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

A Case Study of Fon and Meraki

July 18, 2008

Canadian researchers Catherine Middleton and Amelia Bryne Potter, have written a paper comparing the hardware, software and community aspects of Meraki Wireless Network with Fon Wireless, Ltd. Written in May of this year, it has been published on the Internet:
Is it Good to Share?(.pdf link) (Alternate Link)

The authors do not appear to have any links with either company, though Ms. Potter is a member of a community wireless research project. There are some very interesting points made about Fon, which echo ones made by myself and other outspoken Foneros over the last two years. There seems to be more criticism for Fon, but some of the comparison points might be a little unfair. It’s like comparing apples to oranges, or in this case, Meraki lime to Fon orange. 😉

Fon Is Safe in Germany

July 11, 2008

The Frankfurt court of appeals has ruled in favor of a German citizen, accused of sharing copyrighted music files over the Internet. The defendant had been previously ruled guilty, though he pled that someone else was guilty of the offense, using his open wifi hotspot. The court of appeals recognized that there was insufficient evidence to prove the defendant guilty in the first place, and that German citizens are not automatically guilty of offenses committed by others, using their unrestricted Internet connections. Read this arstechnica.com article

This may be great news for Foneros in Germany who worry about their liabilities, when they provide a Fon hotspot! Fon does not consider their hotspots “open”, but neither do they really qualify as “closed”. Fon hotspots are not encrypted, and Internet access can be obtained instantly, without proving one’s identity. Additionaly, a hacker might sniff traffic in order to capture an Alien’s Fon session cookies, then spoof their MAC address, to continue their valid Fon session after the Alien has shut her PC down for the day.

Unfortunately, there have been similar incidents here in the USA, where the courts did not accept the “open hotspot” defense. So far, none of these has involved a Fon hotspot. It remains to be seen whether Fon will provide evidence which could exonerate an innocent suspect.

Swisscomm dumps Starbucks in Spain

July 9, 2008

All over Spain, including Madrid and Alcobendas (HQ of Fon), Wireless Citizens are finding that they can no longer log into Swisscomm wifi at their favorite Starbucks!

Isn’t this is a good opportunity for the “World’s Biggest Wifi Community” to take a shot at replacing them? Lucky Bills near these coffeehouses may allready be seeing increased profits.

Now, Starbucks doesn’t want people hanging out in the shop all day, without buying drinks and snacks. Though Fon promotes the idea of “$€3/day”, they also have proven that there is no problem implimenting “15 free minutes”, “60 minutes via SMS” and “5-day passes” as alternatives.

Bill Foneros have urged Fon to impliment a “voucher” system in the past. I think the time has arrived for Fon to impliment such a system for merchants who use Fon! :)

Merchants could print out a sheet full of voucher codes once a day, through a special MyFon page, and cut them into separate slips of paper. These vouchers would supply an hour or two of wifi, and be useable for 24 hours from the time of creation. Starbuck’s patrons would each create a Fonero account, and then enter their voucher code as payment. Fon could reward “frequent flyers” with Starbucks coupons or other benefeits.

Starbucks might pay Fon a small amount for each voucher which gets used, and Fon would share half of the net profits with Starbucks, just like with Bills. Publicity for both partners would be very good if this plan works out! :)

Download Fon POI Files

May 28, 2008

These links allow you to download Fon POI files directly from Fon, so you don’t have to navigate Fon Maps. Fon builds the files once a week, Mondays at 1:30 AM CST. Fon does not actually generate these files on demand, although the 3-step process one goes through from the Maps implies otherwise.

Update: Sorry, these links no longer work. Fon has removed the POI function entirely -again-. No doubt because they make it so easy to demonstrate and track how Fon’s hotspot population is dwindling. Fon claims they’ll be back “real soon”, and have been saying this since the last quarter of 2011.

This list of links will download .CSV versions, which open in Excel. If you desire .KML, .GPX or .OP2 versions, simply right-click on the country you want, select “copy shortcut” or “copy link location”, then paste into the address bar of your browser. Edit the last three characters in the URL, and hit Enter.

The list starts with the top 20 most populated of 172 Fon countries (on May 26, 2008), with the rest following in alphabetical order, by country code. Again, clicking on the links below DOES provide you with the LATEST POI file for each country.

