opinion


Fon tops 1 million subs mark

Do-it-yourself global wifi network Fon claims to have recently passed the 1 million member milestone.

The open wifi champion, which was established in Spain, said it now has more than 400,000 registered Fon hotspots in over 150 countries.

The concept behind Fon is based on the idea that anybody with a broadband subscription can join the network by purchasing a Fon router. This router then enables members to share their internet connection with the Fon community and roam on all member hotspots for ‘free’ in return.

Fon’s ‘social routing’ business plan is modelled on Aliens, Linus’s and Bills. Linus users let other Fon subscribers access the internet over their wifi connection in exchange for free access on any other Fon hotspot around the world. Bills charge for access at their hotspots and share the revenues with Fon, while Aliens are basically roaming users that pay to access Fon hotspots.

Several high profile companies, such as BT in the UK, Neuf Cegetel in France, Comstar in Russia, and ZON in Portugal have also partnered with the grassroots movement, embedding Fon sharing functionality in their own wifi routers.


One comment

  1. Avatar Austin ElFonBlog 17/09/2008 @ 5:22 pm

    Fon does not have one million members!

    Fon has merely collected one million email addresses, many of which are suspect. Fon pretends that they have no churn. They only count increases in their registrations and memberships. Every hotspot that has ever gone live is considered live, even if it has been dead for months or years. Every guest or member who has ever registered, is considered still active, because the formal, but manual process to email “[email protected]” is buried in a .pdf document on their “Legal Notice” page.

    In order to access Fon’s wifi network, You must register your email address and pay €$3/day, or become a member by registering your email address and then contributing your own hotspot to the Fon Network. Originally, you could download their firmware for free, to install onto your own Linksys or Buffalo router. You could also manually configure other firmwares like DD-WRT, which have the neccessary features. Now Fon requires the purchase of their La Fonera router models at $20 or $50+ tax and shipping. It seems likely that much of Fon’s income really comes from sales of this proprietary and feature-poor equipment now, rather than sales of wifi access. Fon obtained their firmware for free from the Open Source movement, but they violate the terms because they do not provide sourcecode under the GNU license.

    Members are called “Foneros”, and they may be “Linuses” who allow Fon to keep all money earned by his hotspot, or “Bills” who provide a PayPal account and choose to have Fon share a small portion of what they collect from sales at his hotspot. He must pay his own local ISP for high-speed Internet service, and provide the power, maintenance and installation of the hotspot. He must operate this hotspot 24/7/365, and permit Fon to unconditionally resell his bandwidth. He will receive compensation for these resources and expenses ONLY when a guest buys a day pass at his hotspot. If the pass was bought elsewhere, and the guest roams onto his hotspot, he must still serve the bandwidth for Fon’s vending.

    When a guest, called an “Alien”, does pay $3 at your hotspot, for 24 hours of Fon wifi access, Fon will take 1/3 for “taxes and fees” even if these items do not apply in your country or to your non-partnered ISP. Fon aggressively refuses to explain who this money goes to, or in what amounts, and Customer Service responds with stonewalling and hostility when asked. Only the remaining 2/3 is “split”, as Fon advertises, between Fon and Bill-Foneros. The Fonero’s “half” is still held by Fon, without earning interest, until the balance exceeds $20. Then the Fonero may request a transfer via PayPal.

    Also, despite their claims, Fon is simply not a free wifi network!

    Guests may obtain 15 minutes of free wifi access by providing an email address, and watching a brief advertisement. These email addresses are not verified, but Fon still accepts them as valid “Alien” registrations. The text need only look like an email address to work. The same person may continue to cheat like this once a day, but this is due to a lack of security, not an intended feature. Fon’s pay-by-SMS option also does not check to see if a guest is in a participating country, until after they have provided emails and personal information to register as an Alien. Fon will not fix these things because it would mean less emails harvested. Most Foneros have also registered multiple emails to test and see what the ad looks like, or to troubleshoot it when it does not work.

    This brief free-to-try access certainly does not make Fon a “Free Wifi Network”! Fon’s marketing staff have stretched this definition beyond the breaking point. Neither do Foneros have guarantees that they will find Fon hotspots to use while travelling, so the gratis roaming for contributing members is also uncompelling.

    Fon CEO Martin Varsavsky, has stated repeatedly and unambiguously in his blog, and in interviews, that Aliens are NOT members. He and Fon also make it clear that one must contribute a Fon hotspot in order to be titled “Fonero”. Foneros may host more than one hotspot, and many of us do. Therefore, the total number of Foneros who have ever registered must clearly be slightly less than the number of Fon hotspots. However, Fon has been reporting all hotspots ever registered as “available”, and also claiming that they somehow have far more Foneros than hotspots! This month, Fon now claims there are a million Foneros/ members/ community members, “more than 400,000” Fon hotspots (Fon Blog) or “almost 300,000” (Varsavsky’s blog). This is both inconsistent, and unbelievable! And still they avoid admitting that more hotspots are now dead than remain available.

    My point in writing is to demonstrate how little is understood about how Fon works by people outside of Fon’s long-term membership, and the perils of accepting Fon’s claims without scrutiny. Fon is convoluted, and full of aspects where very important requisites are glossed over, astonishingly odd definitions are applied to justify the truthiness of some feature or promise made by them.

    I encourage you and your readers to scratch beneath the surface. You can start by reading “My Fon Blog” and “El Fon Blog”, which are written by non-employee members of Fon Wireless, Ltd.

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