Unpacking and installing the FON wireless router (sorta)

FON - the self-proclaimed "largest wifi community in the world - recently celebrated their 1-birthday by giving away 10,000 free "fonera" routers. I won't go into the details of how their business plan works, but rather focus on my experience setting up the router.

Fon Fonera Router

I think I was one of the last people to take advantage of this offer, as a few days later they removed the promotion page. Actually, I hadn't even heard of the promotion until Sascha tipped me off about it. I filled in my info and submitted the form, and then completely forgot about it until a package arrived about a week later from "Housing Components Company Of" (??) in Ontario. I was puzzled, as I wasn't in the business of building houses and / or dealing with companies in Ontario. :p

Fon Fonera Router

After unwrapping the packaging (aren't opening surprises, like, the funnest thing *ever*?), I see the FON logo and suddenly remember that I had ordered one. The box is as professional as any other router you'd buy. What I still haven't gotten over is that logo that looks like a bloodstain on a dress shirt after a gunfight. Yes, I know it's supposed to symbolize the "cool, urban wifi community tagging hotspot locations with spray paint" or something. It doesn't work for me, sorry.

Fon Fonera Router

Well, the little cartoons at the bottom of the box also freaked me out a little: "Buy, Connect, Travel, WiFi everywhere!". Apparently, the average FON "La Fonera" customer is an effeminate S&M fetishist clad in leather from head-to-toe, who uses his laptop on a phallic-shaped table at home and/or directly underneath the Eiffel tower.

Fon Fonera Router

The inside of the box is, again, what you'd expect (well, had you paid $50 - $100 for the router) - Quick start guide, CD, flat, white ethernet cable (if ethernet cables can be beautiful, this one is), AC adapter, and the router itself. Also included are two stickers which I imagine I'm supposed to plaster to the front of my house and/or business. That is so not going to happen. At first glance, if you don't read the text, they look like Sheriff badges. If I had a white-and-blue mid-80s Chevy Caprice I'd stick 'em on the front doors and lay down the law.

Fon Fonera Router

The router itself, though, is really, really nice looking. One of the nicest pieces of hardware I've seen in a long time. It still has the Apple-clear-white-plastic, ipoddish look and feel to it, which isn't really my thing but it works well in this case. All in all, it's easy on the eyes.

Fon Fonera Router

I also notice there's only one ethernet port for Internet and no LAN port. That means I won't use it as my main router, since I have a few desktops here connected via LAN. Whatever, I'll still give it a try.

Fon Fonera Router

I head down to my S&M dungeon basement, unplug my totally-pimped-out Linksys router, and plug the ethernet cable followed by the AC adapted into the "La Fonera". [...]

Fon Fonera Router

Nothing happens.

I don't get a new WiFI network showing up in my network manager. "No problem, I says, probably just need to restart it". I restart the router a second time, and then see the "MyPlace" network. Cool. Not too sure what to do next, I check the Quick start guide.

Setting up the Fon Fonera Router

Now, this is where things get "hairy" - wolly mammoth kinda hairy. Apparently, I'm supposed to see a FON_AP network, which would be the public network. But I only see "MyPlace". The quick-start guide tells me that in this case I need to "check the User Manual, since you will need to make some network configuration adjustments in La Fonera."

Setting up the Fon Fonera Router

Manual? We don't need no stinkin' manual. I connect to the "MyPlace" network anyways, get an IP address and launch my browser which is redirected to a FON configuration page, just like on any other router. So far so good. Well, the spell-checker must've been turned off, but asides from that and the "Army of brain-eating Zombies" background wallpaper, all looks good. I fill in my PPPoE username and password, and click submit, confident that everything'll work now. I'm brought back to the same page with no confirmation or message as to what happened. I fill in my PPPoE username and password, and click submit, confident that everything'll work now. "Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather..." Looks like someone at FON is a mind reader...

No dice. I can't navigate past this page; something's not working. Ok. No problem. I gotta bite the bullet and RTFM. But - where's TFM?

Setting up the Fon Fonera Router

Must be on the CD. I pop in the CD, and am greeted with... nothing. I browse to the CD, and see it's a Windows autostart program with an .exe and a bunch of Shockwave flash files. I browse a little, looking for a .PDF or something. All I could find were more copies of the Quick Start guide. No user manual. After a deep sigh, I start up the .exe file with WINE, and am greeted by an eye-piercing animation that contains the souls of what must have been thousands of dancing baby seals. Oh, the sealmanity...

Setting up the Fon Fonera Router

After some lifeforce-draining animations and menus, I find the link to the User Manual - we're saved! I uncork the champagne, wind-up the confetti launcher and cue the breakdancing Spider Monkeys. Clicking on the "User Manual" link, my browser opens up a new link with a... "Unable to connect" error.

Let me break this down for you, in case you're having trouble following. I'm not yet connected to the Internet via my new Fonera router. I need to read the user manual to figure out why I can't connect, and hopefully solve the problem. However, there is no user manual on the CD - the user manual is on the FON website. But I can't go to the FON website. You know, since I can't connect to the Internet and everything.

