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Wireless Networking Software Upgrades Hardware Linux

Creating A Super-Router (For Free) 329

Posted by timothy
from the if-you-own-the-hardware-that-is dept.
Aaron writes "Kind of an interesting discussion and story over at Broadband Reports about the flurry of vendors releasing modified Linux based firmware updates for the Linksys WRT54G router. The updates bring a whole new level of functionality Linksys couldn't be bothered to incorporate. Among a long list of free improvements is the incorporation of bandwidth management, allowing users to end the days of choppy VoIP conversations without swapping out hardware."
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Creating A Super-Router (For Free)

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  • by JediTrainer (314273) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:16PM (#8180151)
    I currently own a BEFSR81 [linksys.com], which is their 8-port wired version (no wireless) that I purchased a couple of years ago.

    It's got built-in QoS, which can prioritize traffic. You can choose low or high priority based on either your IP port number, or one of the LAN ports (at least, the first four).

    I've tried it out, and it worked pretty well when I needed to slow down BitTorrent so that my dad could use his web browser and email (otherwise, BitTorrent was eating *all* of my bandwidth).

    It wasn't great for having fine control, but it worked well enough to solve the problem for me.
  • Very important story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Quixote (154172) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:18PM (#8180177) Homepage Journal
    There's a very important lesson hidden in here, which I hope the other hardware vendors will see and take note.

    Linksys is a hardware company. They make money by selling hardware. By opening up the software (and making their hardware "hackable"), they will increase their hardware sales.

    My hope is that other hardware companies (you name 'em: ATI, nVidia, Intel, Broadcom, Logitech, etc. etc.) will see this, and make their drivers (and associated software) open-source, thereby making their products "hackable" ==> increased sales.

    I hope the "media" will take note of this, and put it out in plain words so that the PHBs who make the decisions will learn the lesson.

  • Linksys (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FrostedWheat (172733) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:19PM (#8180184)
    I wonder how many of these routers Linksys have sold simply because it runs Linux and is hackable (in the good sense). They were originally very resistant to the idea of letting people do this. Infact it all started because of a bug in there old firmware!

    Now, if only Linksys could release proper Linux drivers for there other wireless goods. At the moment they are all useless to Linux users.
  • Different routers? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by t0ny (590331) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:20PM (#8180200)
    Is there any way to improve Netgear routers? Their firmware pretty much sucks, and you can only manage it via thier browser-based tool (no telnet or tftp).

    Or is there just something inherently more hackable about that Linksys router?

  • by Phil Karn (14620) <karn@ka[ ]net ['9q.' in gap]> on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:23PM (#8180224) Homepage
    It's really great to see people finally enhancing these boxes. These routers have ideal form factors compared to, say, a dedicated router PC running Linux, but their default firmware has always been very poor.

    I didn't see one feature mentioned that I'd really, really like to see added to these boxes: an IPv6 6to4 tunnel. This is an ideal way to penetrate a NAT so you can establish direct TCP connections (and speak UDP) to any servers on your LAN from the outside. IPv6 support has been in all of the major operating systems for some time now, including Windows XP, Linux and Mac OS X, and while not every application is IPv6 ready, the important ones (like SSH) already are.

    If 6to4 tunneling could be added to these consumer routers alongside IPv4 NAT, IPv6 stands to really take off without any help whatsoever from the ISPs. In fact, I almost prefer that my ISP not implement native IPv6. I like the fact that they now carry my encapsulated IPv6 packets without any ingress filtering, port blocking or other end-to-end-wrecking nonsense, and that they are oblivious to (much less control) the IPv6 address space. If or when the ISPs do implement native IPv6, you can bet that they'll exercise the same degree of arbitrary control that they now do over IPv4.

  • by Kishar (83244) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:26PM (#8180246)
    Linksys is a hardware company.

    Linksys is now owned by Cisco Systems, who considers themselves to be a software company.
  • by relrelrel (737051) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:28PM (#8180265)
    couldn't you use one of these free programs [dyndns.org] to update to Custom DNS instead of wanting the router to do so?

