back to article Reprogrammble routers axed by TP-Link as FCC bans custom firmware

Network gear maker TP-Link will no longer allow people to install customized firmware on its Wi-Fi routers in the US – and the FCC is to blame. In a brief statement and FAQ published this week, TP-Link – which is based in Shenzhen, China – said the FCC's revised rules on radio-based equipment makes user reprogrammable firmware …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Stupid

    Since they are going to install country code specific firmware on the ones they sell, I'm sure there must be a way for it to preserve the country code setting in the boot ROM so it can't be overridden via a firmware update. Then you can still use DD-WRT, just can't change the country code setting and use bands that are illegal in the US.

    1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Stupid

      TP-Link's "interpretation" of the FCC rules is complete BS. They have some other agenda.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Big Brother

        Re: Stupid

        @ The Man Who Fell To Earth: 'TP-Link's "interpretation" of the FCC rules is complete BS. They have some other agenda.'

        It's the FCC that require device lockdown and presumably so as the enduser can't detect the built-in backdoors.

        "We further propose that an applicant for certification must specify which parties will be authorized to make software changes .. and the software controls that are provided to prevent unauthorized parties from enabling different modes of operation" ref

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stupid

      It is not the (single) band which is illegal in the USA which is the issue. It is not the power either.

      That is a strawman argument used by the people who lobbied for this reg to ensure that Comcast can never ever get the idea (which it had a few times in the past) of "we had enough, put Openwrt on it".

      Disclaimer - I have actually observed that one from the sidelines so I know it first hand.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Stupid

        That is a strawman argument used by the people who lobbied for this reg

        Oh surprise!

        Same as those old "special national connectors for telephones" meant to prevent "harm to the infrastructure".

    3. Mark 65

      Re: Stupid

      The best bit is that if users cannot flash firmware then that means they cannot update it, ergo all security flaws in firmware become permanent. Now that is retarded and does nothing to secure US infrastructure.

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        Re: Stupid

        Mark 65. Quite literally, I have seen vulnerable TP-Link kit that needed an update that took them a month. Meanwhile it was susceptible to remote hacks, and I had to lend other kit to friends while they waited.

        I think it was a DNS hijack via editing the routers settings via a login hijack, as below:

        http://arstechnica.com/security/2014/03/hackers-hijack-300000-plus-wireless-routers-make-malicious-changes/

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Stupid

          "Mark 65. Quite literally, I have seen vulnerable TP-Link kit that needed an update that took them a month. Meanwhile it was susceptible to remote hacks, and I had to lend other kit to friends while they waited."

          So about the same time as many software manufacturers take to patch their stuff. And what did loan them d-link? Cisco? or one of the others on that link?

          As router patching goes, I'd say one month is bloody good going.

    4. Suburban Inmate

      Re: Stupid

      I imagine the user will get no choice about flashing the firmware, once it has auto-downloaded, presumably signed. But if a router were offline for a few weeks or whatever, and an exploit showed up, maybe that could help someone shoehorn their own code in there?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Jtag or serial connector

    they have to get the firmware on there so they are really "just" making it so people who are not prepared or able to do the hardware mods cant re-flash the firmware.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Jtag or serial connector

      The law could not care less about can you do hardware mod or you cannot. Neither are manufacturers who want to be compliant with the law.

      I suspect that the bootloader will now require signed firmware.

      If you cannot win fairly stab someone in the back or kick him under the belt. OpenWRT has been pissing off SOHO router vendors for a very long time. They successfully tamed dd-wrt (effectively by buying the guy off). They failed to do it with OpenWRT. The issue is not tinkerers and enthusiasts. The issue is service providers. There were multiple incidents where Comcast, DT or SFR told vendor XXXX cable modem or SOHO router department: "We had enough of your b***cks, we will just fire you and get a couple of guys to customize OpenWRT for us".

