by that time no one will care about FON, all the foneras will be running dd-wrt with all the promised features and even more, Martin will start another “successful thing” unless he decides to announce La Fonera 3.0 with 1000 new features to be released 2 years after just like he did with La Fonera 2.0 😛

    AustinTX what happened to whisher ? are they still in business ?
    I visited their blog and it seems a litle abandoned 😮

  8. austintx says:

    Whisher is going to release a new version soon. They are working on making it as compatible as possible, and adding functionality to cooperate with many hotspot networks. I have my fingers crossed about VPN client and virtual Ethernet LAN functionality, but i’m not holding my breath, either. 😀

    My favorites, Hamachi and iPig, are free and allready available.

  9. […] cel putin asa prezice un blogger texan (vezi aici an engleza si aici o traducere an lb. romana facuta automat de Google Translate), care a […]

  10. exFonero says:

    Austin, what do YOU think personally. Will FON die soon? Thx!

  11. austintx says:

    Let’s ask ourselves what the criteria and threshold of “life” is, and then compare it to Fon.

    Is a company “alive” when it 6ells it’s territories to other companies, which then subjects it’s former customers to new TOS?

  12. FathomsDown says:

    I must admit I’m becoming more are more cynical about Fon and its future. It seems that it has no direction and its directors are casting about to try and find it a future.

    I joined Fon in the early days and my interest in has almost completely tailed off so imagine my surprise when, remembering to pop along to the Fon blog, I saw the information on La Fonera 2.0. My first thought was “WTF? Are they trying to kid themselves or the dev community?”. Yes, I really can’t see any benefit the device could possibly bring and the possibilities listed in the comical video are all addressed by ultra-portable machines and even mobile phones.

    So yes, I think that the part six option is pretty spot on. However, you seem to have missed “Fon announce that they have attracted 500,000 developers to the Fon dev community”, “Fon announce that another great app is about to be released from the dev community which makes them even more money”. “Martin announces that the Fonera 2.0 can now be used as a defibrillator/is able to feed orphaned kittens/darn socks and that Foneros are important members of their community”, etc. 😉

  13. austintx says:

    …Any kittens fed by La Fonera 2.0 automatically become members of the “Fon Community”. We’re growing! We’re GROWING! 😀

  14. PJMDS says:

    Their great CEO is more interested in politics than in FON, just take a look at http://english.martinvarsavsky.net , I wonder what’s the main agenda, maybe he wants to be president of something successful 😉

    They killed FON with the new prices, not even the F2.0 will save them this time, the F2.0 comes 2 years late and still without the promised features, even the hardware is old and slow, we can buy much better hardware.

    I can’t understand how they expect the Atheros AR2315 @ 180MHz to handle the basic features and many more, just keep dreaming, it will never
    function properly as one FON_Hotspot and torrent client at the same time, the old fonera already struggles to keep 3 clients connected.

    I wonder what am I still doing here talking about FON, it could be the greatest project but it turned out the greatest desilusion thanks to dumb
    decisions, I wonder if they use homeless people to get such crazy ideas,
    “lets make a router with 1000001 features but without the hardware or software to handle them”

    Best regards

  15. austintx says:

    Martin can find a new topic to pagerank his blog, now that the USA elections are over. 😛

    I’ll be extremely suprised if Fon starts selling a “regular” LF2. Martin predicts that Fon will cease operating at a loss by the end of 2009. This is really just a clue about how long the pay-to-join “beta testing” of LF2 will be stretched out. By the end of 2009, Fon will have finished selling control of it’s hotspots (and Foneros) in various regions to other wifi networks and ISPs, as it has been doing. Anything left will then be sold at fire-sale prices.

    I agree with you that the anemic La Fonera router shouldn’t be burdened with all sorts of functions which are outside of the focus of a Social WiFi Community. This is the same router which Fon still won’t give vital features which every other router has, like MAC cloning or bridge-to-WAN!

    As far as i’m concerned, LF2 should simply get an remote USB-over-Ethernet daemon, and development of myriad USB drivers can simply cease.

  16. PJMDS says:

    austintx I was expecting more news from the communities like freewlan and francofon after the release of the F2.0 for developers, those communities seem to be uninterested on the F+ and F2.0 or do you think that they don’t have permission from FON to develop the addons ? what’s going on ?

