Fon releases open meshing WiFi router

Sal sez, "Three years after Cory's novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town,' somebody actually made a router that does what the fictional mesh-network routers from the book could do. The Fonera 2.0 made by FON, (the Spanish WiFi sharing people) is released today (barring the occasional retail glitch) for 45 euros. It comes complete with OLPC's mesh-networking system. You can plug it into Ethernet or a 3G dongle. Share your bandwidth with any other router in range that implements OLPC's mesh-networking standard. The Open WRT software is designed to run on just about any hardware so you do not actually have to buy a Fonera to join the fun. The software is based on Open WRT, which in turn is based on the Linksys WRTG54G firmware which the community forced Cisco to open-source (since it made use of Busybox + Linux Kernel). As a result of this we now have a router far more featured than the most expensive access point you can get in the shops, costing a fraction of the price and based on entirely free firmware. With a few of these we could all build community networks like the one from Cory's book."

Fonera 2.0 (Thanks, Salim!)


  1. As the name suggests, this is the 2.0 of Fonera. Some geeks already have the 1.0 lying about. It is possible to replace the stock locked down firmware based on OpenWRT in Fonera 1.0 as well, there’s even a site dedicated to Fonera hacks these days:

    Also, 45 Euros seems steep – I remember paying 15 for the 1.0, including shipping!

  2. But for the purposes of Internet access, these probably violate the TOS of most upstream ISPs, right?

  3. I live in a townhouse neighborhood with easily dozens of little (mostly locked up) private networks when I do a scan for them.

    If the PEOPLE could be counted on it would be an interesting place to try something like this.

    I can see benefits but I think I’d also be concerned about people misusing the network too.

    Admittedly I know little about this, but it’s made me want to do some reading.
    Boing Boing (anything) is great for that.

    I might check out Cory’s book too.
    I liked “Little Brother”.

  4. I like this idea, but at the moment law enforcement still believe IP address = identification. I think that if someone did misuse the mesh network, I’d have a reasonable chance of proving my innocence, but I couldn’t really risk losing all the computers in the house in the meantime.

  5. even in the crappy italian connection law [] has managed to make it perfectly legal and compliant even to telecom tos.

  6. It’s nice to see some more competition to the Meraki ( units, but hardly revolutionary. Perhaps the lower price will encourage more community open networks.

  7. I’m already pondering running two routers — one for my own traffic, fully secured, and another open to visitors (and I’m not going to worry overmuch about whether a neighbor has a cantenna). I’d planned on using a router I already have on the shelf, but encouraging peer networking is sorta tempting.

    My main concern is whether I can set up the two routers to prioritize/throttle traffic appropriately. I don’t mind sharing, but as the one who’s paying I do feel my needs come first.

  8. I’m skeptical of this because I live in Mountain View where there is Google Wifi. It doesn’t really work that well outdoors for various reasons. In general, I’ve found that wifi is terrible outdoors. So that means for this idea to work well, we have to be indoors. I’m not sure if people are so willing to share their home with a random stranger. Wifi perhaps but not their home.

  9. Mesh networks are a great thing, and it’s about time we started building them for real. They are the beginning of a truly peer-to-peer network, one where users can connect to each other without having to go through a corporate gatekeeper. We’ve already gotten around the gatekeepers of cyberspace with technologies like bittorrent, but we still need ways to bypass the gatekeepers of the physical network hardware. Mesh networking is the best bet.

    Successful mesh networking requires a new and much stronger security model, though. Because with a mesh network, you’re trusting a whole bunch of random peers to route your data correctly. If you thought it was bad trusting one corrupt ISP not to spy on you or interfere with your traffic, wait ’till you have to trust 30 strangers.

    Good cryptography can solve pretty much the entire problem though. It can take away the “trust” factor by allowing people to verify whether their data has been routed correctly or tampered with. So mesh networking could be a double benefit if it causes a trend of ordinary folks learning and using crypto in all their data interactions.

  10. Ummm… Meraki has been doing this for years, no? I have one. Did not realize I was such a pioneer.

  11. OpenWRT is not based on the wrt54g firmware. It has origins from systems that were and used them for reference, but it is its own thing.

    I thought I’d see about picking up a couple of these, but when I went to fon’s site it was all flash, so I clicked open my blocker and got there version of a fail whale. Who codes a fail whale in flash?

  12. Nice idea, but I think that they were boinged the last time they were giving away routers, and it took several days to cancel my account when I finally gave up.

  13. It allows to download torrents and upload stuff with your PC off also.

    To me it deserves the Boinging.

  14. It seems like these would be ideal for cohousing neighborhoods: small-scale communities of one to several dozen homes, clustered together in a pedestrian-scale configuration.

    Right now, the default net configurations for these resident-developed-and-managed ‘intentional neighborhoods’ are either:

    • Individual geek or team arranges for single high-speed connection and builds and supports wired infrastructure with single point of failure / key person dependency.
    • Individual homeowners get DSL or cable and operate their own locked-down (by default, increasingly of late) wifi networks, typically without cooperative channel-selection management.