      While the vendor(s) in question have managed to placate the service providers so far, including "open sourcing" (quotes intended) some of the crap they ship, they want to eliminate the threat to their existence once and for all. When 95% of your department revenue is from selling to Comcast, you will gladly push someone under a bus if he threatens it. That is why the vendors lobbied (there is a record of that too) FCC for these regs.

      By the way, as far as tp-link is concerned they are just caught in a crossfrire here. They are not a major Service Provider SOHO router manufacturer (only some third world/eastern european use them). They just want to sell to Joe Average Luser and this is what they are doing.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Jtag or serial connector

        Why should router manufacturers care if service providers use their firmware or open source firmware? If they use the open source firmware that relieves them of support headaches.

        1. razorfishsl

          Re: Jtag or serial connector

          Because people then pick on HARDWARE features NOT software capability, which makes 90% of TP-link's crap unsalable....

  3. Number6

    Oh well, either buy one from outside the US or pick one from a different manufacturer.

    Are they over-reacting and misunderstanding the rules? It's a bit like flying from China to the US - they inspect carry-on as you board the aircraft and confiscate liquids. Other countries just don't let you take liquids into the departure lounge so you can fill bottles to take on-board. China seems to think their inspections are a US-imposed requirement yet they're the only country that does it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      liquids flying to the US

      I have had the same issues with liquids going onto flights out of Israel to the US. No issues flying out of Israel to the UK.

      Inside the US you can buy liquids after security and take them on board, but not leaving Israel, since Israel does not ban liquids going through security.

      Very annoying as my wife has a medical condition that requires about 4-5x normal water intake, and getting the flight attendants to give her water prior to take off took about 5 attempts.

  4. TeeCee Gold badge
    Facepalm

    Same old, same old.

    Just do what they did with DVD players. One locked down version for the US and one configurable version for everywhere else.

    ....and charge the septics 20% more for the privilege. Think of it as a raving twat tax.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Same old, same old.

      I'm fine with it if the locked versions are sold only in the US. With the internet it will be easy for me to buy a router from Europe and install custom firmware. It'll cost a bit more due to the exchange rate and shipping, but it isn't like I buy routers every year. My concern is that this won't be just the US.

      Even then it isn't a big deal, eBay will have a ready supply of older routers for many many years. So what if I don't get 802.11acxyz for 10 gigabit wireless? There's no reason to have gigabit wireless let alone go beyond that. The only problem will be if a weakness is found in WPA2 or something else that's not fixable in software.

    2. rtb61

      Much Worse

      Think more government mandated back door into your hardware that you can not remove. So take this story in light of the M$/FBI attack on Apple. So you can not change your sort of firewall router hardware but via the back door they can and when you hook hardware into it, they can work to hack that hardware as well.

      This is a straight mass spying law, we set you hardware to spy on you, you try to change it, then you go to jail instead, something straight out of George Orwell's 1984 big brother is watching, try to stop and expect to be re-educted.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another way to resolve it is to have the people who make the radio chips make a change in the internals of the chip to conform to US only. Block things that are prohibited (e.g., power and frequencies). Yes it is disruptive and will cost some money. And you can buy a non-US router to get around it.

    I would imagine there is a controller embedded in the radio ships that could have fuses (or some other unchangeable tech). If this is going to be the FCCs' requirement going forward, this is probably the most secure and simplest approach. The chip vendors have enough volume for US and other, that the increase on the cost of materials should should be minimal or zero (it is a pretty competitive market).

    1. John Geek

      its not that simple. these cheap wireless chips they use are 75% software ('firmware'). the firmware has complete control over the radio as the radio doesn't even work without it.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Even with HW Radios

        Europe allows 2.4GHz Channel 1 ... 13

        USA Channel 1 ...11

        I've had problems even years ago with idiot kit / gadgets that was ONLY programmed for USA and wouldn't talk to a WiFi point on ch 12.

      2. JeffyPoooh
        Pint

        JG "it's not that simple... ...software"

        The suggestion was to change one or two things in the next version of the chips. A security fuse, or signed firmware. Of course the hackers will still get around it, which means anyone interested can too, if a script and procedure comes out. But it'll meet the defined requirements.

