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

ClearWire’s WiMax/WiFi Router

January 13, 2009

Reviews are coming in from Portland OR, USA about the quality of WiMax service launched there by Clearwire. Most of what I am reading sounds positive.

I mentioned Clearwire in my previous blog. They have been offering a sort of “pre-WiMax” wireless broadband service in major cities across the USA.

Clearwire and Sprint had intended to partner under the Xohm name, and roll out WiMax throughout the USA. Austin, TX had been one of those target cities, and I was very excited! To make a long blog short, Sprint is not doing so well, and the partnership dissolved, leaving Clearwire to attempt a more limited roll-out on their own.

Here is their handy little WiMax/WiFi router. This device marries a WiMax modem in an USB dongle with a small WiFi router equipped with an USB port. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

It’s dissapointing that Fon’s Fonosferat Program has avoided thinking of La Fonera 2.0’s USB port as a WAN interface. With WiMax and WiBro dongles available for a year already, Fon could have achieved the WiMax-Fon router by now. Perhaps they are still looking for a way to deliver Fon CEO Martin Varsavsky’s vision of *providing* WiMax service via a Fon device which is tethered as usual to DSL or cablemodem?

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?

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!

Whisher? In *MY* La Fonera?

May 22, 2007

It’s more likely than you think!

Q: If I have La Fonera and I install Whisher, does it allow me to share with others who have Whisher, but are not Foneros

The Whisher Client is essentially an enhanced alternative to the WiFi Configuration Utility that comes with Windows. It can be used to store connection profiles and connect to any “open” hotspot, including Fon hotspots. It will not circumvent or interfere with that kind of authentication. Users will still encounter the familiar start page of “open” hotspots that require registration, payment, or legal acknowlegements.

The Whisher Client may also be used to connect to any encrypted hotspot, if the user either provides the encryption key, or that hotspot has been optionally registered as a Whisher hotspot. The Private network of a La Fonera is not special in any way as far as this is concerned. Fon is not involved in authenticating your wireless printer or household guests who are given your WPA key to get online. Therefore, Whisher can even be used as a sole method to access the Internet through that device.

Whisher is also a handy way of helping your guests join your home network by asking them to install Whisher Client instead of entrusting them with your actual encryption key. It is also an easy way to get yourself online, if you have a good encryption key like “qDD3JAMaKsdvbwdaA7W2zEYh”, and have trouble remembering (or typing) it. ;)

While Whisher is not intended as a pay-for-access system, it has numerous advantages to Fon’s. Whishers enjoy an encrypted connection, which is something that nervous Foneros have been pleading for since the very beginning. Whisher potentially works with ANY wifi AP or router which supports encryption. No alterations are required to the router, and no dedicated “controller” PC is necessary (as with “FonSpot” software).

The Whisher Client will be updated to permit authentication by Enterprise WPA (username/password prompt), which means that valid Fonero credentials could be honored at Whisher hotspots via RADIUS relay. In such an arrangement, access using Fonero credentials would be at Fon’s discretion. Aliens who need to buy access could be redirected or blocked. 8)

A partnership with Whisher, to share their technology, means that Fon could provide superior, *encrypted* hotspot service anywhere that someone has set up *any* kind of wifi router and registered their MAC address and encryption key with Whisher. Expansion of the Fon Network would no longer require the expensive and time-consuming rollout of proprietary (and flakey) hardware, only requiring that Foneros download the Whisher Client applet, and finding a participating Whisher-Fon hotspot. This download could also include a VPN-over-Fon client, so that Fon could sell security services to Foneros who are at an open hotspot that is neither Fon nor Whisher!

One begins to understand why I have so much enthusiasm for Whisher, and how I think it makes an off-the-shelf solution for so many of Fon’s shortcomings. Whisher is not in competition with Fon. Whisher and Fon merely occupy different niches in the same ecology. As in nature, species which cooperate together enjoy a higher quality of life than those who simply compete for the same territory.

Harvard Combines WiFi + Weather Monitoring

May 12, 2007

Harvard University and BBN Technologies are installing 100 sensors throughout Cambridge on a streetlight-mounted wireless network. The sensors will be in place by 2011 to monitor weather conditions and pollution in real-time. The sensors will draw their power from municipal electricity supplied to the lights, and are based on Linux running on some sort of embedded PC.

Read the article HERE.

This sounds a lot like meshed wifi APs built out of devices like certain Linksys, Buffalo, Meraki Mini and other routers. I’ve written about this in the past, in the context of ways Fon could have attracted interest in municipalities to use their devices for metro wifi. Such devices would have a spare Ethernet, serial or USB interface to attach an instrument package, and would aquire power from an induction clamp placed on suitable nearby lines (streetlights, overhead lines). The Internet or network connection would either be some kind of meshing scheme, or perhaps even Ethernet over Power Lines. Installation would take minutes.

The instrument packages would appeal to utilities, law enforcement and city planners alike. Some could couple with gas, electric and water meters to monitor resource useage in real-time. Sudden increases in demand could be investigated immediately, to find burst pipes before severe damage occurrs. The system could be two-way and allow the city to avoid brownouts by adjusting thermostats, or perhaps a homeowner can warm the house up remotely when leaving work for the day.

Law enforcement could attach gunshot detecting microphones (which I advocate) and remote cameras (which i’m actually not enthusiastic about) to help establish the locations of suspicious activity quickly. Homeowners could attach their private security systems, to watch their homes, or keep an eye on grandma, while away. Cameras are so cheap these days, there is no reason that private citizens can’t overtake law enforcement and watch the watchers for a change. Let us hope governments don’t pass new laws to “protect” us from these freedoms.

City planners can keep track of data on ozone and other pollutants, including noise levels. Weather agencies can benefeit from high-resolution maps of temperature, humidity, pressure and wind speed measurements across the city.

While this particular network in Cambridge will only be for these 100 instrument packages, they may provide public hotspots in the future.

I recall a study I read about 10 years ago where it was determined that if the utility companies actually paid to install fiber optic cables directly to each home, to connect to the meters and read them remotely, they would break even some 3-6 years later just by eliminating the expense of manual meter reading. The study noted that the cables would be almost entirely idle, and could provide additional revenue by providing Internet service to customers. This potential revenue was not included in the study’s break-even point, but would obviously have paid for it much sooner.

The main problem was that noone in management was willing to propose, let alone commit, their company to a project that would place them in debt for any number of years. It is perhaps due to this typical corporate nearsightedness, that everyone in the USA doesn’t allready have fast FiOS Internet connections. While it may not be necessary for utilities to actually install FiOS in order to do something similar today, one wonders why with high-speed internet and wifi available just about everywhere now (heck, standard phone lines for dialup connections would be enough – most home security systems use them), they don’t install a $20 device to replace everyone’s meters and save billions of dollars

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”.