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

Fon Hotspot without La Fonera hardware.

July 24, 2008

First, let’s be honest here. Fon really, really really wants you to buy a La Fonera. $20+ shipping for La Fonera 1, or $50+ shipping for La Fonera Plus, with only one LAN Ethernet jack. Fon no longer sells Linksys WRT54GL routers, and they’ve hidden the download links for the firmware necessary to “bring your own” hardware. But for the time being, that firmware is still downloadable, and so you can use your own Linksys and Buffalo brand routers.

Update: Fon has terminated their original downloads page. The links below to FonBasic and FonAdvanced still work as of 02/28/2015. The Macintosh and Ubuntu versions are now hosted by me. They’re open source products, so any take-down demands can kiss my ass. Joiku jettisoned their Fon e-partnership at the end of 2012, so that’s gone.

This firmware does not have the double-SSID feature, and other privileges might be withheld from such Fonero accounts by Fon. You may not be able to operate as a Bill Fonero (who makes money). Your hotspot contribution to Fon may not be rewarded with free roaming like everyone else. You may not be able to even register your hotspot to your Fonero account. Fon will probably continue to accept registrations of new Aliens, provide “free” trial connections, and sell wifi access at these spots. Great deal, eh?

The trick seems to lie partly in what WLAN MAC address your firmware sends back to Fon in it’s heartbeat. If it is not in the block assigned to the La Foneras which Fon sells, then you’re simply treated differently. While the formerly-official firmwares listed here are unable to clone that WLAN MAC, a little manual tweaking may fix that. There is also an encryption key which must be generated by an application installed in La Fonera firmware, but this can be provided for you by a friend.

Below are the links to download the firmware, please select the version for your router model.

FonBasic is based upon OpenWRT, and FonAdvanced is based upon DD-WRT firmware. There were also several builds of DD-WRT made with an auto-configure button in the onboard admin pages, which essentially turned it into FonAdvanced. The latest builds may still be configured for Fon by following the tutorial linked at the end of this page.

– Download FONbasic Linksys WRT54G / WRT54GL
– Download FONbasic Linksys WRT54GSv1-v3
– Download FONbasic Linksys WRT54GSv4

– Download FONbasic Buffalo WZR-RS-G54 / WHR-G54S / HP-G54

Here is the generic installation guide for the Linksys/Buffalo firmwares above: GUIDE.

– Download FONAdvanced Linksys WRT54GL / WRT54Gv3

There are several other options available for Foneros who are familiar with Linux or Macintosh OSX operating systems. These allow you to offer your own Fon hotspot, using an existing PC or Macintosh running an Intel processor. Each device needs both an Ethernet connection for the Internet feed, and a working WiFi adapter to transmit the Fon hotspot in peer-to-peer mode. You might also be able to tweak the system, and instead use two Ethernet adapters, with a simple WiFi AP connected to one of them. This would even make it possible to make your Fon hotspot capable of 802.11n!

– Download FonSpot for Macintosh OSX Tiger
– Download FonSpot for Macintosh OSX Leopard

– Download FonSpot for Ubuntu Linux

To install the Linux Fonspot, follow these steps:
1) log into your Ubuntu PC via SSH as root
2) cd /tmp
3) wget

http://fon.fondoo.net/firmware/fon_linuxspot_beta0.2_es.tar.gz

Please note the above gzipped file contains a double-tarred file. It’s not corrupted! The inner tar file has no file extension. Please adjust the command on the next line as necessary. I’m leaving it unfixed so that it is the genuine file distributed by Fon.

4) tar zxvf fon_linuxspot_beta0.2_es.tar.gz -C /
5) > fonspot

You will need to either launch Linux Fonspot manually, each time you boot up, or manually add it to your startup script.

There is also FonJoikuSpot, which is a Fon-themed skin for Joiku’s JoikuSpot application which runs on a number of Samsung and Nokia phones. In original press releases, this was unwisely called “FonSpot” which re-uses the name of the Mac/Ubuntu FonSpot product above.