        History: Old school regulation enforcement was often by means of a matrix of 1N914 type diodes to remove or install which controlled frequency bands. Regular consumers couldn't change them, but the other 80% of us radio hobbyists certainly could.

        Same sort of thing is inevitable.

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: JG "it's not that simple... ...software"

          From what I understand (and I'm far from an expert on this period / electronics), many manufacturers purposefully made it easy to circumvent stupid regulation. Probably partly because if they didn't the hobbyists wouldn't buy and recommend their kit to everybody they knew (a single sale is good, a single sale with +4 following it is better), but also as an act of defiance against stupidity. The kind of stupidity that brought about the US prohibition....

  6. Borg.King
    Unhappy

    But it's my router, I've bought it

    I should be able to do whatever I want with it.

    1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

      Substitute "kitchen knife" or "weed killer" or "Strychnine" for the word "router" and re-post again, please.

      1. Ilmarinen
        WTF?

        Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

        We are in Clockwork Orange territory here.

        Yes, he should be *able* to do whatever he likes with all these things.

        Should any of what he *choses* to do be illegal then he should be liable for that. But the availability of choice, to do wrong or to do right or to do nothing, is freedom.

        And in this case what is proposed by the FCC is just stupid and out of proportion to any likely harm.

        1. Morzel

          Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

          He can stil *choose* to do it.

          The only difference is that TP-Link no longer makes it easy to do so. That doesn't deny him the right to do whatever he wants with the thing.

    2. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

      Except if you mess up your router, it can cause significant issues for your neighbors.

      One of my neighbors screwed up their router and manged to jam cell phone service in the surrounding apartments (apparently their firmware didn't set the frequency parameter correctly, so it started spewing junk into the GSM bands)

      1. Lysenko

        Except if you mess up your router, it can cause significant issues for your neighbors..

        If you mess up your microwave oven you've got a jamming device kicking out nearly half a kilowatt of noise all over the 2.4GHz band.

      2. Tridac

        Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

        I call BS. The synthesisers on those devices aren't programmable anywhere near gsm at ~800Mhz. They run at 2.4Ghz and have narrow band tx and rx filters, which you would need to physically remove, even if the synth chips were programmable to 800MHz.. It's no probalem anyway, as there are dozens of brands that are reprogrammable, as well as old faithfulls like the Linksys WRT54. We have had two of those running Tomato firmware for several years with no issue..

        .

        1. JeffyPoooh
          Pint

          Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

          Tridac "I call BS... ...nowhere near... ...at 2.4 Ghz..."

          Sprint 4G reportedly includes spectrum at 2.5 GHz. That's just one example.

          (PS: Hz, kHz, MHz, GHz, always uppercase H in Hz.)

        2. TimeMaster T
          Big Brother

          Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

          @Tridac

          " It's no probalem anyway, as there are dozens of brands that are reprogrammable,"

          for now.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Big Brother

        Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

        When will they get round to banning encrypted personal radio gear ref, oh, wait, they already have ref

        1. Suricou Raven

          Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

          I've been wondering for a while if SDR would enable the use of a sort of 'extreme spread spectrum' approach for illicit radio - jumping around within a band spanning 2GHz or so. Illegal as hell, yes - but it would also be near-impossible to even detect, let alone trace, without the key that determines hopping sequence.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

            SR "...near-impossible to even detect... ...[frequency] hopping sequence."

            The number of possible sequences is essentially infinite. But many designers copy and paste the same old 'maximum length shift register with feedback' design, and so the number of sequence patterns of any given length used in the real world is, like, 3. (<- Exaggeration alert.)

            Not all systems bother to implement a key on the hopping sequence.

            Worse yet, for some types of modulation and given a good SNR and reasonably narrow hopping range, you can just listen in with a wide band receiver. Oops.

            Coded noise spreading (a la Qualcomm and CDMA) is so much better than hopping.

      4. Mario Becroft

        Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

        I doubt it. I don't think any GSM operators use 2.4 GHz.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

          But 2.5 GHz is an LTE band. So is 2.3 GHz, for that matter.

