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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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". [...]
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.
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."
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?
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...
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.
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. ;)