– Purchase FonJoikuSpot

Let me know if any of these firmwares can no longer be downloaded, since I don’t check them often. Do I have copies of all of this software? You betcha. When Fon finally yanks their own copies down, i’ll put up rapidshare or bittorrent links. ;)

Finally, it is realistically possible to make a fully Fon-compatible hotspot using any PC or router running Linux-type operating systems, if there is also a version of Chilispot or Coovachili which works on it. Fon’s router firmware is a stripped-down edition of OpenWRT, so any router which runs this is an excellent candidate, even if you don’t use OpenWRT itself.

For example, this tutorial will instruct you to set up a Fon hotspot on any router running the latest DD-WRT firmware, including cloning a MAC address which Fon likes, and setting up the “Fon heartbeat” so that your device appears on their maps.


Fon Math 2008 (repost with more info)

May 21, 2008

It’s been over two years since Fon’s Official Launch on Feb 6th, 2006. The two-year anniversary passed without any news or fanfare, besides my own blog post. Today Martin Varsavsky has released some general figures about Fon’s current size, income and expenses. I’m assuming these are worldwide aggregate figures, with no omissions:

  • Total number of registered Foneros: 830,000
  • Total number of registered Fon hotspots: 332,000
  • Number of recently active Fon hotspots: 212,000
  • Fon monthly revenues: €100,000
  • Fon monthly cash burn (forecast): €350,000
  • Fon employees, worldwide, 2 years from launch: 61

Martin hopes to count 300,000 active hotspots by the end of 2008, though He does not say if this includes “partner” network hotspots. He states that cash burn was still €450,000 last month, and expects profitability by the end of 4th quarter, 2009.

It is interesting how Martin describes 61 employees as a good thing – his spin is that “so few” people have managed “so much” progress. However, this just tends to shed some light on Fon’s notably poor customer service. Fon actually had nearly 100 employees last year, and I’ve just learned that Fon is closing their Swedish and Korean offices, reducing staff in France, and firing one of the two USA employees, for a loss of 14 more employees.

The two USA employees are Joanna Reeves, and English Forum Moderator/Official Fon Blogger Steve Ross. This last item is a great concern to us who support the Fonero community through the forums, for Steve has worked hard and been very successful in restoring civility there after the damage caused by that Moderfon person. Gutting the USA staff like this is a surprising and devastating decision, especially since two years ago, the USA became, or almost became, the home of the largest group of Foneros.

Some more interesting facts from Cincodias:

  • Investor financing in 2006: €18M
  • Investor financing in 2007: €10M
  • Investor financing in 2008: €6M

It’s surprising how Martin Varsavsky promises that Fon will continue to grow and succeed, when the last two years, especially the last several months, have seen so many Fon leaders quit by their own decision.

Reprising my blog adventure on Jan 21, 2007, I’ve downloaded the POI files (.CSV format) from maps.fon.com, to compare with today’s new statistics and see how up-to-date they are. The 90 POI files have grown to 172, representing single regions as large as the USA and the Russian Federation, and as small as Ascension Island and Liechtensten! Some places i’ve never heard of, like “Iles” and “Burkina Faso”. “Serbia and Montenegro” is in the list twice; one of those entries actually seems to download the POI of Yugoslavia.

Most of the POI files are 1k or 2k, and opening them up shows they’re mainly just the results of punching in random words and letters when registering routers. This bogus data really should have been edited out years ago, and the POI dropdown list could use some quality control!

It took me a while, but I appended all of the files together as one, and opened it for a record count:

  • Total number of POI indexed hotspots: 198,366 !

Keep in mind that the POI lists still contain many hotspots which no longer appear as icons on the map, due to long periods of inactivity. The map itself contains numerous “inactive spot” icons, which includes hotspots that have been dead for months or years… So even with hundreds or thousands of junk records in the POI, why does it still fall so far short of Martin Varsavsky’s statement of 212,000 active hotspots?!?!?! With no publicly-accessible data to back up Martin’s claims, these numbers are hard to prove credible.

