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

Fon Forgets Its 4th Birthday Too

February 6, 2010

Yes, it’s been 4 years now since Fon launched. Like its 3rd birthday, Fon has forgotten it!

The Fonero Community, twice reborn, is MIA again.

Promises, promises, so many promises. So many broken promises. So much wasted time and money.

Now, Fon CEO Martin Varsavsky has made the incredulous claim that someone ordered 400,000 Fon routers of some sort. What model, why they had to come from Fon, who only rebadges routers, and who the buyer may be is unknown. But there are enough blanks in Martin’s announcement, that this could mean almost anything. My best-case scenario is that Fon has arranged to supply a coupon-code for a Fonera, to purchasers of the Android phone or even that disappointing abortion known as the Ipad. Get ready, my friends, to give free wifi to all these new folks, who have also paid Fon up front, and funded their network deployment.

Imagine my shock, that none of the news and tech blogs I follow have mentioned this, Fon’s latest crackpot tease. Considering all of the times before that Fon’s press releases have turned out to be polished puckey, any further attention could result in total collapse of Fon’s credibility. Ask anyone on the street; “do you know what Fawn Wifi is?”, and they’ll likely shrug and turn away.

I watched the 1954 and 1999 versions of George Orwell’s Animal Farm last weekend. I suppose that story could represent any number of present-day associations, and it fits Fon well too. Playing to emotions, while concealing the facts. Ever-moving goalposts. Quiet political purges; assassinations. Blatant editing of history. Treating the membership as chattel, while hiding behind masks of fellowship. Faustian bargains with third parties, without the membership’s consent nor desire. The Spanish are indeed familiar with fascism. Should I be surprised?

Foneros, if you are still out there, please comment below. Tell me what you plan to do with Fon this year.

BT Halves Wifi Price, Fon Doubles Wifi Price.

October 15, 2008

Coming hot on the heels of Martin Varsavsky’s regretful announcement, that Fon Wifi will soon be doubled from $/€2 per day to $/€4 per day (he needs to visit fon.com more often. It’s actually $/€3 per day now), is this news that BT is cutting the price of wifi at their hotspots by as much as 50%!!!

The new service tiers are called “BT Original”, “BT Openzone Together”, and “BT Openzone Global”. All three tiers provide access to BT Openzone, BT FON and BT Business Total Broadband hotspots. BT Original provides 500 minutes of access, while Together and Global provide “unlimited” access plus 500 minutes of “UK roaming”. BT Global also includes 500 minutes of “international roaming” at other BT partner hotspots like Swisscom Hospitality Services and Comfone’s WeRoam.

If you exceed your 500 minutes in a limited access category, you’ll be billed 10p ($.17) per minute anywhere.

Here are the respective prices for comparison:

Fon Wireless Ltd: €71.02/mo ($91.24) on average at current price
BT Original: €5/mo+VAT ($8.71)
BT Openzone Together: €12.50/mo+VAT ($21.77)
BT Openzone Global: €28/mo+VAT ($48.77)
BT Openzone per Minute: 15p/min+VAT (down from 20p) ($.26)

How prices work out per day including 17.5% UK VAT:

Fon: €2.34 ($3),
BT Original: €.23 ($.40),
Together: €.49 ($.86),
Global: €1.09 ($1.90),
Openzone per Minute: €216.00 ($376.23).
As I reported before, T-Mobile is €.67-€2.00 per day, depending on service plan.

While I can see why residents of England might pay Fon’s current price over the price of BT Openzone per Minute, I do not think they would consider Fon to be competitive against the other BT tiers – also available at BT Fon hotspots – even though Fon includes “worldwide roaming”.

The burning question on my mind is: who would prefer Fon over ANY wifi provider when Fon doubles their price in coming weeks? Will Fon continue to partner with BT when BT Openzone is allready undercutting Fon’s rates at their own hotspots? Will BT continue to partner with Fon after ending their relationship with The Cloud?