  • by HawkPilot (730860) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:30PM (#8180282)

    This will certainly move a lot a hardware for linksys. Look at the Rockbox mods for Archos for another example. Those who think that you can't make money off the GPL are wrong, at least in the case of hardware makers GPL'ing their firmware. (Although they didn't have a choice since they used linux as the firmware.)

    Their was a story awhile back here on slashdot [slashdot.org] that discussed that Intel didn't want to release open source drivers for Centrino. They should. Open source drivers and firmware can be a boon to hardware makers.
  • There is a LOT of truth to this.

    Last month, my company was looking for a replacement for the overly expensive, hard to manage firewall. Our favorite consultants (who seem think we are idiots and yet don't understand the words "packet filtering") tried to sell us on a Cisco firewall device that was something like $2000. I thought this was insane, seeing as all we needed was a nice interface to ipchains (nobody but me knows Linux here, so that wasn't an option). I look at LinkSys, but they didn't have anything which would do anything more advanced than direct NAT. This seemed strange to me, as at home I had a Linksys firewall router that allowed me to do pretty much whatever I liked when it came to mapping ports and setting up load balancing.

    Dlink -- who used to be a direct competitor to Linksys in every segment of the market -- had an awesome device which rivalled the features of the Cisco router for only $300. I had a problem with the first one they sent out, got good support and they sent me a replacement. I had that one up and running in an afternoon without a problem (well, with one problem, but that was due to the Cisco cable router, not the Dlink). And we saved so much money, we could afford a nice spam filter and a new development server. And the new device has a nice, fairly unbuggy web interface that is way easier to use than plain ipchains/iptables with MOST of the functionality (it does bomb out after a certain number of NAT mappings, but since this thing is only 300 MHz I suppose that's for the best).
  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:40PM (#8180379)
    Linksys is Cisco, perhaps you hadn't heard (wasn't hugely publicised) but Cisco bought them up. Now Cisco is a hardware AND sofware company. Some of their hardware, like their Pix 535s, are little more than a PC with a special flash card to boot off of. The price is not for the hardware, it's for the software and support.

    Soooo, Cisco actually has an intrest in seeing that the stuff they sell as Linksys does not start to compete with their bigger stuff they sell as tehmselves. Often the difference is mainly software, sometimes completely.

    Like take a cable modem I bought from them (a Cisco one, this was before the buyout). As shipped to me it was a basic cable modem. It would hook up to a DOCSIS provider and do waht cable modems do. However the thing ran IOS, and, had I paid for it, they had a version of the code with a firewall, VPN, IPSEC, and a ton of other things.

    So just because they sell rocking hardware, doesn't mean they don't also have an intrest in certian software restrictions.
  • WRT55AG (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sir Pallas (696783) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:42PM (#8180402) Homepage
    Is anyone working on the WRT55AG, the dual-band (a/b/g) cousin of the 54G? I've got one of those and it actually has a lot of problems. (I haven't gotten the source code on Linksys's site to work properly yet.)
  • New Industry? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WC as Kato (675505) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:43PM (#8180403)
    How come there isn't a whole industry around this? I imagine there is a whole slew of firmware that could be 3rd party modified to incorporate new features. For example, there are many old laptops that could incorporate newer hardware if only the firmware recognized it. I understand that the laptop manufacture wants you to buy a new laptop, but sometimes the only reason why a newer processor can't be used is because the firmware won't recognize it so it won't boot. Argh!!!
  • by itzdandy (183397) <dandenson&gmail,com> on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:45PM (#8180423) Homepage
    what are the chances of someone modding some wireless router to the linux mesh router project. this would make an inexpensive AP for all your wireless mesh routing needs.
  • Re:Not true (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Short Circuit (52384) <mikemol@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:45PM (#8180429) Homepage Journal
    I wouldn't say he was an advocate. He merely said he understood why wired companies were freaking out.

    However, I definately noticed a drop in the sound quality when he switched back to VOIP. I also noticed he hadn't canceled his landline subscription yet. ;)
  • by Tassach (137772) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:58PM (#8180523)
    Why would Linksys be upset about a thing like this? It does no damage whatsoever to their business model; in fact, it helps it. Linksys sells inexpensive networking gear for primarily the small business and home markets. They don't make any money selling updates or service contracts (At least, I can't find anything on their website that shows that they even sell service contracts). They make their money selling hardware, period. Any support they have to provide after the sale, including firmware updates, costs them money.

