FON: A Review

March 13th, 2007

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A few weeks ago I received my free FON wireless router and I’ve now (finally) managed to get up and running.

Briefly, FON is a wireless internet sharing initiative. A FON router (called the Fonero) is like any other wireless router, except that it gives out two wireless signals: one for you and one for other FON users. In return for sharing your internet you can get free internet from any other FON user.

1. The unit

The first thing I noticed about the router is that it is tiny. Especially compared to my gigantic D-Link router. In fairness the D-Link also has Ethernet ports but I’ve never used them so I am happy to give them up for more desk space.

fon.jpg

On the back of the router there’s the the aerial are two ports; one for power and one for ethernet. On the front are three lights; Power, Internet and Wireless.

Connecting up the Fonero was easy, I connected the Ethernet port to my cable modem (with the supplied cable) and plugged it in. After quite a while of (apparently random) light blinking my MacBook could see two new Wireless signals: one for me and one for everyone else.

2. Setup

Getting the Fonero setup was less than easy, mainly because the documentation is pretty sparse and the online Knowledge Base is full of useless guff.

In the end I found a forum FAQ which informed me I needed to rig up my MacBook directly to the router. From here I could change the cipher to TKIP and set the password to be 10 characters (any other length just won’t work). This eventually allowed my MacBook to connect to the ‘net.

3. Social map.jpg

Part of registering my router as a FON access point means specifying my home address. This then places me a point on the FON map so others can see where they can get free wireless access.

There’s (surprisingly) about 5 or 6 routers in my immediate vicinity, but of course my MacBook can’t see any of them. This is most likely due to Edinburgh’s tenements being made of a kind of stone which almost completely blocks radio waves. I get a very weak wireless signal from only one room away and we have to keep our mobiles on the windowsill to have a chance of receiving calls.

So, there’s little chance anyone will ever use my free wireless, unless they either live above me or camp out in my back garden.

4. Privacy?

When I first connected to the public side of my access point I was faced with a bizarre login page, featuring a giant head and a link to some blog. I thought maybe my router was second hand and the linked blog was that of the previous owner. I soon realised that this was just the Fonero’s deafult start page and the blog was that of FON’s wacky CEO.

Digging around the settings I realised that I can configure this page to allow guests free access to one website, and read some blab I’d written to say hello.

Of course, I set the “free website” to Google Sightseeing – a little free advertising to those non-existent people who’ll find my wireless connection.

Later on I was browsing the FON map to see where around my city I could get some free wifi, and I noticed that people who had setup a welcome page had a special map icon. Nosy as ever I checked out the few routers that had a welcome page to see what the linked websites were.

I soon realised that the “free page” wasn’t the best idea, when I stumbled across the map pointer linking to Nick’s blog. I happen to know Nick, and he’s a nice guy so I wouldn’t want to rob him, but up until that point I wasn’t aware of his exact address.

FON could do with making it a bit more obvious that website you enter will be tied to your physical location on a publicly-accessible map, then I’m sure most people would think twice about making it their personal blog.

5. Conclusion

Despite the hiccups, I now have a sleek new router, and best of all it was free!

Inevitably, I’ve not made any use of the free FON wireless around the town but I’m hoping to one day. In fact, I’m going on holiday to New York later on in the year and there’s hundreds of FON points there, so hopefully I’ll get some use out of it (note to house-breakers: my address is no longer on the map).

11 Responses to “FON: A Review”

  1. Ross Says:

    Sounds like a nice bit of kit. Knowing your ISP you probably haven’t had this issue, but how well does it handle disconnects? Also, what are the port forwarding and other advanced configuration options like?

  2. Cookie Monster Says:

    I may be an old cynic but i’m thinking there is no such thing as free router. Whats the catch? How do these FON people make any money and how can they afford to give away routers? Honest questions i may add – i’m not trying to be contrary.

  3. James Turnbull Says:

    Ross, I haven’t noticed any disconnects.The port forwarding features are good, just as easy as the D-link.

    I also meant to mention that it’s basically just a mini Linux box, there’s even a special build of OpenWRT for it.

    Cookie, it honestly was free! They only gave away a limited number and now the routers are €40 each (which still seems like a OK deal to me).

  4. Ross Says:

    Realised after I posted that it’s not a modem so won’t be affected by the types of disconnects I was wondering about. I reckon I might fork out for one, it’s a cheap way to get free wifi from the routers spread all over the place.

  5. James Turnbull Says:

    Actually, don’t buy one as every FON user can give a free router to someone else.

    I think I promised mine to Olly but there’s a few folk who got a free one when I did.

    Perhaps someone can sign you up for a free one?

  6. Ross Says:

    Where’s a wiki with an invites page when you need it? ;)

  7. Alex Turnbull Says:

    I have an invite if you’d still like one Ross?

    edit: Well I /think/ I have “invites” – I’ve never actually set my fon up….

  8. Ross Says:

    Cheers Alex. Received an “Alex wants you to join FON” email this morning so I’ll have a closer look after work. Thanks!

  9. Nick Says:

    Thanks for the tip James. I have now updated my fon access portal to point to something for the local community, and it’s map based so it’ll make you happy.

  10. Ross Says:

    Boo, no luck with the invite. It’s just a link to fon.com as far as I can make out.

  11. Bigpolly Says:

    Going sailing. Could I use a FON router on my boat in France? While we’re away noone could share using a map to my home … can they also be detected through the ether? Are there any other costs associated with it or just the router and off you go?

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