          1. Preston Munchensonton
            Boffin

            Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

            But 2.5 GHz is an LTE band. So is 2.3 GHz, for that matter.

            This doesn't matter at all, so long as the upper and lower sideband fall below those other allocations. Based on the rules that the FCC has in place for frequency licenses, there's no chance that a 2.4Ghz radio can interfere with a radio in a different band, even if close.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

              No chance two electric devices can interfere on radio bands? Not even close?

              I call bull on that one.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

        Hello, bullshit calling???

    3. Charles Manning

      Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

      A better analogy would be:

      "But it's my car, I bought it. I should be able to drive it however I like."

      Any device that talks on a shared spectrum or to other equipment (eg. modems, wired phones, stuff you connect to the power, water, waste water or other utilities) needs to operate properly or things will break.

      1. Tridac

        Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

        Driving / using a car is not the same as modification eg: rechipping for more power :-). Poor example...

      2. Mario Becroft

        Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

        If a user fails to operate their radio equipment within their license (in this case a general user radio license) then the FCC should sanction that user.

        The rules the FCC has introduced here effectively make hardware vendors responsible for their users' behaviour. This is ridiculous and prevents many important and completely legal uses of the radio equipment.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

          "If a user fails to operate their radio equipment within their license (in this case a general user radio license) then the FCC should sanction that user."

          Except that trying to nail end users is like trying to play Whack-A-Mole. The end user can appear and disappear faster than law can catch up to them. So they're forced to go one step up to stop interference. It's like with the mandatory car features that are put in for safety reasons.

          1. Updraft102 Silver badge

            Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

            This specific ruling by the FCC is a response to interference with airport weather radar, which operates on a narrow slice of the 5 GHz band and only is a concern for people within a certain radius of one of the weather sites (35 miles? I forget what it was). It makes a distinctive spike on the radar display, which points exactly toward the offender-- it would be really easy to use sniffers to narrow it down and catch him.

            The case that inspired all of this was a little more than some ordinary idiot with an ordinary SOHO router and OpenWRT operating on an unlawful frequency in the front room with no other modifications. I don't remember the details, but it was something like an outdoor array of high-gain beamforming antennae operating under unlawful power that were inadvertently aimed right at the radar site. It was an edge case, and was someone who was determined enough to be able to put together a way to do what he did even if the router firmware is locked. The router doesn't even need to be a device sold as a router-- a PC can be a router, and good luck locking down a PC so that it can't do that.

    4. AlbertH
      Stop

      Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

      Unfortunately not. You should conform to the frequency and bandwidth rules to prevent interference to other users. Power is less of an issue as receiver sensitivity is actually more important.

    5. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

      > I should be able to do whatever I want with it.

      Sure you can, right up until your router craps on my cellphone frequency.

      No different from "But it's my computer, I've bought it" yet it's still illegal to DDOS & hack people.

      1. oldcoder

        Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

        Quite true...

        But do you want a computer that you CAN'T perform a DDOS or hack peope?

        If you do, you want a brick, as the computer can't be programmed after that.

      2. Updraft102 Silver badge

        Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

        It's not at all like that.

        Installing aftermarket firmware does not mean you will be using illegal frequencies. It merely means you will be able to select that IF you choose to break the law. Kind of like how I could choose to set up a C&C server and DDOS someone if I chose-- but I don't. My hardware is capable of doing illegal things, but that doesn't mean I will.

        I have a lot of things that I could use to break the law. I have knives, which can be used to stab someone, but I don't do that. I have poisonous household chemicals, but I don't poison anyone. The FCC's rule that not only must I use only approved frequencies, but that I must be incapable of using unapproved ones, would be like banning my knives and any household chemicals that are toxic. While there are some people out there who want to do just that, most of us realize that it would be a really dumb idea. Those people determined to break the law will still find a way, but those who don't want to break the law will still find themselves unable to used the banned items for lawful and legitimate reasons.

