If this were a live FonBar, you would log in to the hotspot through the form above.

Meeting Ex-Foneros

September 29, 2008

or “I See Dead Foneros”

This is a digest of the thread I started in Fon’s English Board.

There are about 102 Fon hotspots within the Austin, TX metro area. I recently noticed that nearly every Fon hotspot in the south side of the city is now dead, so on Saturday, 9/20 I took a bike tour of dead hotspots to see if I could lend some assistance, or aquire some unwanted routers:

(Click image for full size popup)

I really wanted to do this earlier, but it has been an unbearably hot summer in ATX. I made it a priority when I saw the sudden loss of so many hotspots at once. There is another cluster of dead hotspots I could visit across the freeway East of me, but those are mostly apartments with transient students. Probably not worth the effort. I did not bring a laptop or wifi detector with me. Perhaps I will survey the remaining live hotspots another time.

Half of the hotspot profiles from Fon’s Maps displayed “kasdfgdflkasdf” addresses, or had valid addresses which should not have placed them on this side of town. These were skipped, of course.

Two hotspots were at apartment buildings, and one person was not at home, but I left fliers for them to contact me. The apartment dwellers hadn’t actually indicated their door numbers, so I left the fliers on public bulletin boards. They haven’t gotten in touch with me in 7 days, so I don’t think they ever will.

I did meet 3 very nice people, and had chats with them about Fon. All of the Foneros needed a moment to remember what “a Fon hotspot” was when I asked them about it. I let them know immediately that I was not a Company Representative, just a neighbor. This made them visibly less apprehensive. 😀

My closest Fonero neighbor never used wifi, but had left her router plugged in. She didn’t know it was dead. It needed to be reset, and the hotspot came back on the map. Today, I noticed that her hotspot is dead again, and it’s position on the map has been moved well away from her house. Her address has also been erased from the profile. It appears that she doesn’t want to meet any more Foneros. 🙁

One man said that he unplugged his router because no Aliens ever visited it, and his girlfriend no longer needed it for her laptop. He said it was now in storage, but he would consider passing it on if he found it. He also believed that it was causing some kind of conflict with his LAN, but wasn’t able to recall further details. They now have a U-Verse DSL modem with integrated wifi.

The other man said that someone was leeching so much bandwidth from him, that he had to pull the cord. He had forgotten where the router was, if he still had it, but promised to pass it on if it turned up.

The two men who intentionally quit had totally opposite reasons; hotspot used too much / hotspot not visited at all, so i’m not sure what facts i’ve nailed down for the purposes of my brief investigation. Overall, Foneros simply lose interest in Fon and can quit without feeling like they have lost anything. Nor are there any consequences – in fact, they may feel more secure with the Fon hotspot shut down.

Fon still counts them as active members, unless they email unsubscribe@fon.com, of course. Fon makes money selling merchandise and has a small side business reselling access to other people’s ISP service. I suspect Fon rarely, if ever, refunds money or subtracts dead hotspots and quitted members from their census, so there is little consequence for them, either.

I left everyone my name, phone number and email address. Interestingly, all three of the people I met happened to be DSL customers, and used Macintoshes.

So here’s the results of my investigation:

  • Total Fon hotspots in Austin, TX: about 102 (per Yoshida’s Fon Map)
  • Total active Fon hotspots in ATX: about 14 (per Fon Maps 9/28)
  • Fon hotspots visited: 6
  • Foneros met: 3
  • Assistance provided: 1
  • Routers aquired: 0
  • Net Foneros reactivated: 0

I’ve tried messaging Foneros through the Fon Maps feature, but this does no good because it is not forwarded to their email. It just goes to their “My Fon” bulletin board, which they never see if they have given up on Fon and never log in again.

I’m not sure where to take this forward from here. I could ask my readers what Fon could do to win Foneros back, but why should Fon bother? Fon has their clever numbers, and reserve the right to invent clever definitions. Fon has been maintaining convienient untruths, and probably don’t have the initiative to come clean now. Besides, with Fon in their spam-filters, or free email addresses abandoned, dead Foneros will never receive another ping from the Movement they left behind. The Press won’t even touch Fon now.

