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

September Feature Article: FrancoFON

September 1, 2008

Fans of FreeWLAN, will take an interest in FrancoFON. Both of these projects have designed firmware plugins, which improve Fon’s La Fonera v1.x wifi router firmware. They impliment features that Fon stripped out of open-source OpenWRT, or enhance existing features.

Here are the highlights of the current version 2.23.6:

  • Antenna power tuning
  • Better firewall
  • Blacklist for sites that may never be visited from public network
  • Configuration can be backed up and restored
  • Diagnostic windows allowing to run command on La Fonera directly from admin console.
  • Display last version available. (in red if version is not up to date)
  • DNS modifications
  • DynDNS management.
  • Firmware Can be upgraded from an alternative server
  • Hosts file management
  • Internet feed may be aquired in wifi client (ponte2) mode instead of from Ethernet port, relay it as Fon hotspot
  • Local user management
  • MAC addresses may be banned from public and private network, with scheduler.
  • Multiple languages; English, French and Roman
  • Port forwarding wizard
  • PPPoE password now permits @ and / characters, up to length of 64 characters
  • Private network SSID can be hidden
  • Private signal still present in ponte2 mode
  • Real time display for private and public connections.
  • Real Time display of status and ID of connected Foneros.
  • Reboot/connection notification by mail
  • Remote reboot
  • Reserve address on private network (static DNS?)
  • Router may be given a name (hostname?)
  • Router SSH administration may be enabled/disabled
  • Router web administration via Ethernet port may be enabled/disabled.
  • Time-zone Configuration
  • Whitelist for sites that may always be visited from public network (without logging in)

This is very similar to the feature-set of FreeWLAN. Both projects support multiple languages, but if you are interested in joining development, speakers of German may prefer FreeWLAN, while speakers of French may prefer FrancoFON.

Though this edition dates from May 15, 2008, FrancoFON is back from holiday with the September Newsletter, and have plans to enhance the La Fonera Plus/2 router next!

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

Flashing La Fonera over Serial Port

February 8, 2008

Here are instructions for restoring your FON firmware entirely through the serial connector. Most instructions which i’ve seen on the web assume that you have telnet over Ethernet access to Redboot, which is a chicken and egg problem!

EDIT: ChrisPHL points out that I can enable telnet over Ethernet before I even init or flash any firmware by using the RedBoot FCONFIG command: FreeWLAN.info. So why follow this tutorial? While serial console may be slower than uploading via Ethernet, you’ll save time because you won’t need to set up TFTP server, manually configure TCP/IP, rearrange cords, change cords back, reconfigure DHCP, etc.

This tutorial worked just fine for my La Fonera 1.0 (FON2100). If you have the La Fonera 1.1 (FON2200), 1.5 (FON2201), or 2.0 (FON2202), you may find that telnet over Ethernet is allready enabled! One reader has informed me that his newer FON2200 seems to have an *older* version of RedBoot (V1.00 – built 10:37:27, Dec 12 2006) installed on it than mine (V1.3.0), and that the memory range begins at a different address. If this tutorial doesn’t seem to do the trick, try k0k0′s German tutorial, which uses different addresses starting with the second ‘load’ command. FON2201 and FON2202 use different firmware and are based on yet another circuit board. They will certainly require different load addresses.

It is possible to transfer the files using XMODEM or YMODEM if you use a terminal emulator like HyperTerminal. ZMODEM would be even faster and more accurate, but I was unable to get that to work. When I used HyperTerminal, I am pretty sure I used hardware handshaking, but k0k0, administrator of FreeWLAN’s forums recommends setting this to NO handshaking. This may be necessary if you can receive text from the serial port, but cannot get it to respond to keystrokes.

The two firmware files, rootfs.squashfs and kernel.lzma were aquired from this archive, and are stored on my local hard drive. I did not set up a TFTP or web server, as that would require a network connection, and is again, a chicken and the egg problem. :wink:

To start with, I have built a working serial voltage adapter, as seen in my previous post, interrupted the bootup with CTL-C, and executed the following commands in Redboot:

1) RedBoot> baudrate 115200 (much faster connection, but I needed to close and restart HyperTerminal using the new speed)

2) RedBoot> fis init -f (this deletes all of the onboard firmware!)

typical response from RedBoot:
About to initialize [format] FLASH image system – continue (y/n)? y
*** Initialize FLASH Image System
… Erase from 0xa87e0000-0xa87f0000: .
… Program from 0x80ff0000-0×81000000 at 0xa87e0000: .

The following commands and memory addresses are taken directly from the DD-WRT tutorial on “Reflashing LaFonera original firmware“, except that i’ve gotten the files I need by other means, and i’ve adjusted the commands for using YMODEM over the serial console instead of TFTP server at a fixed IP. You may use XMODEM if you choose instead, but it is a bit slower. If you must use XMODEM, and it will not start, try switching your terminal emulator from hardware handshaking to XON/XOFF – or vice-versa.

