The Definitive Guide to FON and BT WiFi

April 6, 2014 • Posted by Adam @ MotorhomeWiFi in Blog, Tips & Tricks  

What is FON?images

FON is the largest network of public WiFi hotspots in Europe, with over 12 million hotspots. There is no charge to access them and no limits once connected, provided you are a member of the FON network.

Where are the hotspots?

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France and the UK are the most popular locations to find a hotspot

There are nearly 13 million FON hotspots in total. The most common countries to find a FON hotspot is United Kingdom (BT – 5 million), France (SFR – 4 million), Belgium (Belacom – 700,000) and Portugal (ZON – 500,000). Other prominent countries include the Netherlands, Poland and as of February 2014 Greece. To see a full list of hotspots, visit http://maps.fon.com

The hotspots are usually located in residential locations, since FON partners with domestic telecoms providers in many countries. This means that if you are parked on an aire in France and are in sight of a residential area, it is likely that someone has SFR as their provider and thus their router is broadcasting a public access FON hotspot.

In the UK it’s often the case that campsites are situated in more rural areas and so the availability of FON hotspots in these areas might be limited. You are more likely to find a FON hotspot at somewhere like a Brit Stop, overnight parking location or perhaps a CL or wild camping.

How useful is it in practice?

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iBoost External Antenna

Since everyones camping style varies, everyone has a different story to tell about FON. One limitation of the FON system when used from within a motorhome is that you are likely to be several hundred meters away from a hotspot and that depending on where the hotspot is located in somebody’s home will also effect how far outside it can be received.

An externally mounted WiFi antenna can greatly increase the range that a FON connection is accessible by upto 10x more than your device might be able to receive on its own. The most popular WiFi booster for use with FON is the iBoost Directional System because of it’s better range for reaching weak signals and in addition it allows you to use multiple devices from a single hotspot – since you can only log in once with one device at any one hotspot.

How do I become a member to get free access?

While you can buy access by the hour, this is expensive and unnecessary. In its free form, FON works like a co-operative; by broadcasting a FON hotspot at home for other FON members to use, you in return gain access to all other FON hotspots in the network. This does mean that technically you must keep your home internet connection active when you are away in order to participate, some people have reported being able to do so despite turning their equipment off it would be best to leave it on if you can. There are two ways in which you can gain free access;

Option 1: As BT Broadband Customer
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BT Home Hub

If you are a BT Broadband Customer who is using their BT Home Hub router then it is likely that you are already opted in to FON. In this case your @btinternet.com username and associated password also forms your FON login credentials. When at home, you as the paying customer always have priority over your own internet connection and a FON user using your hub would utilise any spare capacity and would not count towards your monthly allowance, if applicable.

It has been reported by some people that while their BT/FON logins worked on the BT network in the UK, they failed when they tried to get them to work abroad. It is worthwhile following this to confirm your status and to ensure you details have been passed over to FON for use abroad:

1.) Opt out of FON / BT WiFi using the link below. Once completed, log out of your account:
www.bt.com/wifi/secure/status.do

2.) Wait for 24 hours and then visit the URL below to ‘Opt in’ to FON / BT WiFi again:
www.bt.com/wifi/secure/index.do (not the end is index rather than status above).

If you are still struggling to connect after following the above, contact FON directly (click) with your @btinternet.com address and ask if your account has been cleared for access. If not, speak to BT with regards to making sure that this is done.

Option 2: Purchase a FON Box


As of November 2015 FON no longer sell the Fonera box and so at present the only way to become part of the FON scheme would be to move your home broadband provider to one of the partner networks (BT in the UK, SFR in France).

FON have said in a statement to Motorhome WiFi:  “We confirm that the Fonera is no longer available . It will not affect the free roaming privileges from the Foneras owners account. Right now we have no plans to expire this benefit. ”

Some mobile phone networks give you access to ‘BT WiFi’ (such as O2 or Vodafone) but this does not include ‘FON’. 

 

If you are not a BT Customer, or you don’t wish to change your broadband provider, there is another way to join FON. You fon boxcan purchase a small white router called a Fonera for a one off charge of £34 including free delivery to the UK from FON’s offices in Spain. This router plugs into one of the spare network sockets on the back of your existing home router and creates a secure tunnel, separate to your home network, to the FON network for other members to gain internet access.

A consideration here is that, unlike with BT, unless you are on an unlimited broadband package any usage of your FON hotspot by others would be counted towards your total monthly data allowance. You can specify how much of your internet access you wish to allow other users to use in the FON interface and in reality unless you live close to a public area it is unlikely that your hotspot will gain too much use – but it’s always possible.

A further benefit of the FON box is that the login credentials used to sign up for the box, in this case an e-mail address and password of your choosing, can then be used in 5 different locations simultaneously. So it’s possible that you could come to an arrangement with a family member or friend to place the FON box on their router and for you all to have the same benefits of access to the FON network.

You can purchase a FON box from http://shop.fon.com – typing ‘United Kingdom’ when prompted for your location.

How do I log on?

photo2The FON or BT WiFi App is good for understanding if there are any hotspots in a general area, but can cause issues when they attempt to log onto a hotspot automatically for you and of course you have to have a data connection on your phone to load the maps.

So instead simply look out for a ‘BTWiFi-with-FON’ or perhaps a ‘SFR-with-FON’ network name in your list of available networks, this networks will be unsecured and so you can connect without first entering a password. However, when you attempt to access the web (e.g. google.com) then you will be redirected to a captive portal at which stage you can enter your FON registered e-mail address and password.

If you were using an iBoost from Motorhome WiFi, your device would be connected to your local hotspot and then you would navigate to your web interface and choose the FON hotspot as the remote connection you would like to use. This means that, once connected, you can use multiple devices from the same connection.

Log into FON / BT WiFi in the UK

Update August 2015: FON have a very helpful link which now shows how to connect to and log onto FON hotspots in Europe – please click here for more details

In the UK this is relatively straight forward. Once connected to a FON hotspot, when you attempt to browse the web you will be ‘pushed’ to a FON login page where you will be able to select if you are a BT Broadband, BT Business Broadband, BT WiFi or FON customer. Choose the appropriate option, enter your e-mail address and password and select login.

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Connecting to SFR-with-FON in France

However in France, as you would expect, the login page is in French. Here don’t use the SFR login option to the right of the page, instead click the Connexion box shown next to the FON heading and proceed to login here regardless of if you are  BT Broadband customer or a FON customer.

If you’re a BT Broadband customer and are having trouble logging in, scroll up the page to ‘Option 1’ and follow the Opt in and Opt out procedure to resubmit your details to FON for use in Europe.

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In France, a BT Customer would log in like a FON customer using the FON connection box
(Picture thanks to Ruth Bass)

In Summary

For many an ad-hoc connection at a McDonalds or campsites where available is sufficient, but we are becoming increasingly dependent on internet access for all aspects of our lives. While FON isn’t a complete solution, it can certainly increase your ability to get online while in Europe and especially in France. We have been recommending FON to our customers since our beginning and the feedback we get is overwhelmingly positive which is why we continue to do so despite having no affiliation with FON themselves.

About the Authors

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Adam and partner Sophie have been motorhoming since 2008. In 2010 they spent 12 months travelling over 20,000 miles through 21 countries in their Adria Twin. When they returned, they started Motorhome WiFi to provide connectivity solutions to European travellers wishing to stay connected while on the road.

If you have any questions with regards to staying connected from the road, why not e-mail us or call 0113 815 1120.

 
 
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