    6. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

      Frequency assignments are made for a couple of reasons. First is to prevent services from interfering with each other and secondly to provide manufacturers with standard bands for specific purposes. On the second, if the router is broadcasting on a band that is not compatible with the receivers then there is no connection.

      1. Tridac

        Re: But it's my router, I've bought it

        In fact, most of the open source firmware for these routers provides more functionality and not more power, or operation outside the specified bands...

  7. channel extended

    TP Link

    I've not found their stuff particularly good anyway.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: TP Link

      Good story, thanks! I am looking into their (TPLink) Archer series, specifically the C8. Experiences anyone?

      1. AlbertH

        Re: TP Link

        I've used to C8 and several others of that range, and found that they're all good quality, well constructed, reasonably priced and perform well. The web interface is a bit clunky, but no worse than Netgear or Linksys. They perform just like the other brands but are 20 - 50 % cheaper.

        1. Number6

          Re: TP Link

          If you get one before it's too late, their web interface is irrelevant, you just put DD-WRT or OpenWRT on it. I have one of their routers with OpenWRT, works just fine and has done for over a year now.

      2. Bodge99

        Re: TP Link

        deleted

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: TP Link

        I bought a TP-Link Archer C3200 over the holidays. It is excellent: great range and power (completely overpowers the (apparently) modded neighbor's kit with absolute ease, one of the major reasons I upgraded), excellent throughput and 4 simultaneous bands of output (5gHz Band 1, 5gHz Band 2, 2.4gHz and your choice of band for Guest network) to balance loads. Smart Connect works very well; only one time did it refuse to allow the 2.4gHz client on, but 1 reboot later it worked perfectly and has continued to work since then without complaint or hiccup.

        Beyond a few wishes for firmware updates - it can not show you current active WAN routing tables and some other modest requests - I am very satisfied and extremely happy. With Intel AC 7260's I show up to 866.7Mbps connectivity and see excellent throughput.

        1. JeffyPoooh
          Pint

          Re: TP Link

          AC "...5gHz Band 1, 5gHz Band 2, 2.4gHz..."

          Uppercase G is giga. Lowercase g is not listed, so it must be new. And thus outside the yocto to yotta range. Crikey, technology moves so fast.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: TP Link

        I bought one of the first TP Link routers as an emergency replacement - when my Netgear MELTED; it was so good, so configurable, AND SO CHEAP, I havent looked at another make since.

        I now have an Archer VR200, a brilliant piece of kit that can run ADSL, Fibre and 3/4G internet; 2.4GHz Wifi is a bit weak with the standard antenna, but 5GHz blasts through the house with a solid 235Mbps throughput from the router at the front of the house, to this PC at the back.

        It connects to my local Fibre cabinet at a solid 100Mbps, although BT obviously limit the connection to 80Mbps (actually 79.995Mbps)

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: TP Link

          "It connects to my local Fibre cabinet at a solid 100Mbps, although BT obviously limit the connection to 80Mbps (actually 79.995Mbps)"

          You sure this isn't because of a difference between raw and encoded throughput (an 8:10 ratio smacks of 8b/10b encoding, a pretty standard system for maintaining signal integrity).

    2. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: TP Link

      @channel extended

      Looks like this company doesn't want to sell to able bodied IT's enthusiasts, pity the want to flush these sales.

  8. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    WiFi Routers are multi-functional devices

    Surely it is just a case of selling the WiFi element separately to the rest of the device? TP-Link manufacture WAP's of various specifications, so why not manufacture (as they do) Routers without WiFi capability? This then would allow the Router element to be flashed. If that is not permitted then the real issue is unintentional transmission (interference).

    1. Spanners Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: WiFi Routers are multi-functional devices

      I'm sure that I saw a project for making one with a Raspberry Pi. Anyone who proposes to firtle around with their router can do one of those.

  9. Herby

    Just get the firmware from elsewhere...

    My router had vendor updates that fizzled out. Thankfully there was an update overseas that added more features and corrected some things. It works just fine, thank you.

