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Fon Terminates Support for Fonera Routers, Fon Community Furious

February 13, 2010

Martin’s cheerful post yesterday, about yet another router model, didn’t go over well with the Community of worldwide Foneros. Comments were open, so everyone jumped on poor Martin’s case about the previous router models which still aren’t stable, particularly the latest one, which has been abandoned for several months with major issues still pending.

Martin’s blog post is an absolute HOOT to read. The angry, cheated Fonero Community descended upon him, demanding action, and his response was to literally cry and attempt to make Foneros feel guilty that his skeleton staff is overworked. Sorry big boy, the burden of guilt is entirely upon you there!

Martin clearly regards EVERY critic as “a troll” and proposes that Fon is somehow entitled to more compliments. I think it’s clear that he has an idyllic image that he refuses to let go of, and he will not listen to reason and see Fon for what it has become to those of us who actually comprise the Fon Network. This reminds me of the attitude of Fon’s Board moderators, who actually warn people to stop complaining until some more compliments pile up to offset them. Martin lives in such a bubble! He thinks he can manage Fon’s image by simple decree. But he’s just painting posies over his own windows.

Random things we learned about Fon this time:

  • Fon seems to be abandoning the “Fonera” moniker, as the new model is just called “SIMPL. This could be at the request of the still-unnamed telco Fon E-Partner at hand.
  • Fon is still just a spunky lil ole start-up that deserves more time, another chance, please be understanding, etc.
  • The Fon Network has “over a million” “daily users”. Interesting twist of English. He also claims “over a million” “Fon hotspots” but notice he doesn’t distinguish hotspots from users from members. In fact, as usual, he blurs them together whenever possible. In truth, Fon has only a few tens of thousand active Foneros (members/volunteers/contributors), about as many native hotspots (La Foneras), even fewer Aliens (guests/paying customers), and the rest is just partner hotspots being added simultaneously to both “member” and “customer” columns. *See update below.
  • Martin claims 23k “Fonera 2″ have been sold. The way he phrases it, he avoids distinguishing between 2g and 2n models, probably to conceal how few 2n routers were sold.
  • Fon employs less than 40 people now, from a high of around 130. They’re about to double the number of native routers they’ve ever sold, but no word if Fon will hire any more employees on… even while Spain suffers particularly high unemployment.
  • Martin admits that Fon has ceased supporting every previous router model, because their new 400k girlfriend needs all of their attention. And won’t Foneros just understand that and stop bothering them?
  • Despite Fon Boards and Martin Blogs being choked with complaints, Martin exclaims that he’s simply *sure* that most people are delighted with their Foneras, and they’re so happy we simply don’t hear from them!
  • Martin feels that La Fonera 2.0g works “pretty well” and since they also briefly offered discounts to upgrade, that this is good enough “support” for previous router models.
  • Over and over, Martin scolds commenters for their “disrespect” of Fon customer service staff. Except that noone’s complaining about the other staffmembers. This is Martin’s personal blog, after all, and they’re writing DIRECTLY TO HIM. It’s his leadership most of us have problems with. That’s what he’ll never accept.

IMHO, Fon is really stepping backwards to “simpler” routers because Fon has discovered the hard way that they don’t have the brand recognition to unload more expensive gadgets like La Fonera 2.0n. People are more likely to buy a cheapo router from an unknown company (like Fon), than a fancy expensive router. Problem is, this new one is still about $20 too much. Fon has also realized that it can’t construct nor maintain complex firmware, but they’re not going to admit that either.

Fon SIMPL’s sticker model number is 2305E. I expect it’s a re-badge of some other brand, as always. Perhaps in a few months, we’ll find manufacturer’s firmware to slap on this puppy. Check out Steven’s gallery of external photos here.

Anyone going to this “Mobile World Congress” can find more information about the Con, as well as some incorrect information about Fon here. Despite what it says there, Fon didn’t start the wifi revolution, Fon didn’t start with the Fonera wifi router, and Fon didn’t sell La Fonera when it launched in 2006. La Fonera 2.0n is not the most innovative; it’s a poor, faulty copy of routers many others have been selling for a couple of years, Fon is not the largest wifi community, but it contributes slightly to larger “partners” which make a considerable aggregate network. The numbers given about “members” and “hotspots” are blatent lies. Also, Fon forgot to mention one of their partners, McAfee, by which Fon is Safe!

