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Fon Flirts With Fonera FonPod Outdoor Router

Note: I meant to post this over the weekend, but I had to wait for issues with my bloghost to clear up.

After three years of intense demand, Fon CEO Martin Varsavsky is featuring a no-promises, not-in-production weatherized Fonera in his blog. This is perhaps out of envy for Meraki’s recent publicity for their tiny meshing APs and rugged solar-powered routers.

Here is Fon’s current concept of an outdoor wifi appliance:

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This device does not currently have an official name, but I like to call it “Fonera FonPod”. Isn’t that catchy? 🙂

I’m not wild about the design of this enclosure as presented. It’s a flattened box, about 50% larger than La Fonera 2. It seems large enough to house a flat-panel antenna, but that does not appear to be what Fon has in mind. The box splits vertically into front and back halves, and is held together with 10 visible screws. The front would appear to be white plastic with a honeycomb pattern which we have never seen associated with Fon until now. It’s probably another company’s production model with a “Fon” sticker pasted to the front. 😉

The top of the case has an antenna jack, and the bottom appears to have a compression port for admitting cables through an airtight seal. This would make FonPod the first Fonera which has the antenna opposite the cables. All previous models have had jacks and antennas together along the rear, making installation anywhere but a table or shelf awkward. Suprisingly, the rear of the enclosure appears to have three additional connections for WAN, LAN(!) and Power. These connections don’t appear to be weather-resistant, and if these are on the rear, the bottom connection becomes a mystery.

The appearance of LAN suggests that the Fonera inside is based on the Plus or 2.0 models. While a LAN jack would seem pointless for a device that will be installed in remote places, it might be useful for passing an Ethernet connection through to additional equipment, like another AP or a networked security camera. Availability of a USB jack would be useful for similar reasons, and probably enable the use of much cheaper hardware. I’ve been advocating the marketing of Fon routers to metro wifi and building managements for this reason. A simple instrument package could be plugged into such extra ports to provide traffic cams, triangulate gunshots and report weather and smog conditions. That added value could make Fon more attractive than Meraki for some large and wealthy markets.

Bear in mind that the device Fon proposes is still a router, not an access point. This is sort of overkill for the kind of work it will be doing. Let us pray that the LAN port is finally bridged, instead of senselessly NAT’ted. Fon would benefeit by outgrowing their tendancy to repurpose existing products by merely rewrapping them.

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The back of the case has some exposed mounting studs, apparently used to attach the hardware within, and the backplate dips up and down along the seam where other screws ring the perimeter. It would seem that the halves are clamped around a very large, vertically aligned gasket, and the plastic half is rather soft. Those screws are going to rust very quickly, and that sort of gasket is just not practical for long, leakproof life. There appears to be some mounting hardware inside the shipping box, but it is hard to tell whether FonPod must be attached to a pipe, a flat surface, or either. Since there is a (?)7dbi omnidirectional dipole antenna included, this mounting hardware probably does not provide pivoting azimuth for pointing a directional antenna.

I’d like to take a crack at designing a better enclosure, so here are some of my thoughts. For some of my inspiration, see the below photos of an actual ClearWire wireless broadband device deployed in markets like nearby Corpus Christi TX. Only twice the size of La Fonera 2, it is based on technology similar to WiMax, which will soon replace it. This particular device isn’t for outdoors, but rather sits vertically on a desk or shelf with one side facing the ClearWire tower. It integrates a large flatpanel antenna with a network device in the same package, and the case is basically a deep sleeve into which the electronics slide from below. If it was possible to seal this and make all connections through the bottom, it would make a decent outdoor enclosure.

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My concept of Fonera FonPod is an enclosure designed to resemble a 2x scale La Fonera Plus. It has an internal flatpanel antenna like Fontenna, and ships with Power over Ethernet (PoE) adapters. The mounting bracket should permit installation upon either vertical wall or pole, and feature adjustable angle of elevation. The case should be manufactured as a seamless PVC shell with the bottom having the only opening, through a recessed partition.

The partition would have a fitting to allow passage of 1-2 cables through a seal. The partition would have a gasket around it’s perimeter, and would have a framework mounted to it’s inner side. All internal components would be mounted to that framework so that they all slide in and out as though in a drawer.

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A standard La Fonera 1/+/2 would simply be inserted inside and attached to internal cables.

An optional kit would consist of a holder for a dozen or so standard rechargeable batteries, and include a simple voltage regulator, so that Fonera FonPod might be powered by sun or wind.

