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

British Telecom Announces Fon E-Partnership

February 4, 2007

Santosh Menon, of Reuters writes in PC Pro about a tentative new Fon-BT hookup on the table.

BT would reflash their customer’s broadband wifi routers in order to provide Fon hotspots. BT customers will be able to use their dual wifi/GSM phones at these and any other Fon hotspots worldwide. BT customers will pay discount rates for their calls, and Linus/Bill hotspot hosts will get…. er, nothing whatsoever was mentioned.

Where, Oh Where, Have Our Little Routeros Gone?

Some really odd numbers are presented in the article:

BT Fusion users, who have mobile phones that can connect to a short-range wireless Wi-Fi network as well as the cell phone network, could use their phones on the home networks of around 250,000 global Fon members, which it calls ‘foneros’, 10,000 of them are already in Britain.

Now, we all know that after adding up the number of Fon hotspots indexed by maps.fon.com POI export, we get a bit over 50,000. Worldwide. This includes hotspots which have been inactive for months. This means that somehow, 200,000+ hotspots are being “strategically” omitted from the maps, even though they’ve left in thousands which have nonsense addresses. Exactly 200 Fon hotspots are apparently located at the North Pole. The maps only show 1,039 Foneros for the UK.

It could be argued that Menon misunderstood the number of registered Aliens + Linuses + Bills = total hotspots, but then we read the following statement, apparently written by Fon themselves, and we have to seriously ask for proof of these statistics:

Securely and fairly share you WiFi with the FON community, plus get your own private encrypted connection.. -In return connect for free to thousands of WiFi FONspots -over 100,000 around the world!

I’m doubting that Fon actually shipped out 100,000 Linksys and La Fonera routers, let alone a quarter of a million of them. And what’s this “securely and fairly” doublespeak about? Insecurity and unfair profitsharing terms are some of the biggest complaints about the Fon system. I predict that next, Fon will tout itself as hosting the largest, happiest social community on it’s boards.

Fon Swings…. Fon Misses. Fon Doesn’t Get To Play Anymore.

Today, Randall Stross writes in the New York Times about how Google (Fon’s erstwhile investor) is now investing in the Meraki Mini, by Meraki Networks, who has built a router that is virtually identical inside to Fon’s own La Fonera. Meraki has achieved router meshing, and provide remote management software for individual or groups of wifi routers. Incomplete meshing was included in earlier La Foneras, but has been subsequently removed. It had not required authentication, and was a vector for obtaining free internet connections.

Make Your Mac Into A Fon Router!

January 26, 2007

Fon President Martin Varsavsky writes in his blog that he will release an edition of the Fon access portal for Macintosh computers in mid April, 2007. The Fon access portal has previously been offered in the form of replacement firmware for certain Linksys and Buffalo wifi routers, as well as in Fon’s own proprietary La Fonera device. These routers are all capable of running Linux-based DD-WRT and OpenWRT operating systems, which the access portal software, called Chilispot, is designed for.

Mac OSX is based on a similar operating system: BSD Unix. This similarity makes it easier to recompile and configure applications like Chilispot to run in similar environments. Fon no longer needs to develop an entire platform now that they have code that can be transported like this to equipment which is more powerful, flexible, and plentiful.

Exact details were not given, but each Fon Mac probably needs to have two network interfaces at the same time; one to supply the broadband internet connection, and the other to connect to the internal or external wifi device. One might be able to use an internal wifi card, or if there was a spare ethernet jack, attach any existing or future WAP device to create a hotspot!

There are even more possibilities which I hope Fon explores after this. Many other wifi-sharing solutions that I have looked at depend on using an old PC as a dedicated machine running access portal software (see my blog sidebar). The PC typically runs a stripped-down Linux-based OS, which may be booted from a CDROM or even a floppy disc. Some like 2hotspot.com are even Windows-based applications.

I’ve toyed with the idea of taking one of my old PCs and creating a 100% Fon-compatible hotspot, combined with an old 802.11b router I have which can’t run Fon’s firmware. It would not be Fon-compliant, since they require that we use their own firmware, but they would never detect the difference. I would be able to provide an 802.11n Fon hotspot simply by swapping out that router for the new one. While the PC itself is old, it would still outperform and be more flexible than the hardware in any small home wifi router for many years to come.