I could ask what Foneros could do to win Foneros back, but I don’t want to encourage a gestapo movement, knocking on doors and demanding explanations. I don’t think anyone was upset that I visited them, but there was a moment each time, where I thought I saw them thinking “oh no, I was afraid this would happen”. Noone was interested in rejoining the scene. They were polite, but pointedly disengaged from the subject. The routers were “somewhere, perhaps”, but while noone wanted to use them, neither did they wish to release them.

Possibly, leaders in various cities could publicise campaigns to collect unwanted routers for redistribution, but again, Fon dare not admit that they have any churn or waning momentum. I will redistribute any routers I may eventually collect, but I don’t have the resources to start or maintain anything formal. Perhaps if it was a paid position, I could make it a part-time job on the weekends, eh? 😉

I look forward to your comments.

Download Fon POI Files

May 28, 2008

These links allow you to download Fon POI files directly from Fon, so you don’t have to navigate Fon Maps. Fon builds the files once a week, Mondays at 1:30 AM CST. Fon does not actually generate these files on demand, although the 3-step process one goes through from the Maps implies otherwise.

Update: Sorry, these links no longer work. Fon has removed the POI function entirely -again-. No doubt because they make it so easy to demonstrate and track how Fon’s hotspot population is dwindling. Fon claims they’ll be back “real soon”, and have been saying this since the last quarter of 2011.

This list of links will download .CSV versions, which open in Excel. If you desire .KML, .GPX or .OP2 versions, simply right-click on the country you want, select “copy shortcut” or “copy link location”, then paste into the address bar of your browser. Edit the last three characters in the URL, and hit Enter.

The list starts with the top 20 most populated of 172 Fon countries (on May 26, 2008), with the rest following in alphabetical order, by country code. Again, clicking on the links below DOES provide you with the LATEST POI file for each country.