FonPod II, which might be a WiMax FonPod, would look nearly identical, but the flat panel antenna would be aimed at the WiMax base station and there would be a dipole wifi antenna pointing down from the bottom, or there could be a second flat panel antenna connected with a cable.

So, what do you folks think? Add your comments below, and feel welcome to include links to pics or diagrams of your own.

0 Responses to Fon Flirts With Fonera FonPod Outdoor Router

  1. Roetzen says:

    I think it is just another one of Martin’s Castles In The Air. Any HAM who ever experimented with outdoor amplifiers will confirm that Martin’s contraption won’t last through winter.

    You suggestions for an outdoor enclosure OTOH are worthwhile. It looks technically sound.

    That said: FON’s idea of building a world wide WiFi network by building a community of volunteers that maintain the hotspots and provide bandwidth has basically failed. Lack of coverage is still FON’s main deficiency. I think it is too late in the game now to catch up. Competition on the broadband market is fierce. Providers are giving away free wireless routers with new contracts. As a result the market is approaching saturation and not only that: it is next to impossible to find a free channel anywhere in build up areas. WiFi was never designed for anything other than short range. Extending range is possible with outdoor equipment, but unless one not only has a clear view but a clear channel as well, performance will remain poor compared to other technologies that are now emerging.

    Several European providers are now offering G3 at competitive pricing. With the difference over FON that they have good availablility. FON’s “largest WiFi network” was never more than vapourware and now it is left behind by new technology.

  2. austintx says:

    Air Castles? Can I get a discount code for that? 😀

    Fon is glad to take the lion’s share of any sales made at a Fonero’s hotspot, but they really make profit selling the proprietary routers. Thus, Fon makes their profit up front, and then could care less what happens to the router and Fonero after that. This means Fon is no longer motivated to succeed at selling wifi and assisting Foneros to improve coverage. Fon’s financial security has been divorced from that of the Foneros!

    This isn’t the whole reason why they’re failing, but it is the main reason they’re not trying hard to succeed. 🙁

    If I were selling routers for my own Worldwide Network, I would give the members ALL profit collected until they recover the cost of the hardware bought from me. Since my success would be tied to their success, I would not abandon them after banking my entitlement money.

    I lament the rise of 3G data services. While coverage is very good, and bandwidth is acceptable, there are too many catches. Several people using the same tower for data means available bandwidth plumments. Prices are still sky-high despite $100/mo “unlimited” service plans, and the bandwidth caps and other useage restrictions are Draconian. There is simply no way to provide decent wireless data connections to many people at once via 3G.

    If the public abandons wifi for 3G, they’ll also get used to the idea that it is “fair” to pay extra for exceeding their ration of bandwidth with their poor, dear ISP. ISPs don’t want to sink a penny into expanding their networks, especially when they can make an even larger margin by maintaining false shortages so they can raise prices!

    Wifi is going to be old tech by the time Fon ceases operating at a loss, but I pray that wimax delivers, because 3G is an expensive, mind-altering trap.

  3. drummerdude says:

    just remembered my idea for an outdoor fonera. I call it “fonware” (i took this image who knows how long ago) http://i62.photobucket.com/albums/h113/bikerdude08/DSC00584.jpg

  4. serafini says:

    Sorry for my English…

    Very interesting project (your project…)!
    The “Fonera FonPod” does not seem very innovative, many Fonera fans have made best containers to place the Fonera outside.
    Entering a Fonera standard in the container would certainly make some benefit: you buy only the necessary options (Fonera, Outside case, POE adaptor, Fontenna, etc).
    I think that best model for Fonera is with this connectors: 1 for power , 2 for ethernet, 1 for USB and 2 connector for antennas (with diversity), which manages mesh networks.
    Absorbing energy with POE and provide through the USB socket could power some small peripheral (perhaps a husb USB and get the ability to handle 2 webcam with greater visibility without the need to buy a camera with Pan / Tilt).
    Can recharge a battery through USB.
    Create a hotspot with turistic information stored on a USB key for phone/netbook with Wifi…
    But I think that a modular system is better than a single component…

  5. HumbleDestroyer says:

    Don’t Forget PoE!! It should have it. End of story.

  6. FathomsDown says:

    Personally I’d rather nail a turkey to my wall; it would look less silly and probably have a better range. Although these devices may offer slightly better range than the standard Fonera they still doesn’t address the central issue, people’s homes are in the suburbs as are their Foneras but most WiFi coverage is needed where people need to work.

    Ho hum.

  7. gieseir says:

    Install NeoRouter server for Fonera+ (FON2201)