Fon E-Partnership turns cellphones into hotspots

August 8, 2008

Today Fon and JoikuSoft announce their collaboration in a software addon for Symbian phones, called “JoikuSpot”. You can buy it in their JoikuShop at an introductory price of €15. It uses 3G or GPRS as your Internet backhaul (WAN), and built-in wifi for the hotspot (possibly in peer-to-peer mode instead of AP mode), so you too can share your bandwidth wherever you go!

My first thought, of course, is how this is excellent news for homeless Bills who have been encumbered by the extra weight of a La Fonera router, cables, and battery packs. Now, when they sell wifi at the train station, they only need to carry a single device with them! Hopefully, Fon can partner with a major cellco and negotiate a discount on their unlimited data plans for this charitable purpose.

JoikuSpot supports the following cellphone models (with an appropriate carrier, “unlimited” high speed data plan providing 3G/GPRS, and carrier provisioning to enable wifi on the phone):

  • Samsung i550 and G810,
  • Nokia E51, E60, E61, E61i, E65, E66, E70, E71, E90, N77, N78, N80, N81, N81 8GB, N82, N91, N93, N93i, N95, N95 8GB, N95 8GB Americas, and N95 Americas.

JoikuSpot Premium also includes a VPN client to secure your connection to a home or corporate VPN server. JoikuSpot Premium does not force visitors to a default landing page, and is also 100% customizable for operator whitelabeling and licencing.

More information here:
Joikusoft and FON work together
Joikusoft and FON Unveil Wi-Fi HotSpot Software
Joikusoft and FON unveil Wi-Fi HotSpot software
Joiku, FON to offer premium mobile hotspot software
FON and JoikuSoft Introduce FonSpot Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot Software

Swisscomm dumps Starbucks in Spain

July 9, 2008

All over Spain, including Madrid and Alcobendas (HQ of Fon), Wireless Citizens are finding that they can no longer log into Swisscomm wifi at their favorite Starbucks!

Isn’t this is a good opportunity for the “World’s Biggest Wifi Community” to take a shot at replacing them? Lucky Bills near these coffeehouses may allready be seeing increased profits.

Now, Starbucks doesn’t want people hanging out in the shop all day, without buying drinks and snacks. Though Fon promotes the idea of “$€3/day”, they also have proven that there is no problem implimenting “15 free minutes”, “60 minutes via SMS” and “5-day passes” as alternatives.

Bill Foneros have urged Fon to impliment a “voucher” system in the past. I think the time has arrived for Fon to impliment such a system for merchants who use Fon! :)

Merchants could print out a sheet full of voucher codes once a day, through a special MyFon page, and cut them into separate slips of paper. These vouchers would supply an hour or two of wifi, and be useable for 24 hours from the time of creation. Starbuck’s patrons would each create a Fonero account, and then enter their voucher code as payment. Fon could reward “frequent flyers” with Starbucks coupons or other benefeits.

Starbucks might pay Fon a small amount for each voucher which gets used, and Fon would share half of the net profits with Starbucks, just like with Bills. Publicity for both partners would be very good if this plan works out! :)

Why have so many Foneros abandoned Fon?

April 4, 2008

Fon President Martin Varsavsky has posted an adorable leetle survey on his blog today. Either he has no idea why Fon is failing under his leadership, or else he knows, and won’t list those reasons because he has no intention of fixing them.

The reason most Foneros have quit Fon is due to anemic equipment and firmware imposed upon them, and the culture of dishonesty in Fon’s press releases and business practices.

After promising to give us firmware which supported dual-SSIDs, Fon switches the bait and presents us with their proprietary, locked-down 1-port router with this feature. No dual-SSID for us Linksys and Buffalo Foneros. It’s just as well, because it turns out that many wifi adapters can’t cope with the little transmission trick that produces two SSIDs.

People with pre-existing home networks discover that they can’t access their LAN resources, even when using the private WLAN. There is no “bridge to WAN” feature. This device *looks* like an AP, but is instead a NAT router. This is one of the main reasons people abandoned Fon. They didn’t want to *start* a network. They needed to *expand* one (and on a budget).