    Now I don't think it changes anything that the FCC is concerned about, but who knows. I still set it to channel 6 on WiFi, and all si well with the world. It can't scream any louder than it was designed for (another FCC limit) so that won't be a problem.

    Of course, I could put a big amplifier on it and call it a ham radio device, but that would get into another trouble area (commercial use). Oh, well.

    What the FCC should do is hunt down and fine people BIG BUX if they go outside the proper limits and confiscate the offending problem.

    Maybe the FCC should go after spammers and robodialers which would make more people happy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just get the firmware from elsewhere...

      "What the FCC should do is hunt down and fine people BIG BUX if they go outside the proper limits and confiscate the offending problem."

      Except the offenders tend to come and go, so it becomes a game of Whack-A-Mole.

      "Maybe the FCC should go after spammers and robodialers which would make more people happy."

      Problem is, many of them operate outside the country or play shell company games, again making it a game of Whack-A-Mole.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Pirate

    "and the FCC is to blame."

    Hardly. Don't shoot the messenger!

    All your tech are belong to UNSA

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If only there was a Pi with a miniPCI socket

    1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      The Pi v3 comes with both a wireless and a wired interface. Depending on how much data you are trying to push through it, you might be better off just buying an old P-4 / early Core-2 machine from the thrift shop and sticking some inexpensive PCI cards into it.

      1. Number6

        The downside of that is the power consumption compared to the dedicated kit. If you're not bothered by the electric bill then it's not a problem.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @N6 "power consumption"

          My wifi takes about three times the power of typical. Because I've got three going, big house, huge property, far too many gadgets. Sometimes four, the 4th with a yagi antenna aimed down to the lake. It's a bit over the top.

          It's heating season 8 months a year anyway.

          1. Number6

            It's heating season 8 months a year anyway.

            This is true - I remember running half a dozen machines back before VMs were available. That room was always warmer than the rest of the house and when I consolidated them down to a c ouple of machines, the electric bill went down but the heating bill went up.

    2. catsmum

      Have a look at the Alex board. It should do what you want - it did for me.

  12. Charles Manning

    Not quite

    "Of course, the manufacturer could design its hardware in a way that would stop user-installed firmware from changing the frequencies used by the radio electronics"

    There is really no way to control this at the actual RF/transmitter level since the bands that are used cannot be separated at reasonable cost.

    What they could do easily is use some one-time-programmed bytes (eg. the serial number or a country code) to control what channels the fw can select.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Not quite

      No, because you can just write firmware that IGNORES the OTP parts. And since custom firmwares are allowed, it's obvious it doesn't do signature checking.

  13. Dwarf Silver badge

    Given all the world-wide travel

    I wonder how this works out when you go into the US with a non-US wireless enabled gadget or take a US unit into another country.

    Presumably its a bit hard to change a feature / country locked device to match the other country, similarly its possible to install a wireless device in one country and pick a different place in drop-down during installation.

    Bonkers idea. Didn't solve anything.

    At least things like dd-wrt / openWRT allow updates to be made (for example an update for compliance with revised standards), whereas vendors just don't and the unit ends up in land fill.

    I wonder which is a bigger problem in the real world.

    1. Lysenko

      Re: Given all the world-wide travel

      I wonder how this works out when you go into the US with a non-US wireless enabled gadget or take a US unit into another country.

      The rules are about selling the equipment and using a device broadcasting on an unauthorized frequency. The former is the Manufacturer's problem (TP-Link interpretation) and the latter is yours. So if they don't sell the non-compliant device in the USA and you don't transmit on the wrong frequency, there isn't a problem.

  14. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Meh

    I understand, but...

    On my old Netgear router, I could download and flash with the European version which allowed operation on 2 more channels than was legal in the US, and this is a sanctioned firmware upgrade from Netgear. I didn't bother, as my USA wireless devices wouldn't work on the extra channels, but the option was there. Oh, and there were hobbyist versions of firmware that would run on this as well. I don't see why TP-Link wouldn't be permitted to just offer a disclaimer on the website, then let people accept responsibility for their actions.