UPDATE: In addition to Martin’s silly comments, see his silly new post in response to the complaints: Fonera 2.0n Quality Survey

*UPDATE2 to bullet point 3 above: According to FrancoFON’s database of the Northern Hemisphere on Feb 17 2010, there are a total of 691,000 active Fon hotspots including partners BT(364k), Neuf(82k) and Livedoor(176k) and 68,000 active La Fonera routers. They find 141,000 inactive La Foneras. A bit of quick research adds Fon partners ZON in Portugal – 100k circa 2/2010, Comstar in Russia – 2,000 circa 12/2009 and E-Plus in Germany for up to 25k circa 6/2009. That leaves 200k hotspots missing, unless we count Fon’s inactive routers, leaving us only 40k short. I know of no way to find out which partner hotspots are also inactive, but it becomes clear that Martin’s “over a million” statement is broad exaggeration. Fon’s contribution comes in at 5th (of 7) place (or 3rd if you unfairly count dead hotspots).

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Consider that Martin stated on Feb 3, 2010 that “It took Fon almost four years to sell half a million WiFi routers known as Foneras.” Since all live, plus dead Foneras only total 209k, this means that 291k Foneras were allegedly sold, but were never registered to Fon!

This picture gets far grimmer if you add “half a million sold” to an additional “15 million worth” of routers which Fon gave away. Fon sold La Fonera v1 routers for as little as $1, but in my mind, Martin would cleverly count that as “sold” and not free.** Only v1 routers were given away. Martin claimed that v1 was sold at practically cost, so at regular price of $29, that means an additional 500k routers were given away, an oddly convenient number. So if Fon has indeed *distributed* a full million routers now, only 209k were ever registered (21%, or 1-in-5) and only 68k remain live (or 3-in-10 of every router registered), which is about 7%, or 1-in-14 of all Foneras ever distributed!

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**It’s also possible that Martin is adding the same numbers into two columns again. He might count the “discounted” routers as both fully “sold”, and also a “fraction” of a free router by attributing part of that $15M to offset the amount of the discount. Warranty replacements probably also get relabeled as “given away” too; they additionally count as increments to Fon’s hotspot network (one dead router + one replacement = two purportedly available hotspots). Frankly, i’m weary of peeking down all the possible rabbit-holes. In this article i’m pretending that Martin’s statements are legitimate. If he’s outsmarted himself with statistical sleight of hand, and made Fon look bad, that’s his fault.

UPDATE3: Martin’s still at it. In his Spanish-only blog now, he whines about how English people are rude, and expresses that he thinks he’s entitled to praise for his “incredible work”, never mind the results. Again, he suggests that his poor staff’s feelings are hurt by any critical feedback (I wonder if this means Iurgi has been threatening to quit? Oh boy!), blind to the fact that the comments were clearly directed just at him. He again unambiguously admits that support for La Fonera 2.0g is terminated. That model was sold as beta for 6 months starting in Oct 2008, sold as “public ready” in April 2009, and the last firmware for it was issued Oct/Nov 2009. This suggests that Martin considers his company’s obligation finished after only about a year.

UPDATE4: A week later, Engadget finally posts their benign and obligatory article about SIMPL. Please visit there and ADD YOUR COMMENTS! Also, visit the online petition to Fon here.

In the event Martin’s blog posts get removed or censored, please check back here for my snapshots.


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.


Fon’s Three Year Anniversary

February 6, 2009

It’s today. Let’s go see if Fon forgot again, like they did last year. 😀


The Five Stages of a Fon e-Movement

October 22, 2008

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.


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 Announces New Beta Tester’s Program

October 10, 2008

Those who complained before about Fon’s exclusive, invite-only Beta Testing programs will be happy with the new one. Or maybe not.

Anyone in France, Germany and Spain may join the Beta Tester’s program by purchasing a La Fonera 2.0 “Liberator” in the Fon Shop for €39.95 ($53.92) plus shipping. This new router is just like the 1-WAN 1-LAN La Fonera Plus, but also has an USB port in the back, and an additional LED on the front. Fon hopes you will contribute further to this project by developing support for additional devices, which they will perhaps certify and add to future firmware releases.

It is not clear what devices are currently supported, because if you read Martin Varsavsky’s blog carefully, he is saying that the USB port “could” support devices like USB hard drives and thumb drives, printers, scanners, and webcams. In fact, he admits that support for devices could be slow in coming, and that the use of a powered USB hub is reccommended. That’ll make quite a nest of cables when I winch my La Fonera 2 up on a pole outdoors!

The Fonosferatu “community” of developers has still not been organized, but Fon is certainly still hoping that Foneros will abandon such independant community projects as FreeWLAN and FrancoFon, and come together to work under Martin’s warm, guiding hand. Would you do it for a T-shirt? Martin has provided his wish-list of applications for Foneratus to work on, including the bittorrent application he mentioned when La Fonera 2 was announced back in EARLY JUNE, 2007.

Some things I like about the USB port is the possibility of using it as part of a home security system, when the router is mounted outside with a compatible webcam attached. I have written in the past about how metro wifi projects might like to purchase such routers which can have instrument packages added. This could include traffic monitoring cameras, weather and temperature monitoring, and even gunshot location using microphones and triangulation.