ADDITION 1:

Top 20 Fonero Countries:

  1. 36,366 FR – France
  2. 33,421 JP – Japan
  3. 26,082 DE – Germany
  4. 15,512 ES – Spain
  5. 14,205 US – United States
  6. 12,306 IT – Italy
  7. 11,060 TW – Taiwan
  8. 9,237 SE – Sweden
  9. 6,296 KR – South Korea
  10. 6,494 NL – Netherlands
  11. 4,011 UK – United Kingdom
  12. 3,369 HK – Hong Kong
  13. 2,811 FI – Finland
  14. 2,438 PT – Portugal
  15. 2,496 CN – China
  16. 2,017 AT – Austria
  17. 1,814 DK – Denmark
  18. 1,531 BE – Belgium
  19. 1,199 HU – Hungary
  20. 980 CA – Canada
  • POI/Countries with 1000 or more records: 19
  • 101-999 records: 14
  • 51-100 records: 9
  • 5-50 records: 42
  • 1-4 records:91

It’s perplexing why Fon would reduce staff in France, when this is the largest group of Foneros, why Fon would close Sweden and Korea when they are both in the top 10, and why Fon Russia would get so much recent news when they have only 23 hotspots!

Steve Ross has written me to let me know that his Fon schedule remains full at this time, and he has received no indication that he may be let go. The La Fonera 2 Beta Test has not been cancelled, though Steve says the hardware apparently did not ship as expected yet. Fon has experienced a number of unspecified changes, which Steve feels has addressed some of the most-complained about areas.

ADDITION 2:

I’ve been using a web-spider program to test the age of Fon’s POI files. Though Fon Maps makes downloading the POI a 3-stage process “select, create, download”, they are not really generated on demand. I had expected to find that they were several months out of date, and thus, my analysis above would be simply irrelevant. Alternately, I thought I might find that the files always test to be a certain age, no matter what time they are checked. This would be dependent on Fon’s web server, and could suggest that an age difference was merely due to a difference between the clock on my PC and theirs. However, at the time of this edit, Fon’s POI files appear to be 2.5 days old and growing! Since this is too much time to be a clock offset, and too little to explain the differences with Martin’s claims, I am reasonably confident that this is the file’s true age.

Another excellent source of Fon statistics is Francofon’s Fon Maps. I am told that they update their figures every night, and use data from Fon’s own POIs (or perhaps direct database access?). However, they come up with considerably different figures than I got directly from Fon Maps! FrancoFon lists 144 countries, instead of 172. They count 206,886 registered Fon hotspots, not 332,000 or 198,366. FrancoFon has determined that 95,324 Fon hotspots are active, (but who knows if they are accessible?) not 212,000. When the statistics include Neuf and Livedoor hotspots, who are “partner” wifi networks, (though not fully reciprocal to the Fon Network’s members) the numbers come closer to Martin’s claims.

This suggests that Martin is including these, and probably British Telcom and other “partner” networks, in his statement. This practice certainly makes the Fon Network look bigger and more active, but is it reasonable and honest?

ADDITION 3: It’s May 24, and Fon’s POI files now appear to be 5.5 days old, so it looks like they were indeed built late Sunday/early Monday. Now we’ll be keeping an eye out to see if they build weekly, monthly or whenever.

ADDITION 4: It’s May 26, and Fon’s POI files now appear to be 7.5 hours old. Therefore, it would appear that they are currently being generated once a week, Mondays at 1:30 AM CST (Sundays at 20:30 GMT). There are still 172 POI files/countries to download, and “Serbia and Montenegro” is still listed twice.

ADDITION 5: May 27. Concatenating all of the new POI files and counting the records/hotspots results in a total of 199,614 for an increase of 1,248 hotspots in one week. Interestingly, the overall filesize is 87,956 bytes smaller than last week. However, as of this addition, FrancoFON finds 96,170 active hotspots, an increase of only 846 over last week… Have 402 new hotspots already been binned?


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!