I’ve been advocating that Fon abandon the idea that they must be based on particular hardware and firmware, or proprietary routers. I strongly encourage them to transform into a set of standards that creates a compatible, secure Fon hotspot using whatever equipment is available. In the future, people could add Fon services to their Linux computers, or use a bootable CDROM to dedicate an old PC to the same purpose. Fon could let us download an .ISO image file or they could mail out CDs. Someone out there is certainly capable of writing a Windows application version. This would expand Fon’s possibilities by several orders of magnitude.

If we no longer had to find a compatible router, or wait to have our quirky, proprietary Foneras shipped to us, thousands more people would join the Fon Network overnight. If Fon relaxed it’s terms and became more sensible about their fees and profitsharing, then their system would fit many more people’s needs, and they would stand to lose nothing.



Slashdot Report: “Free Wifi” Scam

January 26, 2007

This article in Slashdot, which links to this Computerworld article describes a scam which has actually allready been seen used “in the wild.” A computer with a working internet connection is set up as a “free wifi” hotspot. Once you connect to it’s unencrypted SSID, then anything can happen, while you innocently browse the webs. Your traffic can be sniffed. Your shared folders can be pillaged. Your computer could have adware, spyware, trojans or viruses installed. Your computer might even be turned into yet another fake “free hotspot” and spread this forth like marching ants.

I can’t think of anything that would prevent this free hotspot from being decorated like an authentic Fon hotspot. It would approve whatever username and password you use (and store it for it’s master), and even let you walk through PayPal to authorize a daily payment. Oh, look. Routine credit card number verification time. And please confirm the expiration date and confirmation code on the back, “for your safety”. “PayPal” thanks you. Sure, the user might see an SSL certificate warning. Unless all that annoying warning stuff is turned off. Or the web server might just use plain HTTP. Can all of us honestly say we look closely each time the Fon login page appears on screen

Fon could possibly provide a solution to this scam by providing an applet, which sits in the task tray perhaps, which automatically handles SSL-encrypted login to authentic Fon hotspots. It would also redirect our internet traffic through a VPN tunnel to a server located on the router, or another endpoint of our choosing. The applet would protect us by refusing to connect to a hotspot that cannot provide authentic certificates, accepts a false password or has been added to a blacklist maintained by Fon.

The applet might even allow a paid-up Fonero to tunnel her traffic to a Fon router elsewhere when using some other untrusted, unencrypted free hotspot. The VPN service would thus make Fon’s paid services available through any hotspot in the world, including ones that are about the same cost, or less (including free spots). This could be the the “killer app” that makes Fon a desirable service where it would otherwise have been uncompetative, AND increase the reach of The Fon Network by an order of magnitude at the same time! A partnership with a company like hotspotvpn.com could provide an immediate source of VPN proxies. VPN servers would then be added to the Fon routers, and added to the available shared pool. Legal anonymity services could even be provided.

I can’t give these away!!!

January 23, 2007

I see that I have some neighbors who registered as Foneros at some time (per http://maps.fon.com); but if they bought routers, it appears that they never registered them. They’re not folks I know. :(

I’ve approached my other neighbors about getting free La Foneras, but they either allready have wifi routers, or are not interested in Fon. They do not seem to understand that this is no scam (on my part, anyway). I have gotten a lot of suspicious looks and even one lecture on morality. Damn freaks! I cannot give a single one away here, so I give up. :(

If you would like one of my invitations, please do the following:

  • Sorry, the promotion’s over!

I plan to give preference to fellow Austinites, then other email addresses that are clearly from USA domains, then the rest after that. Fon has given me invites that are only for delivery in the U.S.A. Fon reserves the right to decide if your address qualifies, but they’ll still delete that invite if you don’t..

Once the invitations are gone, I will remove the instructions above.

DAY 1-2: No takers!

DAY 3: 3 invites accepted! Congrats, J.P., S.S. and J.

DAY 4-7: No takers!

Day 8: 2 invites! Congrats D.V. and B.B.!