With wifi meshing enabled, city utilities could be measured remotely using devices attached directly to the meters on each home and business. The bandwidth may not be optimal for gaming, but any meter could still be directly interrogated within a few seconds. Energy-saving programs could use this network to shut off unneeded devices and adjust thermostats.

One goal that I think is important to work toward is in developing an USB-over-Ethernet driver, and abandoning development of multiple onboard drivers and services for LF2′s USB port. There are numerous open-source projects like USB Server, which let a PC mount an remote USB port over Ethernet, as though it were physically attached, though that port is elsewhere in the world. This is likely the best way to provide the most compatability and flexibility, while saving LF2′s precious resources for the wifi.

I am absolutely against using technology to further build out the police state many governments are hungry for, but you can see how devices like this can also be owned and used by the citizens for good purposes. For anyone that is interested, tomorrow is an international day of protest against surveillance; “Freedom Not Fear“. Please click the link to find activities in your area.

UPDATE: Only 1000 of these developer’s edition of La Fonera 2 will be sold, but if you’re one of the dozen or so busy Foneros who create an application which Fon actually likes, you could be reimbursed the cost of your router! Have Fon with that.

UPDATE: 10/23 Fon will now accept orders for the remaining La Fonera 2s from any country except Canada.


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:

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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.


A Million Times, NO.

September 11, 2008

I could have guessed this was coming on September 8th, when Fon’s English board moderator, David Garcia started using this graphic in his signature line.

It seems that Fon Wireless, LTD., who forgot to observe their own second birthday, is celebrating the induction of their One Millionth Fonero, Wilkinson-Chan of Japan.

Today, Fon CEO Martin Varsavsky’s blog, and Fon’s own English blog announced that Fon now has one million “Foneros”, “members” or “community members”, depending on whether you read the title or the text of the posts.

Oddly, Martin claims that Fon has “nearly 300,000” active Fon hotspots, while Fon’s blog says “over 400,000”. I’ve taken screen shots gentlemen, so there’s no point in covering your tracks now. 😉

So why am I a skeptic? It’s those numbers. They just don’t add up the way they ought to. Let’s review Fon Math again, and take note of authoritative sources of Fon definitions.

One Million Foneros. One Million Members. OK, all Foneros are members, and all members are Foneros, this is true. “Community Members” is perhaps a broader term; it could include forum posters who have not registered as an Alien nor Fonero, and this inclusion raises my eyebrows.

The first step to joining Fon is to register your email address and choose a password. This can be done at a Fon hotspot, or on Fon’s home page. This makes you an Alien, who can pay for wifi access, or use your registered identity to order Fon merchandise.

Martin Varsavsky says that once an Alien registers and contributes a Fon hotspot, he becomes a Linus or Bill Fonero, who can roam for free on other Fonero’s hotspots worldwide. (Also, he says that we must buy his La Fonera router to provide that hotspot.) This means that the number of Foneros, or members, cannot be larger than the number of Fon hotspots ever registered.

In fact, it will always be less, because some Foneros host more than one hotspot, and a very small number of discouraged Foneros will go to the trouble of unsubscribing from Fon via the formal, manual process. Here we have a problem, since Fon and Martin are saying now that the number of Foneros is far larger than the number of Fon hotspots.

So what is *not* a member? Martin Varsavsky has been quoted repeatedly and unambiguously, stating that Aliens are not members, and therefore, not Foneros. Here we have another problem, if it is true that 1,000,000 Fonero members, which does not include Aliens, have somehow joined Fon when there are only 300K-400K hotspots.

Please, Fon. It is time to turn off the reality distortion field. We know you are including Aliens in these counts, and this includes every bogus email address entered at a Fon hotspot to get 15 free trial minutes. We know that Fon is not free, just because it offers a brief trial connection, and roaming for contributing members. We know that more Fon hotspots have been registered, and been dead for months or years, than there remain live ones. And we know this still doesn’t even total a million.


A Case Study of Fon and Meraki

July 18, 2008

Canadian researchers Catherine Middleton and Amelia Bryne Potter, have written a paper comparing the hardware, software and community aspects of Meraki Wireless Network with Fon Wireless, Ltd. Written in May of this year, it has been published on the Internet:
Is it Good to Share?(.pdf link) (Alternate Link)

The authors do not appear to have any links with either company, though Ms. Potter is a member of a community wireless research project. There are some very interesting points made about Fon, which echo ones made by myself and other outspoken Foneros over the last two years. There seems to be more criticism for Fon, but some of the comparison points might be a little unfair. It’s like comparing apples to oranges, or in this case, Meraki lime to Fon orange. 😉


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. 😉

http://andyabramson.blogs.com/voipwatch/2008/06/can-someone-fin.html