Sunday, July 8, 2007

New Federal Regulations will Have Impact On Open Source Wireless Devices

On July 6, 2007, new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations in the United States went into effect on devices that use software-defined radio (SDR) technologies. These devices include wireless access points, cell phones, PDA's, wireless network cards, etc. The FCC ruling will make it more difficult for manufacturers to get approval for these types of devices in this country. Accoring to the FCC the regulations are based primarily on safety and will attempt to stop users from doing things like modifying the source code of the devices to boost power or change frequencies of the devices.

Some of the most popular SDR devices among network savvy users on the market today are the Linksys WRT54G series wireless access points. These were the first, and still most popular, consumer devices to have their source code released, allowing users to make modifications and essentially "soup up" the performance of the router. There are numerous third party firmware projects for these devices with a good active list maintained on Wikipedia linked here. Currently the three most popular firmware replacements are Alchemy and Talisman produced by Sveasoft, and DD-WRT.

The Open Source WRT54G Story linked here, describes the history of the device and also describes how you can "turn a $60 router into a $600 router". Here's a couple of quotes from the article:

"While routers used to be the domain of networking specialists, they’ve gone mainstream along with residential broadband. Commodity routers can be had for as little as – well, "free after rebate” in some cases, and often not much more. To keep them cheap, consumer-grade vendors like Linksys repackage designs from OEM vendors rather than design the hardware and software in-house".

"The tradeoff for these sub-$100 routers can be reliability, particularly in the coding of the firmware – the software “brain” that controls the router’s functions. Consumer-grade firmware may be buggy, and may be limited in functionality compared to commercial-grade routers designed for business such as those made by Cisco and SonicWall".

This is very interesting - according to a piece on linked here:

"A summary document published by the FCC suggests that the new regulations were actually proposed by Cisco, a vendor of wireless cards and other networking equipment. The summary document suggests that because of the new rules, SDR device vendors who use open-source software in certain capacities could face challenges getting FCC approval".

You can read the 2500 word FCC summary document linked here.

The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has responded with a white paper saying the the FCC has little regulation authority of hardware devices and the FCC is stifling software development with this regulation. The SFLC white paper is linked here.

Listen to Mike Q and my latest podcast "One Week with the iPhone" linked here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sveasoft just released their latest firmware to the public for free. You can download the "Talisman" firmware directly from the Sveasoft site.