    In the old days of scanners and ham gear, there were plenty of illegal hardware mods that people had to use at their own risk, it's irksome that the FCC is stepping in here. It would be like fitting every single car built with a brathalyzer ignition because a few people drive drunk.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What...

      re then let people accept responsibility for their actions.

      The gubbermint cant allow people to be responsible for their actions, otherwise the politicians would be out of a job :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What...

        It's not only that. Many people flout responsibility and dare the law to chase them down while they play Whack-A-Mole with them coming and going. When the lawbreakers are using the law against you, it's time for another tactic.

  15. goldcd

    Well played TP-Link, well played.

    I await the triumphant FCC press-release that due to their campaigning, only a company based in China can alter the firmware of routers across the USA.

    To be fair though, Huawei must be spitting feathers that their own updates have been criticized previously.

  16. Lord_Beavis
    Pirate

    All I have to say is...

    Charles U. Farley

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seems Obvious

    The 2.4G band is now congested (unless you are in the country) , the move to 5G is slow, and even there there is channel contention, though some channels in 5g are not accessible for some reason.

    The situation is only going to get worse (or perhaps in a few years 5g will be congested, but 2.4g may be clearer)

    Why not increase the 2.4G/5G channels?.

    1. Suricou Raven

      Re: Seems Obvious

      Because the space adjacent to those channels is already claimed. In the US the bands immediately above and below the 2.4GHz unlicensed band have already been taken by cellphone service. The 5GHz band is sandwiched in between bands sold to commercial satellite operators. Spectrum is a valuable commodity, and every frequency that can be put to practical use has been allocated already. The military gets first pick, commercial services able to buy spectrum at auction get second, and whatever is left may be considered for unlicensed services.

  18. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

    my data points

    Two TPLinks, both trashed by the official firmware updates performed as specified in the manual.

    the worst thing is that this directly affects me as my current router supports older devices such as 1st gen wifi printers and PSP/etc but the newer ones do not due to mandatory WPA2. no doubt this is a deliberate act to force people to trash perfectly good equipment.

    This typed on a xoom 2 with single band 802.11g and no support for 4G or 5.2 GHz

  19. JeffyPoooh
    Pint

    Apple to FBI...

    "The FCC forbids us from releasing to you modified software on the programmable RF device we call an iPhone without their approval, which requires test data. We'll have send it through the entire Qualification cycle, which will naturally delay our other products by nine months. In effect, your request is for one of our entire product marketing cycles. Our quotation on this task is thus $850 million, with a pending amount of $3.4 trillion for subsequent impacts."

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is this really about running in unregulated bands... Or is this because many manufactures often have undocumented cough cough features that only some people know about that allows exploitation... dd-wrt and openwrt devices get updates and holes get closed...

    Have no idea what the guy who said manufactures bought off dd-wr (brainslayer, sash, etc) they genually continue to and have always supported the same devices that openwrt has...

    Router modding will likely continue, but its going to get a little harder, thing is tp link became popular as they made reasonable devices that worked well with third party firmwares, if they make it harder its going to be the manufactures that make it easier who gain the new popularity... Like other suggested, the best way is to lock us out of the radio but let us still flash our own roms. So only the radio part of the rom needs to be signed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Only a few percent of people use open source router firmware, so the idea that it is getting axed because it lacks built in backdoors is pretty silly. Even if every router available for sale worldwide lost its ability to run anything but the 'official' firmware tomorrow, there are countless millions of older routers that will be available for many many years so those who want to do this will continue to do so.

      Anyway, how do we know that DD-WRT and OpenWRT don't have backdoors? Maybe something unintended - many 0 day flaws turn out to have been in code for years before discovery, after all. Or maybe even something deliberate, if done subtly in the source or via corruption of the build machines used for the releases (google 'reflections on trusting trust' if you think that's not possible to do without someone noticing if they carefully audit things)

      Heck, if the government really wants backdoors in routers, they just need to talk to Broadcom and Qualcomm, who make the chipsets for almost every consumer router.