    As a community with both physical proximity within reasonable WiFi range (just far enough that a single router couldn’t serve the whole community without antenna games) and established social protocols to build trusted relationships, it seems like it would make it easier for neighbors to share resources, the same way we currently share one lawnmower

  15. My neighbour bought a router that is a rebadged and higher-power version of mine with (apparently) the same identification flags, and completely destroyed my wifi. My wii is less than 2 feet from my router, but it didn’t matter.

    Clearly the proliferation of these unregulated cheapo routers is becoming a problem — imagine an area full of highrises!

    Something like this, that can turn this problem into a feature, could be an epic win. This was of course the dream for Skype as well, but eventually universal connectivity will become common — people need it too much.

    The only alternative solution to the problem of a few big users subsidising everyone else is a public good, like roads.

    – GimpWii

  16. This kind of thing wont be deployed across a place like America unless necessitated by some horrific disaster or ongoing cyberattack. So by the time we need it, it wont be there.

    I think it could be a boon for small communities, though. If things like facebook, craigslist, skype, ect could be localized it could radically change the way people do things, even if it is never connected to the internet.

    I’m curious, though. How would you host these services without single points of failure? Could each node in the mesh also act like a webserver, where each node can cache the entire shebang? Or does each node only host that user’s data, and how would one access that data when the owner is offline?

    Interesting stuff!

  17. The thing I hate about the FON routers is that though based on open-source software, they are VERY closed themselves. They do not allow you to replace the firmware or even change DNS servers.

    One of the ways they make money is by having a custom DNS that serves ads when you hit a wrong page. This DNS is also much slower (was for me anyway) than a direct one to Level3 or something. The options of the routers don’t let you change this and many other things you’d want to in a router to get better performance.

  18. What I would like to read is a bunch of anecdotes from sites that got Boinged, for good or ill. Last week I commented on a book editor who haplessly brushed off a Boinger’s request for a review copy of an art book, and compared it to M&M’s decision to pass on product placement in Spielberg’s ET. That’s how jobs are lost.

    Getting Boinged could make or break a site, product, or effort. Such stories would make great reading.

  19. Disclaimer: While I am an “Informed User”-kinda guy, I’m not what I’d call a specialist.

    With that in mind, I’m wondering just purpose the OLPC/mesh-capability of the Fonero 2.0 really serves. As I see it, this could basically do two things:

    -Allow a Fonero to connect an OLPC mesh.
    -Allow various Foneros to mesh with each other.

    The former seems redundant, as OLPCs can already, IIRC, connect to “normal” Wifi networks for internet access. The latter seems unecessary, as every Fonero router is, ideally, already connected to an active internet connection, so why create a mesh to share a connection?

    Am I missing something?

    (Not that it isn’t a cool thing. The Fonero 2.0 is the kinda multi-purpose thing that wet geek dreams are made off and I’m now seriously considering to get one some time in the future, if only for stuff like the torrent features.)

  20. Nice idea, but as many have said, impractical in the real world.
    It violates ISP TOS and opens you up to being prosecuted for what anyone going through your access point might do.
    I’m worried enough about my kids borking up my network, I’m not going to open it up to strangers or neighbors.

  21. in a perfect world this would be a fantatic idea.

    In this world, it seems like a great way to loose you connection due to breaching your ISPs “Fair use” policy – i.e. the guy next door freeloads on your connection and downloads 100gb of porn – your ISP says you’re using too much bandwith on your “Unlimited” connection.

  22. The FON Wiki has slightly more useful information about La Fonera 2.0. The new features seem to stem from a realization of the fact that it is indeed a little Linux box.

  23. Re: all the Meraki comments – I believe they made the original Fon (it’s the same hardware afaik, different box).

    Also I believe Fon have contributed (still contribute?) to OpenWRT.

    Both of my Fon routers run OpenWRT – just wish they did 801.11n and weren’t so severely limited in the traffic they can handle.

  24. I must agree with some comments above. Meraki ( has been doing this for awhile. Better yet Open-Mesh ( does this as well in a very open way (Meraki closed up and charged more awhile ago).

    Both Meraki and Open-Mesh have being doing this for awhile, not particularly new.

  25. People are missing the point here.

    The greatest asset behind a mesh network is you can communicate and move traffic around your network WITHOUT an Internet connection.

    Yes, most will use the mesh for Internet access but if you’re just communicating with someone on the mesh the traffic never hits the Internet.

  26. Hmm, I’m running Ubuntu and I’m going to be traveling in Spain for a couple of weeks next month. I wonder if I can just install the mesh WiFi package on my lappy? Or if anybody will have the new routers up by then.

  27. @22 Anonymous – I think you’re exactly right. Furthermore, I’ve not yet seen an implementation that was both robust enough to be called a ‘mesh’ and open to anyone who wants to participate..

    Are there any actual implementations out there? How big are they? Closed or Open shop (i.e. can anyone join? Do you have to be a participant to use the network?).