This little overheating brick had WDS meshing built-in at first, but this was undocumented. Hackers learned to use it to aquire an Internet connection without paying or logging in. Fon quickly took WDS out, and has still never admitted it existed. Pres. V pontificates in his blog that the range-extending Fontenna (he sells) is superior to connection-relaying meshing, despite the poor performance of said Fontenna. He should have instead sold us a kit to mount the router outside, with an embedded booster antenna and PoE adapter.

Nearly two years later, La Fonera still doesn’t support MAC cloning, which is such a trivial feature to add. It is necessary for modems/ISPs which lock your service to your WAN MAC. This is another big reason people abandoned Fon- they never got it connected to the Internet. This feature wouldn’t even threaten the sales of additional Fon hardware. :(

Instead of improving the La Fonera firmware (except to rush out patches to keep people from aquiring better access to their device and developing new features), Fon spends R&D on further routers: Want one precious LAN jack? Buy the new router, at twice the price of the old one! This is surely why they don’t give us WAN bridge in the original La Fonera for free.

What would Foneros really prefer that Fon focus their attention on? Bringing the feature set of the router at least up to the point of every other cheap router on the market, nurturing and empowering the creative community that has built up around Fon, and showing some real progress for a change. Instead, here is “La Fonera Orwellian Name”, for $100, which lets you download free bittorrents of Fearless Leader’s video clips. Ugh.

“Buy thees Skype phone and make calls for free at any Fon hotspot in the world!” they said. Well, sure- if you had the encryption key for all of those Fonero’s private networks. The darn thing wasn’t able to log in through Fon’s public hotspot, until many months later, when a firmware patch was provided. Calls were then free if they were Skype-to-Skype, or you were spending the included “free” 20 trial Skypeout minutes. Skype pulled the ads down. Ugh.

“We split the profits 50-50!”. An outright lie. First, Fon takes unspecified “fees and taxes” out, then splits what is left. Fon refuses to itemize this amount, which varies from country to country and depends on the ISP, so there is no way to tell if they are paying you fairly. Fon only pays Bills if their hotspot is the Point Of Sale for day passes, not for bandwidth, length of wifi sessions, or number of customers. If paid-up customers wander over to his hotspot, Bills get nothing for the service he provides.

Fon’s price per day is quite reasonable when compared to other for-pay mobile Internet services. However, wifi is free in virtually every coffee shop in the USA, many restaurants and libraries, and provided by many municipalities throughout the city centers. Fon won’t budge on the price, or add something to make their service more desireable than free wifi, like VPN encryption.

Fon’s system mimics other “instant hotspot in-a-box” offerings, but these competitors are offering more flexible terms in setting prices and managing equipment. The competitors let you have control of your Internet connection, your router, and the appearance of your hotspot to the public. Fon pretends that they do too, but in reality, you have almost no control over what they clearly consider to be *their* router, and *their* hotspot.

It’s been obvious in recent months that Fon is fading away. Varsavsky spends his time supporting side projects, which have nothing to do with wifi (Mexican Wave, Fon URL Sortener, and several ways to abuse Gmail), and writing bizzare articles in his Fon Blog. Varsavsky recently dumped much of his Fon stock.

Fortunately, there is a thriving community of hackers who still develop improvements for La Fonera wifi routers. If a Fonero is willing to void his router’s warranty, he can have his MAC cloning, WAN bridge and much more. While they can do nothing about Fon’s awful profit-sharing, the routers themselves can even be flashed with entirely different firmware, and be used with other wifi networks, or even liberated entirely, including features usually found only in very expensive equipment.

There are so many other points, I could write volumes. Please visit Varsavsky’s blog, and instead of taking his survey, leave him comments which surely will fall outside his carefully selected choices.

UPDATE: Y’all will find this very interesting. Martin approved another round of comments to that post in his blog. While he approved a comment I made under a fake name, he did not approve a more coherent comment I made, as myself, discussing the exact same points, somewhat earlier that day. This is not proper management of his blog, this is censorship of those whom he dislikes. What a skunk!