Who, exactly, made the decision to *not* include the user manual with the router?

I unplug the Fonera (sorry, "La Fonera"...), put my trusty ole' Linksys back in, and connect to the Internet. I go to the FON website, intent on finding the manual. However, after staring blankly at their website for a few minutes, and realizing that I've just spent half an hour trying to get this to work, I throw in the towel.

Setting up the Fon Fonera Router

Looks like I don't have what it takes to be a Fonero after all.


Yes, I coulda probably got this to work had I spent more time on it. No, I didn't want to. Not because I can't, or because I'm lazy, but because things shouldn't be this complicated. Maybe I had a bad experience, maybe my experience isn't typical of what everyone else went through. Maybe it worked fine for thousands of people - it probably did. But I couldn't see the value proposition in spending more time on this. And don't worry, I know what I'm doing. I started working in the WiFi industry since long before you knew what a wireless card was. There's a lot to love about the router itself - the design, the removable antenna, the price. I do wish I coulda got it up and running, but this was my experience. Regardless - they could stand to take notes regarding usability and the user interface.

One more thing - my patience for corporations that call themselves "communities" is at an all-time low. FON isn't a "wifi community". Flickr and Youtube aren't "communities" - they're capital-focused companies with a great business plan: "Let our customers make our products". You're not a "member" or a "partner" or an "associate" or a "Flickroonee" or whatever the fuck they're calling it this marketing cycle. You're a client, a customer, and a serial number. You are Flickr customer #54136476@N00. And you're not "part of a community" any more than "people who drink Pepsi" or "people who watch American Idol" are part of a community. A good friend bought me a "Pro" account on Flickr in 2005 for which I was very grateful. I hesistantly renewed it last year - something for which I am now thoroughly embarassed.

So. Anyone want a free La Fonera router? Pick it up in Montreal - I'm not paying for shipping. ;)


Monday, March 5th, 2007
Boris Anthony's picture

Heheh nice! :)
Just to back you up on one thing:
Steven was testing and helping R&D on all aspects of the WiFi routers we were making (I worked there too) back in 2001. He could configure a WiFi router via serial port and CLI with eyes tied behind his back (er?). The fact that he couldn't get the fonera to work is significant.

And to contradict you on something: Flickr and fon and the others DO have communities that they *support* via the production and maintenance of their service. No Flickr user ever *made* any part of Flickr, no fon user *made* the fon product; they simply use it, and by using it extend the "community of user". The difference between the comunity of Flickr users and the commuityof Coca Cola drinkers is that the former can and actually do interact in many many ways. People + interaction + communication = communty + culture.

My $30/yr Flickr fee is paied back to me 1000 fold by the community of friends world wide I have, who enhance my life by sharing theirs with me.

Just because you prefer one community over another doesn't mean you cannegate the existence of the other. ;)

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007
stevenmansour's picture

with eyes tied behind his back

I read your comment at 2:30am and had to go over this line, like, 4 times before laughing out loud.

The rest of your comment made of sense, but of course I'll beg to differ. :p

No Flickr user ever *made* any part of Flickr, no fon user *made* the fon product; they simply use it, and by using it extend the "community of user".

This brings us to the content vs. infrastructure debate (where's Mike?). Flickr as an "infrastructure" - with image notes and APIs and machine tags and geolocating - is, on its own, useless. It wouldn't be Flickr if it weren't for the thousands of users who host their photos on it every day. And yes, by doing so, they extend the user base of Flickr - the "pool of customers". The medium has become the premium, as well as the message.

To me, community is about sharing - experience, resources, work, struggles, whatever. We've all tasted Pepsi before. We know what it tastes like, what it smells like, and what it sounds like. When a stranger sitting next to us opens a can of Pepsi, and we hear the "pffft!" and "fzzzzz" of the can and carbonation, then watch them lift the can to their mouth, tilt it and drink the toxic brown liquid, are we partaking in their experience? Well, we're sharing a moment by witnessing something that we've felt before - something that's touched our senses. The same goes for Flickr - just because a stranger uploads a photo of a place I've never seen before, it doesn't change the fact that I'm only witnessing an experience = not partaking in it. I submit that if you claim that one of these is a community, then you must accept that so is the other one.

People + interaction + communication = communty + culture.

Correction - "people" is arrogant. Howler monkeys, fire ants and wolves have been building communities since long before we walked on two legs - and will continue to long after we've faded into dust, along with all of our Flickrs and Youtubes. ;)

The very definiton of "community" implies something that's at a very low-level, perhaps primal even. It's a phenomenon that starts from the ground-up - not from the top-down. The idea that we need corporate entities to come in and create / organize our communities for us is madness. They want us to believe that we need them for our online communities to thrive. We don't. We've (the human race and/or internet users) always been a community of organic, self-healing communities of every size and stripe imaginable. We've been able to sustain these communities through voice, art, signs, work, and play - your "interaction + communication". To think that we now need corporate structure to rigidly define how we configure our communities is to sell ourselves very short indeed.