3) RedBoot> load -r -m ymodem rootfs.squashfs -b 0×80040450

typical response from RedBoot:
CCCCRaw file loaded 0×80040450-0x801c044f, assumed entry at 0×80040450
xyzModem – CRC mode, 2(SOH)/1536(STX)/0(CAN) packets, 6 retries

Whew! That was fun! I haven’t used YMODEM since the early 1980′s! As you see “xyzModem” implies that ZMODEM is supported, but the command “-m ZMODEM” is rejected by RedBoot. YMODEM and XMODEM may sit idle for a while before they start transferring. Be patient. :lol:

4) RedBoot> fis create -b 0×80040450 -f 0xA8030000 -l 0×00700000 -e 0×00000000 rootfs

typical response from RedBoot: (THIS CAN TAKE A LONG TIME!)
… Erase from 0xa8030000-0xa8730000: ……………………………………
… Program from 0×80040450-0×80740450 at 0xa8030000: ……………………..
… Erase from 0xa87e0000-0xa87f0000: .
… Program from 0x80ff0000-0×81000000 at 0xa87e0000: .

5) RedBoot> load -r -m ymodem -b %{FREEMEMLO} kernel.lzma

typical response from RedBoot:
CCRaw file loaded 0×80040800-0x800c07ff, assumed entry at 0×80040800
xyzModem – CRC mode, 2(SOH)/512(STX)/0(CAN) packets, 4 retries

6) RedBoot> fis create -r 0×80041000 -e 0×80041000 vmlinux.bin.l7

typical response from RedBoot:
… Erase from 0xa8730000-0xa87b0000: ……..
… Program from 0×80040800-0x800c0800 at 0xa8730000: ……..
… Erase from 0xa87e0000-0xa87f0000: .
… Program from 0x80ff0000-0×81000000 at 0xa87e0000: .

7) RedBoot> fis load -l vmlinux.bin.l7

typical response from RedBoot (after a really long pause):
Image loaded from 0×80041000-0x801ba000

8) RedBoot> exec

typical response from RedBoot:
Now booting linux kernel:
Base address 0×80030000 Entry 0×80041000

At this point the serial connection froze. I powercycled La Fonera and observed Redboot come up, and then the serial connection froze again shortly after stating that it was booting the linux kernel… but Wireless Connection Manager showed that MyPlace had been created and I was able to access the onboard web admin. The router is now factory-fresh, circa firmware version 0.7.1 r1! 8)

Next, i’ll leave the Ethernet disconnected, and configure the fonware over a wifi connection to load FreeWLAN. Once that is working, then i’ll install the CAMICIA modified bootloader over SSH *before* I begin experimenting with configuration changes again. ;)

EDIT: The following page of RedBoot Command Line Options helped me a lot in making this tutorial: AdvancedRelay

Building a Cable to Debrick La Fonera WIFI Router

February 8, 2008

Well, all great minds screw up once in a while. I was thrilling away with my La Fonera 1.0, freshly hot-rodded with FreeWLAN v0.9.2, when the Fon came to a screeching halt! I was trying to do something Really Cool, and set it up as a Transparent Ethernet bridge. In this mode, the La Fonera would work as a wifi client device. The WAN Ethernet port would be repurposed as a LAN port, which would be bridged to the upstream LAN and DHCP server. This way, I could turn my tiny USB-Ethernet print server into a wireless one.

Well, it turns out that FreeWLAN’s QRM implementation isn’t quite working perfectly. To make matters worse, I can’t just hold down the ‘ole reset button because that button is ignored until the firmware finishes booting and polls it! This La Fonera isn’t finding the WLAN I configured it to join, so it isn’t setting up it’s virtual interfaces. I’m told that it’s stuck in this incompletely booted state forever. All I can do is ping it under very particular circumstances. No SSH, and no web admin exist any more.

Proponents of FreeWLAN advise flashing the kernel ASAP with one which allows reflashing the firmware over the Ethernet cable. I have done this before, when I was using DD-WRT for the La Fonera, but had not yet done it with this particular router. This leaves only flashing by serial connector. This is often referred to as a “JTAG” connector, but technically the La Fonera just has a serial connector that is simply at a lower voltage (TTL) than the serial port (RS232) you may have on the back of your PC. This requires a voltage-level adjustor. The folks at FreeWLAN were very helpful in providing me a list of options, and I decided that I would build the serial adaptor myself.


La Fonera 1.0 (FON2100) (left), (right) La Fonera 1.1 (FON2200)

The popular design utilizes a Maxim 232 or 3232 integrated circuit. Maxim will provide free samples of this part, with free shipping from their website. I ordered two, which arrived about a week later.