WiF Podcast #2

April 9, 2007

Mike, Dan and Chad

We’re back!

Dan Berte of http://www.wirelessisfun.com/ has edited our 3 hours of recorded ramblings into several bite-sized segments. Dan and I were joined by Mike Puchol of tech.am blog, who is also a founder and CTO of http://www.whisher.com/. We’re demonstrating our rapidly improving style, so look out, http://www.kenradio.com/!

Download segments at: http://wirelessisfun.com/2007/04/09/wif-podcast-2/


Court rules Vonage must stop using Verizon patents.Vonage claims it has long prepared for this, and customers have no fear of service termination. Mike Snyder, Vonage’s chief executive officer says “Friday’s events represented one small step in what is sure to be a long legal battle.” Vonage, whose shares fell nearly 26% on Friday, also said the litigation would likely take years, but added that it was confident it would continue to provide service to its over 2.2 million subscribers. Will they license from Verizon? Will they patch their code? Is this death for Vonage?

EarthLink Unveils Wi-Fi VoIP Phone with wifi router built into base…

This appears to be the same “FON Router with Skype Handset” from July, 2006.

Fon Blog and Martin Varsavsky release early details of their upcoming “Fontenna”

This will be an external, cable-tethered 7db box.

Fon suggests again that their partnership with McAfee makes their product safe.

Deja Vu from Dec 12 last year…

Fon releases firmware upgrades for VOIP phones

They can now log in to Fon hotspots. Is the problem solved? Listener feedback encouraged.

Another Fon issue fixed by Apple Computer-

Airport Extreme patch makes it easier to connect to La Fonera now.

Melting La Fonera APs…

The infamous YouTube video is probably a hoax, but an expert analysis by Mike Puchol suggests that the electronics may last no more than a year due to heat stress.

Fon’s upcoming La Fonera 1.5 will have a LAN port

Probably to be based on the slightly better Accton MR3202A 2 Port Mini Router. Since La Foneras have a 2 year warantee, this could mean a free upgrade when the 1.0 fries.

Fon will have a Wi-Max/WiFi AP in the future.

La Fonera x will use Wi-Max service instead of Cable/DSL modem.

Ericsson halts Wi-Max technology in favor of 3G.

Now only Intel makes the chips.

Whisher releases new Mac and Linux clients.

Linux client offers intrim solution to exposed Wi-Fi encryption keys.

A Whisher Come True!

February 1, 2007

Mike Puchol, aka “Mother” on boards.fon.com, writes the tech.am blog and is at the DEMO 2007 software convention this week. He’s there to kick-off his new startup company which offers an ingenious new approach for sharing wifi. He probably also wants to kick me for the corny blog title. ;)

I’ve sat on this news for a day while I tried Whisher out, and chatted with Mike about some of the geeky details. Blogs I have read mostly play Whisher as a challenge to Fon, which provides an alternative wifi-sharing solution. Prominent partners in Whisher have previous ties to Fon President Martin Varsavsky, and I fear the digital Press is looking for rivalry and warfare where not much really exists.

It works with any wifi router/AP with WEP or WPA encryption. Sharers have detailed control over who may use their wifi, as well as tools to build social communities while online, and find hotspots that are part of the network.

Whisher was rolled out Jan 30, after being under development for almost a year. Their website provides extensive pictoral and animated tutorials, their hotspot search map, blog, discussion board and software downloads. Disclosure: I am not affiliated with Whisher (yet); I am simply a beaming new admirer. :)


Fon requires the use of their proprietary La Fonera AP, or the use of their own firmware only, on certain Linksys and Buffalo wifi routers. Non-contributing users of The Fon Network must pay a fixed fee for 24 hours of access. Contributors have the option of sometimes recieving a small portion of the income. Payment and authentication is negotiated entirely through web browsers.

Whisher requires no special router firmware, configuration or host software, but does require installing the Whisher client application in order to sign up, use Whisher hotspots, and to designate and manage hotspots being shared. Sharers may still shut down their computers and leave their hotspots up for others to use. Versions of the client may be downloaded for Windows XP, Macintoshes, and Linux. Whisher does not provide a payment system, as all Whisher hotspots are free. Advanced features, which are yet to be defined or implimented, may require payment.