  1. FR – France
  2. JP – Japan
  3. DE – Germany
  4. ES – Spain
  5. US – United States
  6. IT – Italy
  7. TW – Taiwan
  8. SE – Sweden
  9. KR – South Korea
  10. NL – Netherlands
  11. UK – United Kingdom
  12. HK – Hong Kong
  13. FI – Finland
  14. PT – Portugal
  15. CN – China
  16. AT – Austria
  17. DK – Denmark
  18. BE – Belgium
  19. HU – Hungary
  20. CA – Canada
  21. AC – Ascension island
  22. AD – Andorra
  23. AE – United Arab Emirates
  24. AF – Afghanistan
  25. AL – Albania
  26. AN – Netherlands Antilles
  27. AO – Angola
  28. AQ – Antarctica
  29. AR – Argentina
  30. AS – American Samoa
  31. AU – Australia
  32. AW – Aruba
  33. AX – Iles
  34. AZ – Azerbaijan
  35. BA – Bosnia and Herzegovina
  36. BB – Barbados
  37. BD – Bangladesh
  38. BF – Burkina Faso
  39. BG – Bulgaria
  40. BH – Bahrain
  41. BJ – Benin
  42. BM – Bermuda
  43. BO – Bolivia
  44. BR – Brazil
  45. BS – Bahamas
  46. BT – Bhutan
  47. BY – Belarus
  48. BZ – Belize
  49. CC – Cocos Keeling Islands
  50. CD – Congo
  51. CH – Switzerland
  52. CI – Ivory Coast
  53. CL – Chile
  54. CM – Cameroon
  55. CO – Colombia
  56. CR – Costa Rica
  57. CS – Serbia and Montenegro
  58. CV – Cape Verde
  59. CY – Cyprus
  60. CZ – Czech Republic
  61. DM – Dominica
  62. DO – Dominican Republic
  63. DZ – Algeria
  64. EC – Ecuador
  65. EE – Estonia
  66. EG – Egypt
  67. EH – Western Sahara
  68. ET – Ethiopia
  69. FJ – Fiji
  70. GA – Gabon
  71. GD – Grenada
  72. GE – Georgia
  73. GF – French Guiana
  74. GG – Guernsey
  75. GH – Ghana
  76. GL – Greenland
  77. GP – Guadeloupe
  78. GQ – Equatorial Guinea
  79. GR – Greece
  80. GT – Guatemala
  81. GY – Guyana
  82. HM – Heard and McDonald islands
  83. HN – Honduras
  84. HR – Croatia
  85. HT – Haiti
  86. ID – Indonesia
  87. IE – Ireland
  88. IL – Israel
  89. IM – Man Island
  90. IN – India
  91. IQ – Iraq
  92. IR – Iran
  93. IS – Iceland
  94. JE – Jersey
  95. JM – Jamaica
  96. JO – Jordan
  97. KE – Kenya
  98. KH – Cambodia
  99. KI – Kiribati
  100. KP – North Korea
  101. KW – Kuwait
  102. KY – Cayman Islands
  103. LB – Lebanon
  104. LC – Saint Lucia
  105. LI – Liechtenstein
  106. LT – Lithuania
  107. LU – Luxembourg
  108. LV – Latvia
  109. MA – Morocco
  110. MC – Monaco
  111. MG – Madagascar
  112. MK – Macedonia
  113. ML – Mali
  114. MM – Myanmar
  115. MN – Mongolia
  116. MO – Macao
  117. MQ – Martinique
  118. MT – Malta
  119. MU – Mauritius
  120. MV – Maldives
  121. MX – Mexico
  122. MY – Malaysia
  123. NA – Namibia
  124. NC – New Caledonia
  125. NG – Nigeria
  126. NI – Nicaragua
  127. NO – Norway
  128. NZ – New Zealand
  129. OM – Oman
  130. PA – Panama
  131. PE – Peru
  132. PF – French Polynesia
  133. PG – Papua New Guinea
  134. PH – Philippines
  135. PK – Pakistan
  136. PL – Poland
  137. PR – Puerto Rico
  138. PS – Palestinian Territory
  139. PW – Palau
  140. PY – Paraguay
  141. QA – Qatar
  142. RE – Reunion
  143. RO – Romania
  144. RU – Russian Federation
  145. SA – Saudi Arabia
  146. SG – Singapore
  147. SI – Slovenia
  148. SK – Slovakia
  149. SM – San Marino
  150. SN – Senegal
  151. SO – Somalia
  152. SR – Suriname
  153. SV – El Salvador
  154. SZ – Swaziland
  155. TH – Thailand
  156. TJ – Tajikistan
  157. TN – Tunisia
  158. TR – Turkey
  159. TT – Trinidad and Tobago
  160. UA – Ukraine
  161. UG – Uganda
  162. UY – Uruguay
  163. UZ – Uzbekistan
  164. VC – St Vincent and Grenadines
  165. VE – Venezuela
  166. VI – Virgin Islands
  167. VN – Viet Nam
  168. YE – Yemen
  169. YU – Serbia and Montenegro
  170. ZA – South Africa
  171. ZM – Zambia
  172. ZW – Zimbabwe

NYT Article Flubs FON Statistics

May 28, 2008

(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. 😉


Fon Math 2008 (repost with more info)

May 21, 2008

It’s been over two years since Fon’s Official Launch on Feb 6th, 2006. The two-year anniversary passed without any news or fanfare, besides my own blog post. Today Martin Varsavsky has released some general figures about Fon’s current size, income and expenses. I’m assuming these are worldwide aggregate figures, with no omissions:

  • Total number of registered Foneros: 830,000
  • Total number of registered Fon hotspots: 332,000
  • Number of recently active Fon hotspots: 212,000
  • Fon monthly revenues: €100,000
  • Fon monthly cash burn (forecast): €350,000
  • Fon employees, worldwide, 2 years from launch: 61

Martin hopes to count 300,000 active hotspots by the end of 2008, though He does not say if this includes “partner” network hotspots. He states that cash burn was still €450,000 last month, and expects profitability by the end of 4th quarter, 2009.

