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

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

Fon does not split money 50/50

May 8, 2008

For a long time, Fon has been advertising that they split the money they take from Aliens, with the Bills, “50-50?. If you have paid very close attention, Fon quietly mentioned that there may sometimes be taxes or fees, but continued emphasizing “50-50? until recently. A review of their web pages shows that they are now much more forthcoming with how the system works, but they’re still refusing to say how much these “fees” are, and what they go to. The key term is “net profit”, which is an undefined subset of the “gross profit”.

A current thread in Fon’s English language discussion board, discusses the reason that Fon holds our money for so long, after we have “earned” it. Presumably, in Fon’s own interest-bearing bank account. The setup works like this: most of us have to buy our routers from Fon, for which we receive no guarantees, nor help in making it profitable. This merchandise sale is profit for Fon. Then, Fon takes the lion’s share of any money which IS made at our hotspots. Finally, Fon withholds Bill’s share until his “Piggy Bank” had exceeded a certain threshold. This threshold was just changed from $30 to $20, for which Fon may be commended.

So the biggest remaining issue is: just how much of that €/$3 fee from the Alien really is provided to our poor Bills?

(Click images for full size popup)

This example breakdown uses data supplied by board-poster nick123, with fees which apply there in the UK. As you can see, these “fees” which Fon trivializes to the point of hardly mentioning, and never itemizing, amount to nearly 1/3 of the whole fee! Certainly, this chart would be resized for pay splits in different markets. I’d like to know what those splits are, since Fon doesn’t publicize them. It’s Fon’s big surprise to us, when we examine our Piggy Banks.

Since so much money is being wasted on moving money, I think this shows that Fon’s “€/$3 everywhere” business plan is terminally faulty. Aliens should be given the option to buy larger chunks of online time, to minimize transaction fees. Of course, this makes the issue of billing by the minute for roaming Aliens, and paying by the minute for Bills, more desirable. Since Fon does log hotspot connections down to the second, and they can work out the figures in-house, this would not present an insurmountable complication or expense.

I’ve often written that Fon’s only real service to the Fon Network, is the convenient receiving and dispensing of money, in exchange for maintaining and providing the authentication database. That database is the only unique intellectual property that Fon has developed in the whole two years of operation. It’s convenient for individuals and businesses to seek a “hotspot in a box” solution, which comes with convenient authentication and billing. However, Fon’s profit-sharing terms are, frankly, hideous to anyone actually hoping to make money from the project. Other “hotspot in a box” providers allow much more flexible billing terms, along with firmwares or pre-flashed routers with much better feature sets. Fon sticks with “€/$3 everywhere”, not because it is the best system, but because it is Fon’s system, and they’ve become identified by it.

Fon is going to need to reorganize, or die – unless they sell the company in time. Fon should switch from taking ~%30 of the loot, to charging a fixed transaction fee to every Bill who hosts an Alien, who stays online at least long enough to cover that fee. Fon should accept larger payments from Aliens, and let them use it up by the minute. They should likewise, pay Bills by the minute. Fon should allow Bills to choose when to transfer funds out of the Piggy Bank, but should feel free to charge a reasonable service fee. If Fon wants to be a financial success, they need to stop taking divine tribute from the Fonero peasantry, and instead provide concrete plans for Foneros to help them increase their number of Alien events.

Let Fon sell their own routers, fine/whatever, but don’t allow them to lock out other equipment and firmwares. Being compatible with Coova/Chili/spot is a very easy goal to reach these days. Fon and its active community can provide development and features and scrutinize the security in homebrew hotspots. It kills me that I no longer work for a webhosting facility. I had free rack space and bandwidth there, and I would have certainly set up my own authentication server and webhost to provide exactly the services and terms which I’m describing here. I could be a thousandaire by now.

EDIT: nick123 has offered some additional information, based on his knowledge of UK taxes and PayPal fees. His data suggests that the breakdown looks more like this:
(Click image for full-sized popup)

This is damning evidence that we need to eliminate the credit card/PayPal transaction fees whenever possible, by allowing Aliens to purchase larger blocks of connect time.We need further accountability from Fon. What does that remaining unknown portion go to? What is the split in the USA? In other countries? While Fon does quietly disclose that there are “fees and taxes” involved, i’m sure that they are legally obligated to itemize them for our individual cases. It is indeed unfortunate that I must put that last sentence in such a way, for I have little faith in Fon disclosing just because it makes us happy. :(

Accountablility is to politicians and businessmen, what sunlight and garlic is to a vampire.

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!