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GNU is Not Unix Wireless Networking Hardware

Harald Welte Calls Out Netgear's Open Source Sham 199

Posted by timothy
from the they're-workin'-on-it dept.
Simon80 writes "Harald Welte, known for his involvement in various open source communities, has pointed out the shortcomings of Netgear's open source router hype. Netgear's own astroturfed community site reveals that the router requires the use of binary-only kernel modules for the wireless and ethernet hardware, which is supplied by Broadcom. Also worth noting are the missing features in third-party firmware versions supplied by Netgear."
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Harald Welte Calls Out Netgear's Open Source Sham

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  • No usable encryption (Score:5, Informative)

    by LotsOfPhil (982823) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @01:45PM (#29684149)
    One of the open firmware shortcomings is "WPA and WPA2 are not working." That is a pretty big shortcoming.
  • Re:Old Argument (Score:4, Informative)

    by coolgeek (140561) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @02:17PM (#29684467) Homepage

    I put dd-wrt on a Linksys box. Not sure about the chipset or the driver's blobular status, but the dd-wrt ui allowed me to increase the power of the transmitter above 1/4 watt, which is not FCC compliant.

  • by Chyeld (713439) <chyeld AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday October 08, 2009 @02:45PM (#29684851)

    Netgear and D-Link have been on my verboten list since I can remember having one. Neither have ever been reliable other than being reliably broken.

  • by tordon (176098) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @03:01PM (#29685059)

    He works for VIA, and they do the same thing...

    To be fair on him he has tried to make progress, but after a few years of big talk there is still no open source way to use the full features of VIA hardware.

    So don't buy VIA because of the fancy features in the silicon - cos there is a good chance that you won't be able to use them.

  • Re:Old Argument (Score:4, Informative)

    by natehoy (1608657) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @03:25PM (#29685379) Journal

    But the Buffalo and Linksys routers that are supported by DD/Hyper/OpenWRT and Tomato, as far as I know, contain Broadcom radios and require the Broadcom binaries.

    I'm no expert, but I did make a few modifications to HyperWRT Thibor. After loading up Busybox to do the compile on my Linux box, I found out that the source package included Broadcom binaries to support the radio. Most of my changes were UI-related so I didn't delve too deeply into the actual radio API, but the Broadcom binary was compiled into the eventual package.

    Maybe Jon rewrote the driver for the Broadcom radio in Tomato, but (genius that he is) I sincerely doubt that. That's a massive undertaking, and since Broadcom has a stable and well-established binary for their "G" radios, there's little point in trying to rewrite it. Hopefully their binarly (or Netgear's implementation of it, more likely) will improve.

    So, by that definition, I'm not sure if you can honestly consider any current consumer-grade router to be "Open Source" (from a purist perspective). The most popular "modder routers" are all Broadcom units, and all require the same binary to access the radio. All of them appear to contain restricted drivers.

  • by xiando (770382) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @03:59PM (#29685883) Homepage Journal
    The very same Broadcom blobs are included in dd-wrt. It must also be noted that dd-wrt is supposedly GPL software, yet the evidence in SVN clearly shows that a large portion of the code is Copyright evil corporations such as Intel and Microsoft and that these corporations have NOT given permission to use the code under the GPL. It is in many cases not even clear if they give permission to distribute the code at all.
  • Re:Old Argument (Score:4, Informative)

    by Bert64 (520050) <bert@slaSLACKWAR ... com minus distro> on Thursday October 08, 2009 @04:19PM (#29686133) Homepage

    Many of these routers use Atheros chipsets, which do have completely open drivers available...
    There are also other chipsets which have fully open drivers available, tho some drivers have proprietary firmware blobs these execute on the device itself and are thus os independent... I have a device running OpenWRT which uses an Atheros chipset....
    I tend to avoid anything made by Broadcom...

    Interestingly, Broadcom also make wired ethernet cards and have released open drivers for these, my last experience with broadcom wired ethernet (i believe a 100mbit chipset 440 or something) was terrible, it was incompatible with some types of switches (major packetloss and abysmal performance, other brands of nic talked to the switches fine) and it would drop link when you flooded it with traffic.

  • by Jesus_666 (702802) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @04:45PM (#29686425)
    Yes, Netgear is to blame as that very same third-party firmware supports WPA and WPA2 on all other supported routers but not on Netgear's. But of course the GP is a moron because he expected Netgear to be able to ship a firmware with the functionality it normally comes with.
  • Not quite that bad (Score:4, Informative)

    by Guspaz (556486) on Thursday October 08, 2009 @05:14PM (#29686757)

    As the developer of a popular fork of Tomato, I'd like to address a few points:

    Not all features supported

    Specific to their Tomato port:

    1 > WPA is not working.
    2 > There is no support of SAMBA server .
    3 > NAS is accessible only through command line using ftp. No GUI support to
    access NAS is available till now.

    1: Presumably, WPA2 is, which means that this isn't a showtopper, just a big annoyance. There's actually only one missing feature here, WPA support. The rest would not be expected.

