La Fonera Router and the FON Network

Copyright 2009 by Stephen Vermeulen
Last updated: 2009 Sep 25
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La Fonera Router

There are two commercial versions of this router (as of Jan'08), the newest is called "La Fonera+" and is configured as a wireless access point that connects to your ADSL or cable modem through a WAN port and your wired network through a LAN port. The older model called "La Fonera" does not have the LAN port.

There is not much magical about these routers (a version of the OpenWRT firmware they run can also be installed on a number of other devices), however, by installing one and registering with the FON Network one can become a limited public wireless access point (free for other FON members and open to non-members for a small fee). In exchange for the sharing of your bandwidth you are allowed free access to the internet through other FON hot spots run by other members. In effect this is a public WiFi COOP.

To search for FON hot spots that you might use, try the FON maps site.

The other unique feature of the FON setup is that it broadcasts two wireless signals, one that's WPA encrypted (other settings are available) for your private use and a second one that is not encrypted for public use.

Setup Issues

While setting up my Fonera+ router I encountered two issues:
  1. to get my Fonera to connect through the ADSL WAN the MAC ID of the Fonera+ had to be registered with the ISP. This turned out to be a bit of a catch-22 situation. Normally when you setup a new ADSL connection the ISP sees your computer (or router) as a new device, by seeing a MAC ID that is not registered, then they set you up on a special network segment that isolates your access to just some of their machines. You connect to one server on this LAN and, if your MAC is not registered it runs you through the registration process. Once this is done you can just power cycle the ADSL modem and it will then be allowed to access the full internet. The catch-22 is that if you already have a device registered, then when you go to the registration site it just tells you that your device is already registered and does not give you a way of changing your registration - and because the FON largely self-configures it does not allow you to access the internet when you are in this un-registered MAC mode either.

    The way I solved this problem was to tell my old router to use the MAC address of the FON, then I connected through the old router (leaving the FON disconnected), this allowed me to access the ISP's registration site and to register the FON's MAC address. Then I reconfigured the old router back to its original MAC, and connected the FON between the old router and the ADSL modem and then started everything up without further problems.

    This was all rather puzzling as the FON gave no useful diagnostics during all of this - it just kept telling me it could not route to the internet.

  2. I have a Palm TX which I want to be able to use through other FON hot spots, so I tried it out on the public side of my FON hot spot. It was able to connect to both the public and private wireless signals just fine. However, when I tried to login to the public signal using my FON membership the Palm's browser (called Blazer) would not let me enter the account password. Turn's out the FON hot spot page never stops loading and the Palm browser is confused by this - but if you manually hit the stop button, then you can enter your FON password and browse just fine.

Various links:

  • 2009-Sep-25: The Fonera 2 will be shipping in spring of 2009, it adds a USB port which can be used to hook up a variety of devices to the router, including hard drives. The firmware includes a variety of server functions that can make use of these devices. It took until Oct'09 for this to become available in North America. [7836]
  • 2008-Jan-25: From Rotacoo, a review of the first FON router the Fonera. [4991]
  • 2008-Jan-25: The Wikipedia article on FON. [4990]
  • 2008-Jan-20: The FON Google map based locater application works well, hidden in it is the ability to download POIS (points of interest) files which can then be loaded into your GPS. These contain the current list of fonspots for a single country which you select. The official way to get at this data is from the FON maps page, then go to the "Tools" link in the "Menu" box on the left side of the page. Under "Tools" you will find "download to navigation gizmo", click on this and you get to a small form that allows you to pick the country of interest and the file format you want. This only worked for me from the Mozilla Seamonkey browser, both Firefox and MSIE failed to download the file.

    You can get this to work by directly entering a URL like this one for Canada. It has a format that looks like:, you can select the different file formats by changing the "csv" at the end (I picked CSV because I wanted to search for all the fonspots in one city) and you can change the country by replacing the "ca" with the country code you are interested in. A note of interest, as of 20-Jan-2008 Canada now has 850 FONspots listed and Calgary has 27. [4964]

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