It is interesting how Martin describes 61 employees as a good thing – his spin is that “so few” people have managed “so much” progress. However, this just tends to shed some light on Fon’s notably poor customer service. Fon actually had nearly 100 employees last year, and I’ve just learned that Fon is closing their Swedish and Korean offices, reducing staff in France, and firing one of the two USA employees, for a loss of 14 more employees.

The two USA employees are Joanna Reeves, and English Forum Moderator/Official Fon Blogger Steve Ross. This last item is a great concern to us who support the Fonero community through the forums, for Steve has worked hard and been very successful in restoring civility there after the damage caused by that Moderfon person. Gutting the USA staff like this is a surprising and devastating decision, especially since two years ago, the USA became, or almost became, the home of the largest group of Foneros.

Some more interesting facts from Cincodias:

  • Investor financing in 2006: €18M
  • Investor financing in 2007: €10M
  • Investor financing in 2008: €6M

It’s surprising how Martin Varsavsky promises that Fon will continue to grow and succeed, when the last two years, especially the last several months, have seen so many Fon leaders quit by their own decision.

Reprising my blog adventure on Jan 21, 2007, I’ve downloaded the POI files (.CSV format) from maps.fon.com, to compare with today’s new statistics and see how up-to-date they are. The 90 POI files have grown to 172, representing single regions as large as the USA and the Russian Federation, and as small as Ascension Island and Liechtensten! Some places i’ve never heard of, like “Iles” and “Burkina Faso”. “Serbia and Montenegro” is in the list twice; one of those entries actually seems to download the POI of Yugoslavia.

Most of the POI files are 1k or 2k, and opening them up shows they’re mainly just the results of punching in random words and letters when registering routers. This bogus data really should have been edited out years ago, and the POI dropdown list could use some quality control!

It took me a while, but I appended all of the files together as one, and opened it for a record count:

  • Total number of POI indexed hotspots: 198,366 !

Keep in mind that the POI lists still contain many hotspots which no longer appear as icons on the map, due to long periods of inactivity. The map itself contains numerous “inactive spot” icons, which includes hotspots that have been dead for months or years… So even with hundreds or thousands of junk records in the POI, why does it still fall so far short of Martin Varsavsky’s statement of 212,000 active hotspots?!?!?! With no publicly-accessible data to back up Martin’s claims, these numbers are hard to prove credible.


Top 20 Fonero Countries:

  1. 36,366 FR – France
  2. 33,421 JP – Japan
  3. 26,082 DE – Germany
  4. 15,512 ES – Spain
  5. 14,205 US – United States
  6. 12,306 IT – Italy
  7. 11,060 TW – Taiwan
  8. 9,237 SE – Sweden
  9. 6,296 KR – South Korea
  10. 6,494 NL – Netherlands
  11. 4,011 UK – United Kingdom
  12. 3,369 HK – Hong Kong
  13. 2,811 FI – Finland
  14. 2,438 PT – Portugal
  15. 2,496 CN – China
  16. 2,017 AT – Austria
  17. 1,814 DK – Denmark
  18. 1,531 BE – Belgium
  19. 1,199 HU – Hungary
  20. 980 CA – Canada
  • POI/Countries with 1000 or more records: 19
  • 101-999 records: 14
  • 51-100 records: 9
  • 5-50 records: 42
  • 1-4 records:91

It’s perplexing why Fon would reduce staff in France, when this is the largest group of Foneros, why Fon would close Sweden and Korea when they are both in the top 10, and why Fon Russia would get so much recent news when they have only 23 hotspots!

Steve Ross has written me to let me know that his Fon schedule remains full at this time, and he has received no indication that he may be let go. The La Fonera 2 Beta Test has not been cancelled, though Steve says the hardware apparently did not ship as expected yet. Fon has experienced a number of unspecified changes, which Steve feels has addressed some of the most-complained about areas.