I still have invites, and Fon says they may give me more, so requests are still welcome! :)

The New FON Statistics

January 21, 2007

It’s Sunday, and I had nothing better to do this morning besides downloading all of the separate database files from the POI tab at maps.fon.com and do some simple statistics. There are 90 countries represented, with a total of 52,089 52,088 Fon hotspots, including exactly 200 which are apparently located at the North Pole.

The top 34 countries (from POI files >1k), in order from most hotspots to least are:

01 Germany: 11039
02 SKorea: 7977
03 Spain: 6339
04 France: 3464
05 USA: 3463
06 Japan: 3220
07 Sweden: 2965
08 Italy: 2625
09 Taiwan: 2019
10 HongKong: 1693
11 Netherlands: 1327
12 UK: 1039
13 Austria: 986
14 Finland: 882
15 China: 688
16 Denmark: 579
17 Belgium: 346
18 Portugal: 308
19 Hungary: 164
20 Ireland: 145
21 NKorea: 88
22 Norway: 85
23 China: 83
24 Greece: 69
25 Poland: 64
26 Argentina: 52
27 Slovenia: 43
28 Estonia: 32
29 Canada: 32
30 Brazil: 26
31 CzechRep: 22
32 Luxembourg: 19
33 Mexico: 17
34 Australia: 16

It would be wrong to conclude that between Sept 25, 2006 and Jan 21, 2007, Fon has grown by approximately 48,400 hotspots, as the POI function is undoubtedly (and understandably) including hotspots that have not been active within the hour of downloading. The exported files would not be used right away, perhaps days later after flying overseas. Mike Puchol made an effort to eliminate inactive hotspots during his original investigation (just before the POI tab was yanked away the first time).

I suspect that Fon does not update these coordinates in real time, if only because there have been absolutely no additions in the USA in the past 3 days. It appears that adjustments in the hotspot’s position on the map are updated almost immediately. Changes in my address text appeared after 15 mins or so, but it took over a half hour for the star to re-appear on my hotspot after I turned it back on again. If there isn’t an instant-update system, then at least it’s being done regularly.

Please regard the rankings higher on the list to be more accurate than the ones at the very bottom. Since I eliminated 2/3 of the databases just because they were smaller than 1 kilobyte, there could be some countries that were included or eliminated only because of the average text length of street addresses there.

I was a little suprised at the results. Overall, I thought there would be more hotspots everywhere. In mid-December, Fon claimed to have more than 100,000 hotspots worldwide, twice the number documented in the POI, of which, perhaps 4 out of 5 have not been on “in the last hour”. Also, the last I had heard, the USA was a very close second behind Spain, who was in the lead. It would appear that Germany is the clear winner now! I was also suprised to see how few hotspots were with the USA s neighbors: Canada and Mexico. I can understand about Canada due to their smaller population (and Fon does not ship there), but Mexico has many high-density, modern cities, and should not suffer from the still-aggravating language barrier.

By adding together the 5 countries represented above, which predominately speak English (USA, UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia), I get a count of 4695 which puts us in 4th place worldwide. This should mean something to Fon, which still hasn’t assigned a permanent moderator to the English discussion board who properly reads and writes the language. I know it seems mean of me to say this, except that his poor English has resulted in numerous conflicts and forced others to follow up on his support answers to explain what he meant. Speaking of discussion boards, it looks like Fon is WAY overdue in launching an official board for Germany, and perhaps Japan next.

In conclusion, I concede that the maps export feature is not a perfectly accurate method of determining the population of Fon routers being operated. While Fon may declare that there are hotspots everywhere, all that we know comes from these statistics that we pull from them like pulling teeth. These are undeniably overstated. If anyone has done an up-to-date survey of ACTIVE hotspots worldwide, I would love to know. :)

POI Tab returns to maps.fon.com Page

January 18, 2007

So far, this news has only appeared in the Spanish-language official Fon blog.

Once again, Foneros may download a database of coordinates and addresses of (active ) Fon hotspots from the maps.fon.com hotspot locator. This is helpful in finding a place to get online when you are visiting another city or country and aren’t allready online to look at the map again. It is not possible to download every hotspot coordinate worldwide into a single file, but one may download an entire country and choose between several popular and flexible database formats.

