FON wi-fi and the Mac

La Fonera routerLa Fonera is a nifty little gadget that lets you get hooked up to the FON Wifi community, which is a network of publicly available wifi hotspots maintained by volunteers. However there are some problems when using it with a Mac, and specifically a MacBook it seems. After wrestling with this over the weekend I thought I should post my experiences.

I hooked it up to my NTL cable modem and very quickly my Powerbook could see both the public network on which other “Foneros” can share your Internet connection and the private network which is limited to your own machines. I had no problems connecting and then changing the password for the private network. Re-connecting to the private network threw up a few errors but clicking “try again” a few times got me back online.

The real problem arose when I tried to get the other computer in the house, a MacBook, onto the private network. It could see and connect to the public network, but the private network wouldn’t accept the password I had just assigned it. Neither would it accept the original password.

After doing some research on the web, I discovered that the default WPA settings on the router simply won’t work with a MacBook. The authentication scheme needs to be changed from ‘WPA/WPA2-Mixed’ to ‘WPA2′. To do this, you need to access the router’s admin GUI, which I was only able to do by plugging it directly into the ethernet port on the Powerbook. I followed the instructions here, rebooted the router, and the MacBook was able to connect.

In short, my Internet connection is now available for sharing by anyone who happens to be passing my house. In order to share the connection, you need to either be a member of the FON community yourself, or pay $3 to FON for a day’s access. You can find the location of other FON hotspots on their FON maps site.

I’d like to keep my FON hotspot going, but the router has a couple of disadvantages when compared with my existing Airport Base Station, namely the lack of support for wired clients and the lack of a USB port for printer sharing. I’m trying to figure out whether there’s any way of combining the two devices on the same network but that’s beyond me at present. Any suggestions gratefully received.

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