A clever concept for Wi-Fi hot spots


There are dozens of Wi-Fi routers out there. I have a couple of different models like the LinkSys and a 3Com on my shelves. Recently, a friend lent me another wireless router called Fonera 2.0n.

At first glance, it seems like any old-fashion router — a box with four RJ-45 ports for wired connection, with one RJ-45 for a broadband connection at the back and aerials.

The only thing that sets the Fonera apart is the USB port on the front panel.

It turns out this product features many technological advances. We need to spend a bit of time flicking through the manual before understanding how this technology works.

Before we continue, let me backtrack a bit and describe how companies like AT&T now serve their mobile customers worldwide.

If you are a globe-trotting professional and you need an Internet connection in your hotel room, you need to first access the hotel’s welcome page, find the Wi-Fi service page, specify the length of Internet connection and then enter your credit card number. If you stay in a budget hotel, you may even have to go to the front desk and buy a voucher.

Service providers are clever. They have created a pricing scheme that almost always tries to lead us to buy a voucher for 24 hours when in reality we will only use the internet a couple of hours each night. To help traveling employees stay connected without the hassle of having to look for a hot spot and pull out their credit card, AT&T has built 25,000 hot spots in countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, UK, China and more, available in coffee shops, bookstores, hotels, airports, restaurants and convention centers — all paid for by their headquarters.

Enter a company from Spain called Fon (www.fon.com). Fon also wants to make available a network of hots pots around the world. The main difference is that Fon does not need to build and maintain Wi-Fi networks.

It works like this. If you are an owner of a Fonera router, you are a member of the Fon Community and can access the Internet through a growing number of Fon hot spots, around the world.

The community reportedly has two million members and one-and-a-half million live hots pots globally. Fon community members can share their hot spots. They can even sell the service to non-members and earn some money — provided their ISP permits it.

A Fonero — a Fon user — can use the Fon Spot service for free to browse the Internet, make calls using Skype, send and receive emails or communicate with instant messaging.

So, the basic principle is “I let you use my Fon Spot, in return I can also use your or someone else’s hot spot.”

How does Fon generate additional revenue besides the sale of routers? Here is the scheme: A Fonero can register as a Linus (the pioneer of the Open Source movement) or a Bill (the founder of Microsoft). All Linuses can use Fon Spots for free, as described above. All Bills, on the other hand, will be charged a small amount that will be split 50-50 between the owner of the hot spot and Fon. Does it sound complicated? It’s not.

Even if you do not want to share your Fon Spot with Linuses or Bills — they are password secured — you still can enjoy several powerful features of the Fonera 2.0n router.

First, the router allows owners to up or download torrents and files from the Internet without having to turn on your PC or notebook. The data can be stored in any USB 2.0 storage device such as an external hard disk or a thumb drive.

You can also directly upload photos, videos and other materials directly to web 2.0 services such as YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, bypassing the computer. If you need to download a large file from RapidShare, all you have to do is create a RapidShare account.

You can also connect a USB webcam and a printer to the Fonera 2.0n using the USB hub, and it will host them all. What is also amazing is that, if you do not have fixed broadband in your home, you can use your 3G connection and convert it into Wi-Fi. Just plug your 3G modem dongle into the router’s USB port.

How do we know if someone is using our Fon Spot or that our file download is complete without turning on the computer? Owners can set up their account to receive updates over Twitter.

Fonera 2.0n costs Rp 899,000 (US$100), which quite reasonable given the benefits of being a Fonero. In comparison, LinkSys WRT120N-SG costs $55, but does not come with the functionality of the Fonera 2.0n.

If you frequently travel abroad, I would highly recommend this product so you can make the most of other Fonera’s Fon Spots in the global Fon Community.