    The fact that their hardware can be upgraded with an unauthorized firmware image actually helps their business. First off, the fact that their hardware is customizable helps sell more hardware to geeks (who in turn recommend their hardware to friends, family, and clients). Secondly, using an unauthorized firmware voids the warranty, which saves them money -- if you flash it and break it, you're screwed. If you flash it and a component fails for a totally unreleated reason, they don't have to give you a free replacement; you'll have to buy a new one, so they still come out ahead.

    This is a very different situation than things like the Dakota Digital camera hack or the i-opener hack. In those cases, the companies involved were/are selling the hardware at a loss as an incentive to get you to use a paid service. In these cases, hacking the hardware eliminates the need to use the service, thereby disrupting their business plan and letting you use the subsidised hardware for an unintended purpose. Linksys sells their hardware for a profit. Hacking it does nothing to disrupt their business plan, because they already made all the money they planned to make when the wholesaler bought a truckload of their hardware.

  • Re:Not quite (Score:3, Interesting)

    by leerpm (570963) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @12:58PM (#8180525)
    That's a very simplistic view of the world and one that only works if the hardware manufacturer only sells a single product or has large jumps in capabilities between products within a family. Suppose Linksys intended to supply many of these features in a more expensive (i.e. more profitable) version of the router. They're now hosed as it is now possible for users to upgrade their firmware for free. So sure, they sell more of the cheaper routers, but this is not what they want. This problem will occur anywhere hardware manufacturers try to take advantage of hardware commonality and differentiating similar products through software based features.

    But they have not. All the evidence so far has pointed to the contrary. The only features that Linksys continues to add are hardware features like 802.11g instead of 802.11b, or adding extra ports. So by opening up their software, they reduce the need to do their own R&D in that area, can concentrate more on hardware based R&D and sell even more routers with newer hardware.

    If people want more advanced software capabilities, then Cisco does not want people to buy more cheap low-end Linksys products, they want them to upgrade to expensive Cisco-branded products.
  • by dspyder (563303) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @01:09PM (#8180620)
    As the AC said, this will violate the FCC type certification.

    Also, I doubt that people have done much spectral analysis to see if it's dirty like the WAP11 hack (which actually wasn't as dirty as first thought). I've also heard rumors (I tend not to believe either side of an argument) that upping the power drives the power amp harder which could be bad to both it's life and heat spilling into other components could lessen their life too.

    Currently people are testing the power-hack on the WRT54G... so far no immediate problems are noticeable.

    --D
  • Re:Wondershaper... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ic3p1ck (597610) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @01:14PM (#8180676)
    Yes traffic shaping is great, but is still not up to ensuring stable pings times for latency sensitive online games (e.g. Q3 + mods). The problem is the packet sizes. A large packet of typical MTU (1500) takes 10s of millseconds to be uploaded (on adsl - 256Kb/s), holding up higher priority traffic.

    Still, its much much better than not shaping :)

    (Yes, I know the MSS can be reduced, however that messes up overall transfer rates).
  • by ThogScully (589935) <neilsd@neilschelly.com> on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @01:20PM (#8180722) Homepage
    Yes, and as I said, now I have to. But it would be nice if my router just took care of it, since then I don't need any programs on the machines behind the router. I consider the DNS part of my connection and want the router to take over the connection maintenance. If I'm switching machines around behind it, adding and removing machines, etc, I'd like something to continue updating.
    -N
  • Re:Not quite (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LostCluster (625375) * on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @01:36PM (#8180854)
    Cisco now has three very distinct product lines...

    - "Network Everywhere" which is now being called "Network Everywhere by Linksys"... which is for generic-level parts such as basic NIC cards and dumb hubs. You'll find this line at Wal*Mart, and it's Cisco's entry into the low-end market.
    - "Linksys" is aimed at the advanced home consumer. The trademark here is the "blue box" which is stackable, but not directly rackable. (There are a few rack-mount Linksys products, those are exceptions to the rule because they're too cheap to be Cisco.) Some pretty advanced hardware with easy to use software is found here.
    - "Cisco" is the business line, for those looking for full control and full support contracts. This is the top of the line stuff.