  1. FR – France
  2. JP – Japan
  3. DE – Germany
  4. ES – Spain
  5. US – United States
  6. IT – Italy
  7. TW – Taiwan
  8. SE – Sweden
  9. KR – South Korea
  10. NL – Netherlands
  11. UK – United Kingdom
  12. HK – Hong Kong
  13. FI – Finland
  14. PT – Portugal
  15. CN – China
  16. AT – Austria
  17. DK – Denmark
  18. BE – Belgium
  19. HU – Hungary
  20. CA – Canada
  21. AC – Ascension island
  22. AD – Andorra
  23. AE – United Arab Emirates
  24. AF – Afghanistan
  25. AL – Albania
  26. AN – Netherlands Antilles
  27. AO – Angola
  28. AQ – Antarctica
  29. AR – Argentina
  30. AS – American Samoa
  31. AU – Australia
  32. AW – Aruba
  33. AX – Iles
  34. AZ – Azerbaijan
  35. BA – Bosnia and Herzegovina
  36. BB – Barbados
  37. BD – Bangladesh
  38. BF – Burkina Faso
  39. BG – Bulgaria
  40. BH – Bahrain
  41. BJ – Benin
  42. BM – Bermuda
  43. BO – Bolivia
  44. BR – Brazil
  45. BS – Bahamas
  46. BT – Bhutan
  47. BY – Belarus
  48. BZ – Belize
  49. CC – Cocos Keeling Islands
  50. CD – Congo
  51. CH – Switzerland
  52. CI – Ivory Coast
  53. CL – Chile
  54. CM – Cameroon
  55. CO – Colombia
  56. CR – Costa Rica
  57. CS – Serbia and Montenegro
  58. CV – Cape Verde
  59. CY – Cyprus
  60. CZ – Czech Republic
  61. DM – Dominica
  62. DO – Dominican Republic
  63. DZ – Algeria
  64. EC – Ecuador
  65. EE – Estonia
  66. EG – Egypt
  67. EH – Western Sahara
  68. ET – Ethiopia
  69. FJ – Fiji
  70. GA – Gabon
  71. GD – Grenada
  72. GE – Georgia
  73. GF – French Guiana
  74. GG – Guernsey
  75. GH – Ghana
  76. GL – Greenland
  77. GP – Guadeloupe
  78. GQ – Equatorial Guinea
  79. GR – Greece
  80. GT – Guatemala
  81. GY – Guyana
  82. HM – Heard and McDonald islands
  83. HN – Honduras
  84. HR – Croatia
  85. HT – Haiti
  86. ID – Indonesia
  87. IE – Ireland
  88. IL – Israel
  89. IM – Man Island
  90. IN – India
  91. IQ – Iraq
  92. IR – Iran
  93. IS – Iceland
  94. JE – Jersey
  95. JM – Jamaica
  96. JO – Jordan
  97. KE – Kenya
  98. KH – Cambodia
  99. KI – Kiribati
  100. KP – North Korea
  101. KW – Kuwait
  102. KY – Cayman Islands
  103. LB – Lebanon
  104. LC – Saint Lucia
  105. LI – Liechtenstein
  106. LT – Lithuania
  107. LU – Luxembourg
  108. LV – Latvia
  109. MA – Morocco
  110. MC – Monaco
  111. MG – Madagascar
  112. MK – Macedonia
  113. ML – Mali
  114. MM – Myanmar
  115. MN – Mongolia
  116. MO – Macao
  117. MQ – Martinique
  118. MT – Malta
  119. MU – Mauritius
  120. MV – Maldives
  121. MX – Mexico
  122. MY – Malaysia
  123. NA – Namibia
  124. NC – New Caledonia
  125. NG – Nigeria
  126. NI – Nicaragua
  127. NO – Norway
  128. NZ – New Zealand
  129. OM – Oman
  130. PA – Panama
  131. PE – Peru
  132. PF – French Polynesia
  133. PG – Papua New Guinea
  134. PH – Philippines
  135. PK – Pakistan
  136. PL – Poland
  137. PR – Puerto Rico
  138. PS – Palestinian Territory
  139. PW – Palau
  140. PY – Paraguay
  141. QA – Qatar
  142. RE – Reunion
  143. RO – Romania
  144. RU – Russian Federation
  145. SA – Saudi Arabia
  146. SG – Singapore
  147. SI – Slovenia
  148. SK – Slovakia
  149. SM – San Marino
  150. SN – Senegal
  151. SO – Somalia
  152. SR – Suriname
  153. SV – El Salvador
  154. SZ – Swaziland
  155. TH – Thailand
  156. TJ – Tajikistan
  157. TN – Tunisia
  158. TR – Turkey
  159. TT – Trinidad and Tobago
  160. UA – Ukraine
  161. UG – Uganda
  162. UY – Uruguay
  163. UZ – Uzbekistan
  164. VC – St Vincent and Grenadines
  165. VE – Venezuela
  166. VI – Virgin Islands
  167. VN – Viet Nam
  168. YE – Yemen
  169. YU – Serbia and Montenegro
  170. ZA – South Africa
  171. ZM – Zambia
  172. ZW – Zimbabwe

NYT Article Flubs FON Statistics

May 28, 2008

(An much-expanded version of my comment to WiFiNetNews blog by Glenn Fleishman:)

The statistics that Fon throws around are nothing if not misleading, and Fon will make no effort to correct journalists who get confused! Martin has used similar figures as from the NYT article, but attributed them to *different* elements, and I compare them below.

