25 February 2010

My experience with Fon.com

After joining late in a discussion with Martin Varsavsky about the quality of the router Fonera2.0n from Fon.com I have decided to sum up my experiences with the company here. This is not flaming, I am trying to respond to specific questions from Mr. Varsavsky.

1st gen Fonera
My experience started when I bought a 1st gen Fonera with an external antenna from the company because I needed a WLAN router at home (the one from my ISP was crap) and there was a big discount on the Fonera at the time. I was mostly disappointed, for three reasons:
  1. Nobody ever connected to my router, which was kind of demotivating
  2. I never found any Fon networks in the streets to use
  3. It had serious incompatibility problems with my Nokia phone, reputedly because it muxed to SSIDs over the same radio (and because Nokia phones while popular are crap)
Fonera 2.0n
When one day my Fonera stopped working (power light blinking), I contacted customer support and described the problem. They said the problem was unknown and kindly agreed to my suggestion to give me a discount on the newly released 2.0n version.

At first I was happy with the router, for it's application support, hoping that this was only the beginning of a rapidly evolving eco system. However, when getting an iPhone my experience with WLAN at home was not very good. Network applications would be slow or time out, but I was sure this was a problem with my internet line.

Then one day I fired up the laptop (which I don't use often) and noticed that it had seriously worse network performance than my wired computer. I ran some ping tests and discovered that it actually lost quite a large amount of packets.

Having recently switched ISP to Jazztel, I activated the WLAN on the router they had given me and got perfect network connectivity both on the iPhone and the laptop.

Since that, my Fonera has not been used for WLAN, and there are still no new applications available for it.

Why did I not contact customer care?
First of all, after poking around on the net I found that the router had had an RC version of new firmware published and pulled. I reckoned that I should try this FW, and decided to wait. I really wanted it for other reasons as well, such as extended app support and VPN.

Later I also saw on the Fon blog that the iPhone 3GS connection issues were known. More reason to wait for the firmware.

Here we are, 3 months later, and there is really no news except a posting on the blog saying nothing but vague statements such as "seing some progress", "plan to get some of you involved" and "stay tuned, we are moving little by little". All this is telling me is that a final version of the software is still far away.

The version of the software that would make the product compatible with some of the worlds most popular WLAN clients...

The bigger problem
My analysis of all of this is that Fon.com has a fundamental problem. The company is all about making a Wifi community and seem truly committed to getting the word out. The charismatic CEO is a great social communicator and deserves credit for engaging with his customers directly on his blog and twitter, allowing and even participating in, at times, very damaging comments regarding his company.

The way I see it, however, is that they have not been able to build a developer community. Word has it that there is only one developer working on the firmware. The Fonera 2.0n promised a lot of apps, but there is nothing new available.

I think the company must staff up on their firmware team and try to partner with open source communities, such as the people behind the Tomato firmware or OpenWrt. Furthermore they must work hard on making it easy for third party developers to build and deploy apps for the device. The way it is now, you need to invest a lot of time in learning the fairly complicated development environment and, until there is new firmware, have no way to get it deployed.

And, if you suspect the product has been abandoned, who would really do that?


I hope you read this far, Mr Varsavsky, if you want any further info, feel free to contact me through twitter, mail or comments.