March 13th, 2007
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).