  17. austintx says:

    PJ: The FreeWLAN developers appear to do most of their work during academic breaks or holidays. There is already an pre-release version of FreeWLAN for the LF+, but you must ask them for it. They have found that the LF+ is very different from the LF1x, so they are not able to port their code as easily as hoped.

    Both FreeWLAN and FrancoFon are focused on improving the administration features of the La Fonera, so they are more focused about Fon than even Fonosferatu. Fonosferatu seems to be more about developing drivers for USB humping dogs (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI-pct3zy18) and vegetable slicers. I don’t think FreeWLAN developers will abandon their project for it.

    Anyone willing to pony up the money can become a LF2 “developer” (beta tester?) while the limited supply of 1000 LF2s last. 😉

  18. PJMDS says:

    Thanks for the tip, I wont ask them for a version for my F+, I prefer to wait for a stable version to come out, right now dd-wrt is more stable and full of useful features 😉

    “fonosferatu” lol , they really seem to be developing crazy things instead of improving the firmware, it’s like building a house on mud 😀

    Regarding the beta tester thing, I was very disappointed for the second time, it seems that the definition of beta tester is different for FON, other companies test first before selling the devices but FON does the opposite, it happened with F+ and with F2.0, now they expect us to pay for F2.0, no fk way I will spend more money or time on FON 🙁

    Best regards and thanks

  19. exFonero says:

    Help me nothing but blablabla…. in CEO BLOG Mr. Jordi keeps on the good pr:

    @fonero, you are going to like this one (http://fon.gs/ZONFONOurique), Portugal is growing at an incredible path and even creating density projects in Lisbon’s city center for all of us Foneros visiting that amazing city. Regarding Russia (http://fon.gs/ReutersComstarFON) already thousands of devices with FON are being sent to Russia and logistics for deployment have already started and don’t have any doubts, Comstar is the BEST partner we could ever dream to have in Russia. Moreover, even I cannot disclose yet, I can tell you our teams are busier than ever with several FON ISP implementations in different countries all over the world. Keep in mind that, because FON means modification on CPE firmware and backend systems, the implementation process is not as simple as a software download but, at the same time, a Fonera, a FON Friendly BT Hub, a Comstar CPE FON Friendly or any X-ISP FON Friendly box is of much more value to all of us Foneros than a software on a notebook.
    Jordi – FON

    But this is NO REAL CONTENT: Meanwhile big friends (all people who make profits are HIS friends until they are loosers… 🙂 ) of martin are struggling. seesmic and spanish mobbuz.tv .. it will exactly die @ midnight

  20. austintx says:

    I have to agree that I am stunningly unimpressed when Fonexecutives tell us they are so very busy, doing so many things; but they “can’t tell us about them wink-wink”.

    It’s a slap in the face when they expect their breathless hints about expanded corporate prostitution will please the disenfranchised Fonero Community. We were promised an entirely different Movement when we joined. We have been participating and supplying our resources for a Revolution, and now we find ourselves being fed wholesale to the corporate bastards whom we aspire to replace. >:(

  21. PJMDS says:

    There’s a funny blog entry and comment at Martin eng blog:

    “Posted in http://english.martinvarsavsky.net/internet-technology/the-wifi-world-is-grateful-to-steve-jobs.html#comments
    by Martin Varsavsky – November 11, 2008 6:13 pm – #

    @ andy w:

    It is not sarcastic. Yes, I had a tough meeting with Steve Jobs and I found him very hard to deal with, but he is the most innovative CEO on the planet and I really mean it when I say that the WiFi world is greateful to him.”

    I think that Steve researched about FON in the web and found out that it would be a huge waste of money to make some kind of deal with FON, I would love to see all details about the meeting, what was Martin plan and what did Steve said to him 🙂

    Regarding the creation of density projects in Lisbon’s city center for all of us Foneros, good luck standing in the streets with your mobile phone or laptop, there are many thieves here that appreciate easy targets, this days we got very high criminal activity, not even the police is safe.

  22. Roetzen says:

    It appears that we are now at the dawn of stage six. The latest frimware (RC4) for the Fonera 2 has an option to disable FON sharing. That disables the heartbeat, the chillispot and the public SSID. So it is turned into an oridinary Wireless router. Is it a coincidence that his happened shortly after FON lost a law suit in Germany that might mean the end of aliens buying FON WiFi tickets? I would not be surprised if RC5 has FON sharing turned off by default, starting in Germany.

    Stage 6: FON drops the FON community concept and starts selling routers that no longe support FON sharing.