Originally pitched as a firmware hack for Linksys Wi-Fi access points the FON concept now has its very own hardware in the shape of La Fonera+, a common or garden 54G wireless access point with a difference. It allows you to share your broadband connection with other FON users, thus creating an informal global ‘mesh’ Wi-Fi network.
You can either provide this novel wireless access for money (£2 per day, split between you and FON), and be called a ‘Bill’ in FON parlance. Or you can do it for the love of humanity and be dubbed a ‘Linus’ instead. To cater for this, two Wi-Fi SSIDs reside inside the La Fonera+ - a private one, strictly for your own use, and a public one for use by fellow ‘Foneros’. A Google Maps-based web page makes it easy to locate FON hotspots in advance.
The La Fonera+ is a diminutive white device, with four status LEDs for Power, LAN, WAN and Wireless. This is the ‘+’ version and so as well as an Ethernet port for the broadband connection, there’s a second network connection for hooking up to a PC or switch. For the moment UK customers get the continental version plus a UK mains adapter.
As is usual, the access point is configured via a web-page. The configuration options are somewhat restricted but you can, for example, perform port forwarding. One niggle: the web-based UI is rather sluggish. By default, La Fonera+ is a DHCP server, which is probably a mistake, as other devices, such as your existing broadband connection (e.g. ADSL router) are most likely a DHCP server and on networks, ‘two’s a crowd. So it needs to be turned off.
The pint-sized 1.5dBi antenna on the La Fonera+ isn’t really enough to broadcast to the world passing your door. A booster antenna, dubbed La Fontenna, is available for just £2 extra when you order the access point and is probably a must-have in any case.
FON and La Fonera make an interesting not to say worthy project, but they’re not for everyone. FON hotspots are likely to be found in residential streets. We checked out our local area and found only two hotspots we could use. And these were in side-streets about half a mile from our house and, therefore, of no practical use.
The La Fonera+ isn’t expensive but more capable access points are available for less these days. If you buy in to the FON concept then it’s for you. Otherwise, your wireless needs are better served elsewhere.