    2/3: Mainline Tomato doesn't support any of this on USB-supporting routers anyhow.

    Binary kernel modules

    This is no different than mainline Tomato, which also relies on binary kernel modules. In fact, most opensource firmwares DO.

    Looking at this from the perspective of one of the authors of Tomato/MLPPP (bonding multiple DSL lines using a fork of Tomato), only WPA is really of any concern, and even then, you can work around it by using WPA2. This router adds support for 802.11N, more (MUCH FASTER) RAM, and a far faster CPU (200 -> 480MHz, plus other architectural improvements). Considering that memory throughput/latency and CPU power are our main bottlenecks when bonding multiple DSL lines, this router remains quite interesting despite the lack of WPA.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 08, 2009 @08:47PM (#29688285)

    The WRT54G series all use Broadcom chips pretty much identical to the ones you'd find in Netgear routers. See here:

    http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Supported_Devices#Netgear

    I am not proud to admit this, but I took a CCNA years ago, and I've built literally dozens of wifi networks using various combinations of off-the-shelf (or off-the-refurbish-list) routers and stock/modified firmware. I am a minor authority on the subject of cheap-ass consumer routers.

    Broadcom is what you'd call a "fabless semiconductor company," which means they design chips but don't actually manufacture them. Almost all consumer routers you can find today use Broadcom-based system-on-a-chips, which consists of basically a CPU, flash and DRAM, ethernet interface, and half a wifi-radio, all crammed onto a single CMOS.

    Broadcom designs the chip, someone else leases the design for the chip (and all the accompanying drivers) from Broadcom, then the person that leased the chip pays a third person who owns a CMOS fabrication plant to actually manufacture the chip. Then the chips get sold to yet another party, like Linksys, Netgear, Trendnet, Asus (my pick!), Buffalo, and others. The chip has several dozen wires hanging off the end of it, and someone connects them to various external ports or devices on the router: ten wires make a bank of five Ethernet ports, two or four wires are connected to one or two antennas (more if you have MIMO), more wires are connected to the status LEDs and buttons, et cetera. The end manufacturer is also responsible for providing firmware, which historically they've done by combining Broadcom's drivers with some code they ripped off from the Linux kernel (some manufacturers, like Asus and Buffalo, are reputed to be good about providing source code when they do this). Then they put it in a box with a compatible power adapter, slap a lame warranty on it (because many governments and retailers require them), and sell it.

    The end result is that pretty much all the routers you can buy are nearly identical in every way except firmware. Furthermore, almost no manufacturer can actually be bothered to provide long-term support for these routers (why fix a broken routers when they can sell you a new one?), and since firmware development is by far the most difficult and expensive part of what the end manufacturers (eg Linksys) actually DO, this is the area where most consumer routers really fail.

    (The other problem is that most Broadcom chips only have about ~100 MB/sec of memory bandwidth on chip, tops, which is obviously less than one gigabit per second (~125MiB/sec). This means that there are no consumer routers you can buy that are actually capable of routing a gigabit of traffic per second- at best they all seem to crap out around 160 megabits per second, in my experience (note: you have even less bandwidth when traversing the NAT gateway, particularly with traffic shaping enabled). This is mostly a limit inherited from the CMOS manufacturing process they use, I think - it's the same process they use to make DRAM and flash, and while it's cheap relative to the number of transistors you get, the resulting chips are rather slow compared to what you get with optical lithography.)

    As for your grandfather's router, I suggest you try running BitTorrent on a computer connected to it, and see what happens when you quickly spawn hundreds of new TCP connections. I'm betting it'll choke, because the onboard NAT has to keep track of each individual TCP connection, and your $20 Trendnet router (which is probably quite old indeed, regardless of how recently you purchased it) probably isn't expiring old TCP connections for a good 12 hours. There's probably a way you can set the NAT TCP timeout value to something more reasonable, like 15 minutes (if it's not in the web-based interface, try downloading the config file and editing it with a text editor - I shouldn't have to tell you the risk [wikipedia.org] from doing this). You can also look up DD-WRT,

  • by Dragoness Eclectic (244826) on Friday October 09, 2009 @01:59PM (#29696931)

    I wish Welte enabled comments on his blog so I could post this there.

    However, the article summary was enough to explain everything. Netgear is using Broadcomm chips. I've worked in the embedded firmware arena before; Broadcomm does NOT release its drivers under open source. You only get to see the source if you and your company lawyers sign really nasty NDAs, perferably in blood. I'm pretty sure the specs for programming the chips are under NDA, too. Netgear does not have a choice about releasing the drivers as binary blobs if they are using Broadcomm stuff. The only way to get open-source Broadcomm drivers is to reverse engineer them, and Netgear probably isn't in the business of reverse-engineering their suppliers product. Hell, they're probably contractually forbidden to do so.

    You will never get a fully open source product from a vendor that buys from Broadcomm, until Broadcomm changes its policies. Period, full stop.

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