The Windows client is intended for XP, but can still access social features under Windows 2000 (as I use). I had issues with finding Microsoft Visual Studio files that it needed on launch. Upon launching, the client presents a display of available hotspots to connect to. This closely resembles Microsoft’s own Zero Config control, and apparently requires it’s services behind the scenes.

One may use Whisher to connect to any hotspot found in range, and even use it to save connection profiles for them. Hotspots which are designated as Whisher hotspots will display extended information, as well as use the Whisher logo (following a quick database update of hotspots from their server). To make your hotspot available for other Whishers, first use the client to connect to it, and enter the WEP/WPA key (all Whisher hotspots must offer encryption). Then, you have the option of adding it to the Whisher Network with a couple of clicks, and typing a welcome message. It will show up on Whisher’s hotspot map and Whishers that subscribe to location updates for that area will be able to identify it and connect to it using the client application.

While connected, one may IM buddies using Whisher’s own chat system, which is planned to have compatability with MSN, AIM, ICQ and Yahoo. Folks using different IM clients may be able to join together into combined chatrooms, as with Trillian (Pro?). One may also join a chat room containing everyone connected to the same AP, and other user-definable categories. Each participant may share files from their laptop hard-drives and make them visible to everyone, or just certain groups or particular people. Additional tabs allow control over filesharing, personal options, geolocation and map searching. Whisher also intends to add remote router management, which will work by interfacing the router’s web management server directly.

See more information about Whisher at their Homepage, their Discussion Forums, and their Blog.

EDIT: Dema has created an exellent pictoral tour of Whisher in his blog entry 2/9.

Pros: Unlike Foneros, Whishers enjoy the maximum encryption available by the hardware in the wifi router/AP being used. Whisher will likely work with any wifi-router/AP that now exists, and for the forseeable future. It will be a great advantage for folks who can’t or won’t reflash their router firmwares. It allows folks to admit access to friends, family, and others without revealing, or having to remember, their WEP or WPA keys. Social activity is built into the client itself. These venues are expandable, and actually available even when you are at non-Whisher hotspots, you only need internet access. Abusers of a hotspot can have their privledges selectively revoked, without changing the encryption key.

Cons: Some people may be unable, or unwilling, to install an application on their computers. The client needs to be allready downloaded, and perhaps updated, before one may connect to the hotspots. This presents a chicken-and-the-egg problem for somone who can’t get on at such a hotspot in order to download it. There exists some chance that the downloaded, encrypted database of APs and their keys might be cracked and exposed. Currently, if a sharer changes her SSID or encryption key, people previously connected there may have to get online another way in order to update their locations file and get back on there again. Laptop-based software will lack the intrinsic power of firmware physically loaded on the router. Routers which lack certain features, like MAC blocking and AP isolation may present security problems which Whisher cannot overcome.

Ideas: Members of buddy groups might be empowered to join in a Hamachi-like virtual network, creating connections beyond a single AP and providing powerful abilities for gamers and businesspeople (fax modems, remote desktops). The client might be given a host mode, which would be run on a dedicated computer to provide VPN or web proxy service, or permanent shared storage space. Wifi routers with “WPA-RADIUS” ability could allow access to Whishers without even needing to download a shared key in advance; it could be based on their Whisher login.

Whisher -vs- Fon

Anyone who really understands the system Fon uses can see that they aren’t perfect rivals. Fon is a for-pay system requiring proprietary firmware, Whisher is a for-free system requring a client download. They dwell in the same ecosystem, but occupy different niches. They can even work together.

As of this afternoon, I have made the private SSID of my proprietary La Fonera router, from Fon, serve double-duty as a Whisher hotspot as well! As my router’s firmware and configuration are entirely untouched, and I intend to continue offering the Fon hotspot, this almost certainly does not break my dreaded “Fonero Promise”.