Open Source Routers Take An FCC Hit

This article pretty much covers it:

with “why it matters” fleshed out in comments.

The “bottom line” is that open source router software like OpenWRT are able to exist because you can take a bit of cheap router hardware running a mediocre bit of software from “firmware” and “reflash” it (i.e. put in your own firmware).

This lets you get all kinds of high end features without paying all sorts of marketing driven fees for it. It also lets you control your router and assure it is safe and not buggered. Not that every Three Letter Agency in the world wants to bugger your hardware and software, especially “from the factory”… (see the PRISM program for details…) /sarc;

Well, turns out that the radio inside the WiFi router has more power and more channels available than the USA FCC lets them use. One chip for many places, you see. So to prevent you from getting to that software defined radio and either turning up the power or adding those extra channels, the FCC has decided to rule that firmware must be factory locked.

This will only accidentally kill off open source (provably secure) source readable software and assure that any “bugs” (i.e. agency installed ‘features’) can’t be removed either. Sigh.

One will still have the option of building ‘from scratch’ with something like the Raspberry Pi, but the costs are higher and the skill level needed higher.

Since there’s maybe a couple of thousand folks in the whole USA bothering to make their own router software upgrades, and of them maybe a dozen? Less? who would bother with things like more power and / or the excluded channels, (valid in other countries, just not here), I can’t see where this is a major problem. Oh, and nothing much prevents me attaching a nice bit of coat hanger wire to my spark plugs and driving the car around – a much more noise making behaviour…

Oh Well. No nit too small for a bureaucracy to force industry to spend millions to quash.


We need a whole lot less government “helping us”…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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3 Responses to Open Source Routers Take An FCC Hit

  1. p.g.sharrow says:

    once again, I am from the government and I am here to help!
    To a bureaucrat there is no detail too small for them to attempt to regulate. It is after all for our own good…pg

  2. Sandy McClintock says:

    Presumably FCC regulations will not impact (greatly) on Routers made in China or Europe etc. It would be hard to enforce a ban the importation of un-locked routers made elsewhere in the world.

  3. Larry Ledwick says:

    I can understand the FCC’s position but they are doing it wrong.
    First of all, if the chips are able to operate on multiple frequencies some not authorized for the customers country, you can bet your bottom dollar that organized crime and others have tinkered with creating a dark wifi in their local area by forcing their equipment to a non-authorized frequency, creating a private wifi that most routers are not even aware is operating. In that sense they are responding to a real problem but this move will not fix it. It will just move the problem.

    Experimenters were doing this sort of thing with CB radios 50 years ago, by swapping rx and tx crystals to hop on unused frequency pairs. This sometimes resulted in unintended “birdies” (harmonic transmissions) on public safety frequencies which usually quickly resulted in FCC vans parked outside your house if you were the source of interference.

    By locking down the firmware they will only create substantial pressure for some electronics geek to come up with a hack that bypasses the built in bios and hijacks the chip. You see this sort of thing all the time in amateur and commercial radio where radios are capable of operating on multiple frequencies which they are not type accepted for. Someone figures out how to cut a few specific pc board traces change a resistor value or install a non-standard jumper or open a pre-placed jumper between two or more traces and that opens up the radio to operate on the unauthorized frequency. Plans for doing that will be on the internet before the bios chip gets into full production.

    Or someone will figure out how to do a buffer over-run modification to wipe out the lock or in some other way re-program the chip in spite of the lock. Remember when copy protect features on video games were believed to be effective by the companies? Only lead to massive efforts to find a way to hack the copy protection.

    Measure counter measure is alive and well and nothing drives electronic and IT innovation faster than the three words “No you can’t” from a company or a regulatory agency.

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