This POI feature was late in arriving, and then taken out again a few months back, after another blogger used it to report that the number of active hotspots was being seriously undercounted. Or that Fon was wildly exaggerating the extent of their Revolution Movement Network. The poor chap actually recieved a death threat for spreading “LIIIIIIIIEEEEEESSSSSS!”

I was suprised to find that there are only 3,463 hotspots in the USA .CSV format download. Since the database is intended for offline use, and might not be used until days later, I would not expect it to contain only hotspots that are current within the hour.

I also encountered a glitch when downloading the database files. While I could choose between .KML, .CSV, .GPX and .OV2 file formats, the downloads were stored in my folder as download.php.xml, download.php.txt, or download.php.zip, so I needed to manually rename them in order to open them.

The map itself is still as slow and painful to navigate as ever. But it’s functional, and attractive thanks to Google Power. Unfortunately, since I had maps.fon.com open in another window for reference, my 3Ghz computer is now acting sluggish and wonky, even though I closed the map window some time ago. It appears that i’ll have to reboot after publishing this. 🙁

Build Your Own Liberator Router

January 16, 2007

Fon has plans for a new hardware version of their router. Originally called “The Fon Downloader”, then the “Fon Liberator“, they’ve cleverly changed the name to “La Fonera v2.” No, it doesn’t have a LAN jack so your wired computers are stil s.o.l., but it will have a USB port that can mount a USB storage device (nothing else). On board the router will be a bittorrent (or other file-sharing) application, and the interface will be web-based (possibly in the onboard config pages, else remotely, in your User Zone on Fon’s server). Fon seems to be working on how to restrict downloads to only those which come from an approved “legal” file-sharing site. Whether this means public-domain material only, or will be some kind of pay-for-content site is not disclosed. The release date is planned for sometime in January 2007, and cost around $85(!)

Diego Parrilla has allready built a router capable of running a file sharing application, and using an attached USB hard drive for storage. While he does not explicitly state that he operates a Fon-compatible (Chilispot) hotspot, it does run on a Linux distribution and would have that capability. I’m skeptical about his belief that using wifi routers for downloading files will be a “killer app” that will revitalize the Fon Revolution Movement. I doubt that an activity which he feels “breaks computers” through “abnormal stress” is appropriate for a 100-400 mhz router processor that is allready very busy moving data and performing en/decryption. It’s very interesting to read, and has a video presentation.

Thanks to Dema for blogging about this first.

I lost track of where I got this link, but someone else has gone all-out with his modification of an WRT54G. He’s added speakers, a flashcard reader, and an LCD display, as well as support for a VGA screen! Madness! You can check out his pictures and download the software sourcecode he’s provided.

Click the pictures to see the full-sized originals:

There are even more pictures on his website. :)

A final treat is brought by a chap whose name possibly means something other than what it sounds like in English. This is a Fotonovella called “El Fogonazo” which compares the rise of Martin Varsavsky and Fon to an immortal Stanley Kubrick movie. No not that one, the other one. No, not that one either; the *other* one. I’m sure it’s a marvelous story, but I don’t understand a word of Spanish. ;)

ZING Announces FON E-partnership

January 12, 2007

Zing has announced that they will be “supporting” some unspecified “compatability” with the Fon Network so that owners of the wifi-equipped Sansa Connect media player may enjoy “free unlimited WiFi access” to “connect, download, manage and exchange entertainment content directly from the player.” This comes as part of a new package deal that includes a (shipped separately) free La Fonera router. They’re not stating that wifi access will therefore be available from any Fon hotspot in the world. It sounds like they understand how Fon hotspots do and do not work! ;)

While they describe Fon router registration as ”an option”, it will certainly actually be mandatory. An unregistered router with a working internet connection will offer a public network SSID to let Aliens log on for $$ as usual, but there will be no private network SSID. Even if the media player had a browserless login feature, an unregistered Fon router would not accept “Linus” or “Friends and Family” free logins.

I’m not going to bother linking any trackbacks to Fon President Martin Varsavsky’s blog, since he’s blocked trackbacks from mine.