    Now, what's basically being discovered is that it's possible to get Cisco-level features out of the Linksys hardware by hacking the software. However, if you mess with the software, you've just voided the warranty. So, Cisco doesn't really need to be scared of businesses using hacked Linksys equipment in place of full-fare Cisco-branded equipment... businesses are going to want warranty-backed hardware. But, for a home user, this is perfect... it costs Linksys nothing, and in fact just might drive more home sales.
  • Super Router (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @01:39PM (#8180875)
    Not exactly a Linksys-related issue here but I appreciate the anti-Cisco environment :)

    1ghz AMD box - $500.
    4 Ebay'd Adaptec Quartet NIC's - $200.

    16 port router of goodness for under $1000
  • Open wireless nets (Score:4, Interesting)

    by elgaard (81259) <elgaard@NoSPam.agol.dk> on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @01:55PM (#8181006) Homepage
    I would like to see a firmware that would

    1. Limit bandwidth from unauthorized users to a fraction of the connection the owner is paying for (eg xDSL)

    2. Route all traffic from unauthorized users through the gateway (eg xDSL router)

    3. Block unauthorized access to port 25 to avoid spam from people on the street.

    That way we could all share our internet connections and read our email when travelling without the hassle of commercial hotspots.
    Guest visiting us could use our networks without exchange of keys and passwords.

  • by piett134 (713199) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @02:05PM (#8181119)
    Figured i'd better point this out, but there are already some good solutions to fixing this problem with FBSD. Check out this software router project called M0n0wall. http://m0n0.ch/wall/index.php I currently use it on a old p1, 200mhz, 40Mb of ram to control up and downstream bandwidth, so my computers dont interfere with my Vonage phone service. Works like a champ! Must have taken a total of 30 minutes to setup.
  • Mobile computing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thalakan (14668) <jspence AT lightconsulting DOT com> on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @02:16PM (#8181223) Homepage
    I had a rather power hungry PC based wireless/3G/APRS/AX.25 router in my car for a while which I used to serve Internet at conventions and such. I recently replaced it with the WRT54G and the sveasoft firmware, which has several benefits:

    - The WRT54G only uses a few watts, whereas the PC based router spiked at 300W during startup and consumed north of 60W at idle and south of 100W during load. I also lost between 10-30% of the power due to conversion losses from the DC-AC-DC conversion through the auto inverter, since I couldn't find a good ATX power supply that ran on DC that I could couple to the car's batteries...

    - The WRT54G has dual antenna jacks that I don't need to buy delicate adapters or pigtails for. I couple them directly to the jacks on twin high gain 2.4GHz dipole magmounts on the roof of the car, which gives me way better reception than I was getting from the orinoco, a pigtail, and a single one of the same antennas.

    - Speaking of reception, kismet has been ported to the WRT54G! I don't need to screw around with the orinoco patches or hack my prism2 cards to add an antenna jack; it just works. I currently feed wifi data from the WRT54G to another computer which actually merges the GPS data with the wifi data from the WRT54G, because the WRT54G only has 4MB flash and 32K NVRAM for persistent storage, and you have to solder a USB serial chipset to the WRT54G PCB to add a serial port to it (for reading GPS's NMEA output); it doesn't come with one.

    - Now that sveasoft added dropbear to their latest firmware, you can ssh into the device and run wakeonlan to power up other devices on your network remotely. This is seriously cool shit; I park my car, it associates with my home AP in client mode and shows up on my home network. I can then ssh into the WRT54G to power up the other computers in the car using wakeonlan to transfer files to them (transfer rate is somewhere around 1 megabyte per second in my environment), start the car, use the TNC in the car's ham radio, etc. I had to turn off the PC based router I was using before because it would drain the deep cycle marine batteries I'm using to power the car computers in an hour or two at load, but now I can leave the WRT54G on for a few days before the batteries even get low.

