Some years ago BT teamed up with Fon to provide free wireless hotspots in the UK for BT customers and people who run Fon routers.
Fon routers provide a private WiFi hotspot for their users plus a Fon public hotspot which in the UK tunnels through to the BT network. By default BT wireless routers also provide a Fon public hotspot. The result is that there are several million Fon wireless hotspots around the UK and although the range of each can be quite limited as it is located inside a house you can usually find usable connections in most urban areas within a few hundred meters of each other. There are Fon hotspots across Europe to of course.
As I don’t use BT for my ISP I bought a Fonera+ router and connected it up to my network to provide a Fon hotspot which in turn gives me a userid I can use to access any Fon hotspot anywhere in Europe.
Note that I connected it to an external antenna to make it a useful hotspot for others but it still gets few users.
When I first set all this up I was able to download a Fon application which could automatically connect my phone to any Fon hotspot within range. Recently when I tried to find this app and install it on a new Android tablet I’d bought I found it was no longer available in the UK. I tried to get around the availability restriction by using a free VPN but couldn’t get it to download, nor could I find any valid download either. An application that promised to extract apks didn’t work. Fortunately I’d put the app on a routed Nexus 7 and was able to copy it from the Android apk storage area (/data/app), change ownership from root using Root Browser, and then copy it out to my PC using the USB interface.
I have since found an application called Airdroid which makes apk downloading very easy – it’s a way of accessing your Nexus over your home WiFi network from a PC connected to the network. I haven’t investigated all the features of this app but what I’ve seen looks very good. There is a premium option which amongst other things gives remote access although that should be possible anyway if you open up the remote port in your firewall and use a dynamic DNS service.
If anybody else feels the need for the Fon wifi autoconnect app in the UK you can now download it from Digitalham – Fon APK. To install it you’ll need to alter the Android settings to allow installs from “Unknown sources” and double click on the notification after downloading it or locate it with an Android file browser and install it from that – I can recommend Androzip.
After I upgraded my Nexus 7 to Android 4.4 KitKat the Fon app got updated. The new one looks like it is the business but doesn’t always work properly for me. I’d suggest that you install the earlier one in the link above and mark it no autoupdate. Here is the Updated Fon APK. Update The new app does seem to work for me now. I’d still suggest you grab both though as your mileage may vary.
In November 2014 my Fonera+ stopped providing internet access through the private AP. Further checking showed it wasn’t working as a Fon hotspot either. I did a reset to factory settings (a PITA in itself as it was very picky on when you released the reset button) and that fixed the private hotspot but not the Fon hotspot. On trying to log in to my Fon account I found that I just got diverted to a BT page showing 404 in the text.
After contacting Fon support I found that the Fonera+ was no longer supported and the only way forward was to buy a new Fon router. Thanks for nothing Fon. Some people on the Money Saving Expert forum got a promotion code but I bought mine before I found that out (grrr!).
The new Fonera router arrived after a couple of weeks. It is tiny with a small fixed antenna, isn’t wall mountable and the wall wart comes with a Euro connector. The supplied adaptor which was taped to the box and took a bit of cleaning up to remove tape residue is almost as big as the router itself. As an AP, despite now supporting 802.11n, it’s pretty useless for me as apart from very near to it my main router gives a stronger signal. I haven’t checked yet to see if the Fon hotspot works outside the house but it does inside and I’m shown as sharing so will continue to get Fon access.
From the above you may get the impression I’m not overly pleased with Fon and you wouldn’t be wrong.
I have just blue-tacked the new Fonera over the spot where the Fonera+ was. It doesn’t quite cover the old screw holes or dirty mark that seems to form around anything wall mounted – especially anything electronic. As it’s behind my monitor that’s a job that can wait a while.
I spotted something rather more troubling. With the old router guest users were given their own BT pulic IP traceable to them from their login. With the new setup the Fon router users on both private and public networks get your public IP. I saw this as a big problem but only got my ID banned from the Fon forum for my troubles when trying to get this resolved. Fon simply didn’t see it as a problem. Now the chances of kiddie fiddlers and Jihadis accessing stuff which would throw up flags with the authorities through my hotspot are probably slight but they are not zero. Not wishing to get my door kicked in at 4:00am, all my computer gear bagged up, and me issued a free orange jump suit I do now know whether my Fon public signal is visible outside my property. I’ll leave it to the reader to guess on the answer to that one.