I’ve been using a web-spider program to test the age of Fon’s POI files. Though Fon Maps makes downloading the POI a 3-stage process “select, create, download”, they are not really generated on demand. I had expected to find that they were several months out of date, and thus, my analysis above would be simply irrelevant. Alternately, I thought I might find that the files always test to be a certain age, no matter what time they are checked. This would be dependent on Fon’s web server, and could suggest that an age difference was merely due to a difference between the clock on my PC and theirs. However, at the time of this edit, Fon’s POI files appear to be 2.5 days old and growing! Since this is too much time to be a clock offset, and too little to explain the differences with Martin’s claims, I am reasonably confident that this is the file’s true age.

Another excellent source of Fon statistics is Francofon’s Fon Maps. I am told that they update their figures every night, and use data from Fon’s own POIs (or perhaps direct database access?). However, they come up with considerably different figures than I got directly from Fon Maps! FrancoFon lists 144 countries, instead of 172. They count 206,886 registered Fon hotspots, not 332,000 or 198,366. FrancoFon has determined that 95,324 Fon hotspots are active, (but who knows if they are accessible?) not 212,000. When the statistics include Neuf and Livedoor hotspots, who are “partner” wifi networks, (though not fully reciprocal to the Fon Network’s members) the numbers come closer to Martin’s claims.

This suggests that Martin is including these, and probably British Telcom and other “partner” networks, in his statement. This practice certainly makes the Fon Network look bigger and more active, but is it reasonable and honest?

ADDITION 3: It’s May 24, and Fon’s POI files now appear to be 5.5 days old, so it looks like they were indeed built late Sunday/early Monday. Now we’ll be keeping an eye out to see if they build weekly, monthly or whenever.

ADDITION 4: It’s May 26, and Fon’s POI files now appear to be 7.5 hours old. Therefore, it would appear that they are currently being generated once a week, Mondays at 1:30 AM CST (Sundays at 20:30 GMT). There are still 172 POI files/countries to download, and “Serbia and Montenegro” is still listed twice.

ADDITION 5: May 27. Concatenating all of the new POI files and counting the records/hotspots results in a total of 199,614 for an increase of 1,248 hotspots in one week. Interestingly, the overall filesize is 87,956 bytes smaller than last week. However, as of this addition, FrancoFON finds 96,170 active hotspots, an increase of only 846 over last week… Have 402 new hotspots already been binned?

Fon Lake Dump Protest in El Reg

June 29, 2007

The Register writes today about the ongoing protest against Fon’s 15-minute free Internet promotion. As usual, they don’t really know what Fon is; they think Fon is a VOIP company. KenRadio thinks Fon is a meshing router. Boingo thinks they’ve added 130,000 new hotspots through their partnership with Fon. Whatever.

Fon does not verify the emails given for free access, and this is the only “identification” required for free access. Additionally, the promotion was sprung on the Fonero Community without warning, fully activated and without debate. Fon President Martin Varsavsky wrote in his blog that trivial details like how much Bills would be compensated, and how Foneros could opt-out would be provided later, but there still is no mechanism provided to do this. Perhaps we need to email support@fon.com and wait the usual 2 weeks, etc.

In response, Fon makes the orange “Alien” icons vanish from Fon Maps. These had been used by Foneros to spell out messages on Fon’s maps, just north of their headquarters. These icons were automatically placed where Aliens lived, and were not opt-out (though you could manually misplace them to protect your privacy). A year of complaining to Fon about privacy was fruitless; a moment of embarassment while the Press watched seems to have suceeded.

ADDITION: BlogWiMAX has picked up on the story.

ADDITION: NewsWireless.Net has picked up on the story.

ADDITION: Wireless-Weblog has picked up on the story.

Please look away!

June 25, 2007

Just an ordinary lake! Move along!

(click on the pictures for more information)

Look! Watch the funny man!

Nothing to see here. Keep moving.

Haha, it’s the silly man again! Which is all you find in *official* Fon blogs this week!

Still not getting the message!

Wow, all of those light-green dots are *offline* hotspots! How can this be, when they are right there at Fon Headquarters? And it looks like a lot of homeless Aliens (orange dots) are camped out among the trees along the highway. Or is this Martin’s army of homeless Bills who provide wifi for VOIP calls throughout the city?