    - If I forget where I parked my car, the antennas I'm using for the WRT54G are +6dBi, so I can pull out something with 802.11{b,g} and warwalk the parking lot looking for a strong signal from the WRT54G :)

    - It's only $80 brand new around here in the bay area, which is damn cheap for a low power 200MHz Linux box with 16MB of memory, FIVE ethernet jacks, your choice of DC or AC power, pretty lights, official vendor provided source code for the firmware, an active community hacking on it, and a 802.11g capable wifi chipset with diversity antennas in form factor half the size of the smallest mini-ITX machine you can possibly get. And they're on the used market for prices approaching numbers that make me want to say it's close to disposable pricing. Heh, disposable routers :)

  • by tgd (2822) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @02:29PM (#8181336)
    But its worth noting that 802.11* is in open frequency ranges, and if you have a amateur radio operators license, these power levels are perfectly legal. Max power at that range I can legally broadcast is 2500w, which will cook you from across the room in short order.

    There's no good reason to, however. These use lousy transmitters, and S/N goes way downhill as you boost power levels. Quadrupling the power could end up cutting your speeds in half at the expense of a bit more distance.
  • Re:Works great (Score:3, Interesting)

    by milkman_matt (593465) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @02:37PM (#8181411)
    I replaced my WET11 with a second WRT54G with modified firmware which allows me to set it to client mode like a WET device. I use this to connect to my TiVo and Xbox.

    No shit? I've got a WRT54G and Cisco told me that you can NOT connect 2 of them wirelessly.. I'm currently running wires to my neighbor's apartments to share the line (and network our xboxes, and systems, etc) Is this the latest LINKSYS firmware that allowed you to set it as a client? If not, what did you use? This could be -extremely- helpful to me.

    -matt
  • by npendleton (255215) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @03:12PM (#8181727)
    Power over Ethernet hacks (PoE) [nycwireless.net] are very cool.
    Ralph Fowler [wwwralphfowler.com] PoE hacked Dlink DWL-900AP+ [ralphfowler.com]. Tons of photos and some brave soldering.

    MacOS refugee, paper MCSE, Linux Wanna-be
  • by unsigned integer (721338) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @06:08PM (#8183713)
    Can I use the WRT54G's firmware on this model? My current WRV54G locks up every 5 minutes, and since there are no newer firmware items available, I was hoping to try some other solution to turn my current paperweight back into the all-in-wonder it was supposed to be.
  • by gyp (312559) on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @06:17PM (#8183808)
    Anyone manage to get the captive portal running on one of these things? (Such as http://nocat.net/ 's splashd)

    I've got a public location that would be great to dump yet another trashheap box on the network for a captive portal.

    Public hotspots generally don't have much room for hardware.

    Proxim makes an access point that has a captive portal bundled in (the ap2500), but it is cost prohibitive ($800'ish last time I checked) and if you want to customize it for your location and user policies, you've got to run a webserver that it redirects you to.

    Bundling this in would make this (more) useful for many more people.

    Thanks,

    Gyp
  • Re:Wondershaper... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shakrai (717556) * on Wednesday February 04, 2004 @11:50PM (#8186727) Journal
    Not quite, you're shaping your entire uplink to 200kb and not using the extra at all. To quote the wondershaper source:

    Yeah, but isn't that intentional? I'm looking at Wondershaper right now myself (this is the first I've heard of it) because I want to be able to use SSH while running Bittorrents -- if I max out my upload (approx 390-400kbit -- Roadrunner) my ping times go to 700ms and any web surfing/downloads go to hell (not to mention ssh/telnet).

    As I read the Wondershaper faq it seems to suggest that you need to limit your outgoing/incoming bandwidth to just under the max possible because of the queues within your cable/dsl modem. If I understand it correctly the idea is to make Linux handle all the queueing -- not the cable modem.

    Is this logical or would it be better to hack up Wondershaper to not limit the speed at all but rather to just prioritize the ssh/ack packets so they go out first? Do most cable modems typically have their own queue? If they do it would seem to reason that the Wondershaper method is the only way to go -- but then I'm new to this so I might stand corrected :)

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