    Here in Vancouver I got talking to a community of people who were trying to set up a mesh network a few years ago, and it turned out that at least the most vocal of them had been to the underpants gnomes’ school of business and social sciences. Half of the people thought mesh networking and wi-fi were synonymous, and I think at least one of the others was trying to make money selling the specialized meraki routers.

    One person in particular apparently killed that group just by pissing everyone off, but it’s starting back up again from what i understand – I wish them all the best.

    I think the idea’s great but I just don’t know about the feasibility – the meraki routers have a range of 100-250 feet depending on who you talk to, so finding a suitably dense community of people with the financial wherewithall, social conscience and overall trust to try to pull this off? I don’t see that happening any time soon.

    Where I do see mesh networking happening eventually is within individual strata corporations such as office and apartment buildings. The strata can lease bandwidth and basically become a private ISP for the strata as a whole.. I can’t come up with any specific issues that would prevent a strata from doing this, but I still think the interpersonal concerns would arise so governance wouldn’t be a cakewalk at least for the first while..

    Can anyone speak from experience as a participant in an actual wireless mesh out in the real world?

  28. @15 Raines Cohen- You are correct about mesh networks and cohousing. I have run a Meraki mesh network in my cohousing community for the last 2 years.

    @27 BadStoryDan- I am surprised that no one has mentioned open-mesh. They are more open than Fon and Meraki.

    They have higher powered radios in the Professional Mesh products and support the Engenius EOC-1650 for outdoor use. I am testing them now with an eye to reflasing my Merakis

  29. I’m not that smart about routing traffic nor the advanced theories of networking on a dynamic mesh network, but would it be possible to entirely replace ISP’s and the whole existing Internet structure wirelessly?

    Admittedly, it would start as an unremarkable wireless WAN where the most exciting thing would be to order pizza in a novel way. And while hypertext linking to pictures from NASA was, if you really thought about it, quite the mindfuck in 1993, it’s not nearly as romantic to do it again today. Sort of a “I can communicate electronic messages with my friend 2 towns away for free”-FAIL.

    All the pieces are in place, though: (1) acquire mesh router [i.e. build or buy; cheap enough either way], (2) keep it powered even when not in use [i.e. just like your mobile phone], (3) connect to the world. Since the network does not require the Internet backbone that ISP’s so love to extort us for, there would be no need for a periodic fee. With what we know about secure packet transfer today, I think it’s entirely possible.

    But like I said, I’m not very smart about network routing.

  30. #31 Jason Olshefsky:

    A big problem with huge mesh networks is latency. If a packet has to make 52.8 100-foot hops every mile, that means it spends a lot of time going in and out of routers.

    Much faster to go the same mile by, e.g., going into my router, over to local Verizon, to the regional Verizon, to the regional Comcast, to the local Comcast, to the router of a friend a mile away… Whatever convoluted path those packets take today, it’s not 52 hops.

  31. Open community wi-fi networks are the way of the future for certain applications. If one in every 6 people opened their router up to be part of a wi-fi mesh network we could reach large portions of low socio-economic area’s with little cost.

    Billy (Wi-Fi mesh networking enthusiasts)

  32. There are a couple of things I haven’t liked about FON — I tried it out and unplugged it a while back. First it forces me to sell instead of give away the service; second it does attribute all the activity to my IP address.

    I found an alternative I like better; it’s local.

    I got the little share-your-wifi device from my ISP (Santa Rosa, CA) a while back.

    Sonic’s method avoids the blame problem– the WiFi source plugs into a switch right after the DSL modem.

    So does my home router. So their device gets its own IP (or is assigned one by Sonic, remotely administered, I don’t even know).

    They started off with Meraki hardware, went to some other provider, and at this point seem to have deemphasized this program, though they do have a square mile of downtown Santa Rosa as a WiFi hotspot I think.

    It has its problems — it was supposed to implement a private personal channel like FON does and they never got that working.

    It has its advantages — it’s free (with a banner ad); it does mesh, so if I got another one I could put this one halfway down the block.

    It lets me serve people here only briefly (usually university teachers renting for a semester or school year); it may let me serve some elderly people in the neighborhood who could benefit from getting on the Net but need help.

    (Anyone know anybody setting up WiFi-capable machines for old folks? THat side is beyond me; I gather it can be done with *NIX or *nux on PC hardware; meanwhile I’m hunting for E-macs or the like to try this idea out).

    The notion of networking the old folks in your neighborhood could be a win-win too — who else is watching your block while you’re out of the house working all day? Would you like to let them watch your back yard too, or the inside of your house, while you’re not home?

    I think of this because I’ve been a ham radio operator for years and know how many older, often handicapped folks are using ham radio; but there are many more who’d like the social connection they could get.

    They’d need better protection than they can buy though.

  33. Anyone?

    Consider Sonic’s DSL+, separate copper not the one your voice phone uses, awesome. We just switched to that from the phoneline-tied old DSL.

    I recommend looking into both:

    Current test result (with “up to 6/1”)
    Download Speed: 5144 kbps (643 KB/sec transfer rate)
    Upload Speed: 788 kbps (98.5 KB/sec transfer rate)
    Latency: 48 ms

    This is the “up to 6/1” result:

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