DD-WRT needs to be saved, but I won’t bet on it happening

A college classmate asked me if there’s anything to the stories that DD-WRT might potentially get locked out due to new FCC regulations.

Unfortunately the answer is yes, there may be something to it.

The problem is that wi-fi varies ever so slightly across the globe, so chipset manufacturers control the frequencies via software rather than hardware–it’s cheaper. But that means you can load DD-WRT on a router and configure it to use spectrum the FCC approved for other things, or amplify the signal beyond what’s legal in the United States.

There’s no benefit in doing so–your network cards probably won’t see that spectrum because they’re not configured to look for it, and amping up the signal also introduces noise, so while you might get more range, you’re just as likely to give up speed. I’ll admit to having boosted my signal, and I got no benefit. These days, I run all of my stuff within spec.

The correct way to increase range is to add additional access points and replace your old 2.4 or 5 GHz cordless phone if you still have one. Rather than banning stuff, I’d like to see the FCC be helpful and help spread that information. If people can solve a problem without running stuff out of spec, most are going to do that.

Some people might run their gear out of spec just out of spite, but I also don’t think banning DD-WRT is going to prevent that. As long as these routers are running Linux, some degree of modification is going to be possible. If anything, irritating more people might drive them to run stuff out of spec just because the FCC says they can’t.

My biggest frustration with policies like this is that it stifles tinkering. One of the reasons access points came down in price was because DD-WRT forced the issue. You could pay extra for the same hardware configured differently, or just run DD-WRT and get whatever functionality you needed. And the personal computing industry itself owes its very existence to people who tinkered in their basements and garages with microprocessors and soldering irons.

Given that I’ve been running DD-WRT off an on (but mostly on) since 2007, I hate to see it go. But in the event that vendors do lock out DD-WRT in order to comply–and that is a possibility, since companies will always do things the cheapest, easiest way–power users who need a full-featured router will just have to find other ways to get it, such as building Pfsense boxes. There’s an unintended consequence to that too, though–even most energy-efficient PCs consume far more power than even the most powerful MIPS-based router.

In the meantime, if you’ve been thinking about getting a new 802.11AC-capable router, such as a TP-Link Archer, this may be the time to do it. The same router purchased six months from now may be a lot less capable.

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