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Which are you? Linus? Bill? or Alien?
Wednesday 28 June 2006 18:24:00 by Andrew Ferguson

The vision of a ubiquitous wireless network allowing you access from your house to practically anywhere you go is the aim of FON. FON is apparently the largest WiFi community in the world, and is listing 63240 foneros that are up and running around the world. The company is providing Wi-Fi routers for €5 that have custom firmware allowing control of who has access to your broadband connection via the Wi-Fi. You are allowed to decide whether to trade this shared access for the ability to access other foneros routers when out and about for free, or to receive an income from those who use the service on a pay as you go type basis.

The three types are users are defined as:

  1. Linuses share their WiFi connection in exchange for free access to all other WiFi Hotspots within the FON Community.
  2. Bills share their WiFi connections in exchange for getting the 50% of the net revenues from those who purchase daily access FON passes to the FON Community through the Bill’s FON Hotspot.
  3. Aliens using laptop computers or similar devices are permitted to access any FON Hotspot by purchasing daily FON passes. The standard rate for these FON passes is currently €3 for a 24 hour connection period.

The service has been featured on sites like BBC News where some concerns were raised. For example in the UK it is the case that most service providers do not allow you to resell your connection, allowing a neighbour occasional access is one thing, but some may take a dim view of the FON scheme. FON does have a policy of talking to providers and sharing some of the revenue with them, but looking on the company website, only four providers were listed, Jazztel, n9uf cegetel, Glocalnet and labs2 so it seems discussions must still be taking place in the UK. Another issue if sharing a Wi-Fi connection with others whether via FON or another system in the UK, is that with something like 75% of plans having some form of usage charging or cap the usage made by others could end up costing you money. New versions of firmware for the FON routers is planned to allow you to control the bandwidth available to visitors.

One area anyone with a Wi-Fi connection needs to be aware of, is what happens if someone uses your connection for illegal activity, be that sending spam email, downloading/uploading copyrighted material without permission, or worse. The FON system does track who has logged onto the router, but it is not clear whether any logging of the activity for individual users is recorded, and the issue is if the music or film industry spot something they don't like and come a knocking via your service provider, will they accept a plea of 'it was not me, it was a person using my Wi-Fi connection'? The chances are probably not, certainly the police if involved may be very suspicous, and require proof it was not you. One aspect not covered about the FON service and other unencrypted wireless links, is that it is very easy for someone to sit and watch the traffic, so they could grab details like passwords and other personal information with relatively little work. This is why Wi-Fi security is based around encryption as well as simply controlling log-on access, and even if using commercial systems like BT Openzone where the wireless link is still unencrypted you need to consider using more secure ways of handling the data, e.g. creating a secure VPN over the wireless link to hide the actual data.

With the increase in portable devices like mobile phones that now support Wi-Fi and VoIP services, having roaming access to a Wi-Fi service is useful. How exactly the FON sign-on page will work with the wide-range of wireless devices is not fully clear, and the short range of Wi-Fi hotspots if you are on the move makes the task of maintaining a connection difficult.

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