The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an agency that believes it has a monopoly on the naturally occurring electromagnetic spectrum, decreed that all Wi-Fi router manufacturers are now responsible for enforcing the agency’s restrictions on spectrum use. Any manufacturer that fails to be the enforcement arm of the FCC will face consequences (being a government agency must be nice, you can just force other people to do your work for you).
Most manufacturers have responded to this decree by taking measures that prevent users from loading third-party firmware of any sort. Such a response is unnecessary and goes beyond the demands of the FCC. Linksys, fortunately, is setting the bar higher and will not lock out third-party firmware entirely:
Next month, the FCC will start requiring manufacturers to prevent users from modifying the RF (radio frequency) parameters on Wi-Fi routers. Those rules were written to stop RF-modded devices from interfering with FAA Doppler weather radar systems. Despite the restrictions, the FCC stressed it was not advocating for device-makers to prevent all modifications or block the installation of third-party firmware.
Still, it’s a lot easier to lock down a device’s firmware than it is to prevent modifications to the radio module alone. Open source tech experts predicted that router manufacturers would take the easy way out by slamming the door shut on third-party firmware. And that’s exactly what happened. In March, TP-Link confirmed they were locking down the firmware in all Wi-Fi routers.
Instead of locking down everything, Linksys went the extra mile to ensure owners still had the option to install the firmware of their choice: “Newly sold Linksys WRT routers will store RF parameter data in a separate memory location in order to secure it from the firmware, the company says. That will allow users to keep loading open source firmware the same way they do now,” reports Ars Technica’s Josh Brodkin.
This is excellent news. Not only will it allow users to continue using their preferred firmware, it also sets a precedence for the industry. TP-Link, like many manufacturers, took the easy road. If every other manufacturer followed suit we’d be in a wash of shitty firmware (at least until bypasses for the firmware blocks were discovered). By saying it would still allow third-party firmware to be loaded on its devices, Linksys has maintained its value for many customers and may have convinced former users of other devices to buy its devices instead. Other manufacturers may find themselves having to follow Linksys’s path to prevent paying customers from going over to Linksys. By being a voice of reason, Linksys may end up saving Wi-Fi consumers from only having terrible firmware options.