Glenn Fleishman writes that “Non-Foneros” pay for access to the Fon Network’s hotspots, but this is not correct. The Aliens, who do pay for Fon wifi, are registered, and Martin counts them in his figure of 830k Foneros. They’ve registered their email addresses, they’re Foneros. It’s almost as though there was a table of figures “Registered Foneros – Registered Hotspots – Active Hotspots” which got bumped aside one notch in the NYT article! Well-researched indeed!***

NYT uses the figure of 332k as the number of active hotspots, but Martin blogs that figure as being total hotspots ever registered. I also suspect that the figure also includes Linksys and La Fonera routers, which were shipped by Fon but still never registered to join the Fon Network.

Martin’s blog posits the number of “active” hotspots is really only 212k, but by downloading the database of hotspots “POI files” (for use offline to find Fon hotspots), the total number of hotspots only comes to 198,366!* This “number” also disagrees with the figure provided by FrancoFON’s surveys (see below), but neatly comes almost perfectly in alignment if it includes non-reciprocative (they can hop on Fon’s Network, but no arrangement is made for Foneros to hop on theirs) “partner” hotspots hosted by Neuf, Livedoor, BT and others.

Examining these POI files shows that they are filled with hundreds, probably thousands of “junk” entries with fake addresses and impossible coordinates (like the North Pole). Though the blame here lies with Foneros who lied about their real personal data, it is Fon’s responsibility to weed them out. Additionally, Foneros have been complaining that the POI files still contain hotspots which no longer appear on the Fon Map, due to extreme length of inactivity.

Going further, a cursory examination of Fon’s Map shows that a signifigant percentage of the hotspots featured there are offline (ringed with grey). Foneros have also reported that their “offline” icons remain on the map for months after they have turned off their Fon hotspots. Clearly, Fon cannot be trusted to provide accurate numbers of online/offline hotspots, but FrancoFON polls Fon’s database directly and has determined that there are really only 96,170** online hotspots worldwide! That makes 37% of all Fon hotspots offline (Fon POI) or 45% offline (FrancoFON).

Last, but not least, just because a hotspot is “online” does not mean that it is accessible to the public. Most Fon hotspots are in people’s homes where the range may barely reach the street, or not. Even then, the street is an awkward place to sit and browse the web. Many Foneros reported that they could not connect to any of their neighbor’s hotspots, and could rarely even detect them.

Sadly, Fon does not motivate Foneros to place their hotspots in useful locations. The kickbacks for Linus/Bill Foneros (free worldwide roaming, 1/3 of daypass sales) just don’t happen often enough. Foneros who pull their hotspots down do not feel that they have lost something. In fact, they may feel relieved, and more secure from evildoers. In the English Fon Forum, we Foneros are currently discussing ways to display a public success-rating for Fon hotspots, but we doubt Fon will add such a feature when it will surely reveal bad news.

Many remaining Foneros are frustrated that Martin and Fon continue to pursue “partnerships” with major telcos. We don’t share Fon’s enthusiasm because these deals do not include anything for us. Martin grants free access to our hotspots to these “partners” as incentive, and this whittles away what remains of our profit opportunities.

Fon is charging ahead into new territory, (some of which isn’t even wifi related – but still sustained by Fon funds) and left unfinished business with the Fon Community. Fon has abandoned the repair of long-existing shortcomings and flaws in our firmware, security, hotspot management interfaces, customization options and profit-sharing terms. This makes us feel that we are taken for granted, and that Fon is more interested in selling the company than in keeping their promise to us to lead the “biggest” and best wifi-sharing community in the world.

* as of May 19

** as of May 21

*** ADDITION: In Martin’s latest blog entry today, he explicitly states that “People who are not Foneros (we call them Aliens) will be able to access Comstar-FON’s network using pre-paid cards, SMS or the usual options available on our captive portal.” Yet, in Martin’s recent blog about Fon’s statistics, he CLEARLY counts all email-registered Aliens as Foneros to reach the sum of 830,000. This includes all of those unverified crap email addresses which the leeches made up to get free 15 minute trial connections each day. Doesn’t it occur to him that, if the only way to become a Fonero is to register a Fon hotspot, then there would really be fewer than 332,000 Foneros (his figure for all Fon hotspots ever registered)? Some Foneros have more than one router, so the number of Foneros would logically always be less than the number of all registered Fon hotspots. 😉


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.


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.


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?

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!

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.