DD-WRT for La Fonera!

January 11, 2007

The moderator of boards.fon.com is censoring euronerd’s posts about this topic. Euronerd has his own board where discussion continues about it.

But the news is out! Brainslayer has taken the time to make an implimentation of DD-WRT for the La Fonera router which replaces the locked-down feature-stripped firmware Fon provides for it! He is the genius who wrote and develops DD-WRT for Linksys, Buffalo and other routers. He also wrote the Fon-disavowed “Fonadvanced” firmware for Linksys and Buffalo routers.

The installation must be done manually, in multiple steps, and the features are still very basic. One feature familiar to DD-WRT users, is allready working: a “client” mode which allows the router to work in reverse, by attaching to *another* wifi hotspot and providing internet service to computers connected to it’s ethernet cable. Sort of like an external wifi adapter, but with an ethernet jack instead of USB. That feature alone could make the La Fonera router much more useful as a “booster” where there is wifi nearby, but too far for a laptop to pick up with it’s own internal antenna. A pair of La Foneras might even be combined to create cheap wifi “range extenders”!

I think it’s extremely well established that censorship will only draw more attention to issues which Fon fears. Why on earth couldn’t moderfon simply follow up the original post by saying “It will violate your Fonero Promise to use DD-WRT firmware” instead of deleting it But the fact that there is a version of DD-WRT for the La Fonera router is news, not a broken promise!

I’m keeping my eyes open for confirmation that it has a web-based configuration interface and support for multiple SSIDs. It may also be desirable to have Chilispot aboard so that the router can continue to serve as a Fon hotspot using the more versatile firmware. We want to share our wifi. We just don’t accept Fon’s continuing push to eliminate our control of equipment on our premises.

http://www.dd-wrt.com/dd-wrtv2/down.php path=downloads%2Fbeta+releases%2Ffonera+builds/

Fon Security Scenarios

January 7, 2007

Nkieto’s post today brought to my attention an interesting article, “Fon Security Scenarios“, which Fredrik Bjork posted in his blog in November 2006. Bjork is a expert Information Security professional, but the article is written without dense technical language, so it should be easy for everyone to read. While he touches on numerous points which I and others have brought up publicly, his conclusions seem to be that Fon needs to tighten the thumbscrews down even more than they have.

I expressed exactly the opposite view recently in my comments to a post in Dema’s Fon Blog:

“I don’t believe that an proprietary hardware + firmware solution will succeed in a grass-roots, residential wifi-sharing environment. Municipal and commercial projects would seem to be the most appropriate place for La Foneras to be utilized. Uniformity brings down the cost of development and maintenance, and is possible when deploying in vacant territory. La Fonera brought waste and dissapointment when people learned (too late) that they were forced to retire perfectly functional hardware with a flawed and less functional one.

If I were developing a network of wifi-sharers like Fon claims to be, I would focus on developing standards that allow people to build secure and authentic hotspots with whatever equipment they have on hand. I would also partner with router manufacturers to get them shipped with (or at least provide for download) “share-ready” firmware like they have done with ZoneAlarm and other security solutions. After activating, the registration system could decide if the new member’s ISP was acceptable, and a rebate check could be mailed after the hotspot had been active for a certain number of months (or sooner, if a certain threshhold of profit had originated there) similar to rebates for Linksys routers with Vonage built in.

The Fon Movement does not consist of La Foneras, official crippleware and exciting corporate vaporware announcements. The Fon Movement is the active members of the discussion boards and other wifi communities who maintain the enthusiam and volunteer their efforts for a common cause. The Fon Network is only superficially about carpet-bombing the countryside with random routers. The Fon Network is the (now-secret) number of Foneros who were intrigued and trusting enough to take the time to register for membership (and this is Fon’s greatest accomplishment – phishing for email addresses). It is possible for Fon to nurture these resources to make something better than, say, Google’s targeted municipal installations, but Fon must learn to establish cooperation instead of exploring ways to establish control.”


Friends, please do not hesitate to comment to my articles! This blog is not restricted to my own opinions. I cannot presume to accurately write about other’s views. Please comment so they appear in your own words! ;)