      Just doesn't seem worth the bother, since most people use Windows PCs, and Windows is a Swiss cheese of security holes. If the government wants into your Windows PC to spy on you, I don't think they have any trouble getting in through one of the many 0 days they surely have at their disposal. No need to bother with your router.

  21. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Why they have done this

    I do hope most vendors do not interpret the FCC's rules as an excuse to ban 3rd party firmware. Here is the FCC's reasoning though, and the suggestion I sent to them during the comment period.

    The problem they've run into is not people using channel 13 or running the AP a little over power; it is access points running in the mid-5ghz band, with no TPC (transmission power control) or DFS (dynamic frequency selection), so they run on the same channel as a nearby radar site and show up as big interference blobs and streaks on it. However, I think it's far more likely that most of this noise is 5ghz or dual-band APs with whatever years out of date factory firmware, than interference popping up because of people putting DD-WRT or OpenWRT or the like (particualary since, per Google, the Broadcom and Atheros drivers on these automatically handle DFS.)

    I wrote the FCC during the comment period and suggested that nobody would be intentionally doing this, so the best course of action would be to simply make people aware of the problem. At present, the DD-WRT GUI gives no inidcation of which channels are subject to DFS and which are not -- I suggested if the DFS channels have an asterisk by them, many people would simply avoid the asterisk'ed channels. (It does appear that both Broadcom driver handles DFS on it's own, based on country code given, while Atheros ath9k uses mac80211 and hostapd to support it, if you pick a channel with radar on it it'll change channels on it's own.)

    1. David Pollard

      Re: Why they have done this

      Could it be that someone with a pay grade well above what their intelligence might merit has started a paranoid panic that trrrssts might take over swathes of routers and use them in a massed attack to disable the national radar network?

  22. shovelDriver

    Shell Games

    Just as in the shell-game, attention is being focused on the worng issue. I think, rather than the manufactureres being the problem, the root cause is government. Of course, U.S. agencies do not want the consumer to have an ability to mod firmware. If we can, then absent the introduction of hard-coded chipsets, their widespread penetration of router - and thus network, home, and small business - systems would be degraded. Oh, big business? Professional-grade CISCO and other network gear? They were subverted long ago. The stories even made the news. But that was yesterday's . . .

  23. catsmum

    The FCC rules are crazy. It doesn't take a lot of work to make a router for yourself out of a superannuated PC. It can have as much or as little functionality as you wish ... and you have complete control over it. I know this, I've done it.

  24. Phil Kingston

    Let me get this straight...

    A device manufacturer is being told it's their responsibility to stop purchasers doing something illegal with the product?

    That's a helluva reach, surely?

  25. Missing Semicolon
    Unhappy

    TP-Link make fine devices...

    .. as long as you blow away the stock firmware on day 1 and load OpenWRT. They're a bit like a white-box PC, since the devices are so cheap, there is actually very little custom weirdo hardware to support, so you get good performance.

  26. Ramon Zarat

    They could have blocked access to reprogram ONLY the wireless part of the hardware and leave the rest fully upgradable, but they didn't. WHY???

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Probably because the way it's designed prevents a selective block. It has to be all or nothing.

  27. Spanners Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Future plans

    A lot of providers like to block you from changing your DNS to something other than them (OpenDNS, Google etc) People changing that for themselves has irritated the powerful in the past. Are they just thinking ahead on this?

  28. DrTeeth

    This is what it is really about

    This has been a long brewing issue on some Asus forums. The main problem is that Asus does NOT localise their routers for each country in Europe. The use the lowest common denominator on 5GHz, and allow only 3 channels that are available in the whole of Europe, they do not fix the firmware for each European country. If they did I would not have an issue. I HAVE to use third party firmware to be able to use my router legally, rather than in the crippled form in which it was supplied. 2.4GHz is also affected, more as to power outputs rather than available channels.

    73 de Guy G4DWV/4X1LT

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020