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007
jer's picture

I'd take it off your hands, never know when a router would come in handy (heard about this a few months ago in a podcast, sounded kind of bulshitty but a router's a router). Maybe if you're hitting Laika on a weekday sometime check if I'm online, defintely worth a run across the street.

As to the problems, could it be the Nux? Obviously I'm the last person to want to blame the penguin for things not working (especially when the information is so stupidly designed, no pdf, WTF!?), but in using Ubuntu I consistently find wireless to be it's biggest weakness, it couldn't even connect to the shared wifi connection out of Mira's iMac g5. They clearly weren't focussing on supporting anything but windows, which is stupid considering how appealing this k ind of thing is to the hip, opensourcy mac/linux users, but might at least explain the lack of functioning. The fact that they alienated you with their bad decisions and and rude behavior is of course seperate ;)


Tuesday, March 6th, 2007
stevenmansour's picture

How dare you blame tux! :p

I'd take it off your hands

If I make it to Laika sometime this week and I still have it, I'll let you know.

Maybe they made some bad decisions, but their behavior isn't rude per say - I got this thing for free! Though it's evidently not because they like me, but because they get something in return many times over.

As to the problems, could it be the Nux?

Early this morning I also tried from my Powerbook too, same deal. There's obviously something very simple/stupid I'm missing - and while that doesn't say much for me, it doesn't say much for FON either. :)

So far my WiFi has been rock solid on Ubuntu - I checked which drivers were most mature before choosing the WiFi card in my Dell (Intel 3945 a/g). I've connected to shared wifi from Macs before sans problème. Actually, my powerbook gets disconnected from my Linksys router every so often - something that never happens with my Dell.

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007
Matt's picture

I had a similar problem. I just hooked mine all up tonight. After lots of resetting the device I can connect to the public FON_AP and even login. (Although it's incredibly slow. Like 9600 baud slow.)

 So I register it and I switch to the MyPlace private connection. Connects no problem. Grabs an IP. If I ping the gateway IP continuously it gets about 50-100% packet loss. About 2% (literally) of the time I can pull up one of it's internal configuration pages but I can't get anywhere on the public network.

FON_AP disappears, unplug/replug no go. Fire up netstumbler and hit the hard reset on the bottom with an ink pen and repeat the above to no avail. I then shutdown all my other wireless devices but it made no difference. It's not a signal strength problem. I can be two feet away with no difference.

I sent them an email and I'm curious what they come back with.

Monday, October 8th, 2007
wyrdbyrd's picture

I found your website from poking around online and trying to find out more about Fon, as they showed up one day while I was running AirPort on my Mac.  After reading this, I searched on their website and found a link to their manual:


I have no idea if they put it up after you posted this story, but it'd be interesting to find out if their instructions provide as much rant fodder as their delivery did.

Monday, October 8th, 2007
stevenmansour's picture

Maybe it was there and I just couldn't find it, or maybe they put it up after.

Moral of the story wasn't really that I couldn't find a manual, but that the user experience was messed up - I don't need much fodder to rant. :)

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008
Incognito's picture

so I'm searching the net trying to find help setting up this POS free "router" and I stumble onto this worthless hunk of webspace here and just wanted to express my bitter rage for you, this product and the interweb in general. I hope your other router goes up in smoke and takes your collection of crude internet porn with it.

Why the fuck can't it just work? What have I done that is so wrong? I just want to grant me poor mum some internet access so she can look at fish ponds and day lillies on her own time and leave me PC alone.

I will find a solution and when I do I'll be sure to think of this grabage blog when I do. FYL<

any complaints about the manual? send them to manual@fon.com

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008
stevenmansour's picture

I'm not too sure how to respond to your incredibly well-written comment, considering that you probably didn't even read my post about how much trouble I had setting up the router as well, and we both seem to agree that it's a POS.

You sound angry - ever consider Yoga?

Friday, July 25th, 2008
Rebecca's picture

I had the same problem! I feel a little better knowing someone more tech-savvy with these router doohickie's couldn't get the sucker to work.
I went to their website and have no inkling where their so-called user manual is either, no search box, no message board - nada. I googled "fon user manual" and your page popped up. lol
After doing only two "lather rinse repeats" - they "told me" I had to call my ISP and get my IP address. Well, I have that so I will try it one last time. It's a pity - I don't intend to share signals, just wanted to cut down on all the cords around my desk. Luckily my ISP tech support is willing to help and it's not extra dough for third party hardware. But if that don't work...ah well...will have to fork over the moola for a real router

Monday, August 11th, 2008
stevenmansour's picture

Hi Rebecca,

Yeah, at some point, if you didn't get it to work, it's best just to get a Linksys, slap some open source firmware on it, and use that.

Sometimes you really do get what you paid for, I suuppose. :\

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