I went to Radio Shack, our local overpriced electronics parts store, for 5 polarized tantalum capacitors, a small breadboard, and a 9-pin female serial connector. The bill came to $12.91 with tax.

I used sections of an old floppy cable for wire and for the connector to the La Fonera, as the holes were exactly right.

As luck would have it, the first one I built didn’t work properly. On my first trip to Radio Shack, I had bought slightly cheaper nonpolarized electrolytic capacitors. The MAX3232 datasheet said that nonpolarized would work, but perhaps that is not so for this particular project. I’m happier with the way the much smaller tantalum capacitors look, anyway.

We have RedBoot!

Also, if I let it boot up uninterrupted, I can hit ENTER for a telnet session to the OpenWRT firmware which the fonware is based on:

Next up is flashing the CAMICIA edition of the linux kernel which permits access to Redboot over the Ethernet port. I may choose XMODEM to transfer files while connected to the serial port. Then i’ll switch to Ethernet to more quickly flash the 0.7.1 edition of fonware which works best with FreeWLAN. Switching to wifi, I’ll manually configure fonware to download FreeWLAN right away, before I ever connect the Ethernet to the Internet, preventing further fonware updates. Fonware updates get slipstreamed into future FreeWLAN editions, and thus the router really does stay up-to-date.

SSH for La Fonera + Plus

October 28, 2007

The first crack for La Fonera Plus comes to us courtesy of FrancoFon. FrancoFon was recently heralded by Fon President Martin Varsavsky for their La Fonera 1.x improvements. Like FreeWLAN, FrancoFon does not replace Fon’s firmware, but adds functionality through modular addons.




How to activate SSH on Fonera Plus

Configure your computer with IP address

Install a little webserver on your computer (like Apache)

Download the file redboot.pl

Download the firmware file firmware_francofon.bin and put it into the home directory of your webserver

Install perl and its dependencies perl-Net-Telnet and also, install fping.

Connect the La Fonera directly to your computer.

Start the previously download script: perl redboot.pl

Start your fonera.

Once done, you should have access to telnet command.

Enter the following command:

ip_address -l -h
and enter:

fis delete image
load -r -b 0×80100000 /firmware_francofon.bin -m HTTP -h
fis create -b 0×80100000 -l 0×00237040 -f 0xA8040000 -e 0×80040400 -r 0×80040400 image

Wait until the end of the flashing! That’s all, you should have now access to SSH

So it looks like the trick was in discovering which IP:port La Fonera Plus was listening to when it powers up, and designing the script to hammer at it. This is how telnet access is aquired, and from there, the firmware_francofon.bin addition can be downloaded from your client PC. SSH is then one of the benefeits of using the FrancoFon add-on.

I’m interested in seeing a comparison of the features between FreeWLAN and FrancoFon to show what each project offers, and which features work better.

It sounds like FrancoFon is sharing their method with FreeWLAN, so we should see that become available for La Fonera Plus soon too!


FreeWLAN Project Enhances La Fonera

October 2, 2007

Fon’s firmware has been the subject of controversy. While receiving praise for it’s “plug-and-play” simplicity, Fon has eliminated features required by many ISPs, and needed by potential wifi users. Fon has also declared a ”Fonero Promise” in effect, forbidding any modification of the firmware. What can we Foneros do to make the Fon System more attractive to the wifi community?

The FreeWLAN Community is an innovative group of hosted projects working to enhance the abilities of Fon’s La Fonera line of routers. They maintain both English and German discussion boards, an online wiki and bugtracker. This is quite a professional operation for a group of volunteers!

FreeWLAN operates in a grey area around Fon’s covenant by adding firmware as plugins, rather than modifying existing code. Additional features show up as new pages in the router’s onboard administration. Fon’s code is not cracked, and their system of authentication and client management is not circumvented.

Let’s welcome the new release of FreeWLAN v0.9.0 today, which includes the following new abilities (copied from their press release):

  • Bandwidth limiting
  • Bridging Ethernetport to private WiFi
  • Connection to the web via WLAN (Pseudo-WDS) –> QRM (Quasi Repeater Mode) with detailed settings
  • DynDNS-Client
  • Family- & Friends-Accounts
  • Fonero-Status of connected guests
  • Hostname editable
  • MAC-Blocking
  • MAC-Cloning
  • Mail service
  • MyPlace works in QRM => three (!) WiFis
  • Private WiFi’s SSID hideable
  • Static DHCP (binding IP to MAC)
  • UAM-Allowed editable
  • WiFi-Scan in QRM => Display on status page

In addition, the Help System and Speed Information have been updated.

Installation is as simple as changing your DNS server and SSID settings, rebooting your La Fonera router, and watching it update itself!

These folks appear to nurture the kind of creative spirit which a grass-roots startup like Fon needs in order to have a competitive edge. Attention Fon: hire these guys before someone else does! ;)

Click the picture below for FreeWLAN’s web demo:

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.

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”.