WiFi Mods To Be Illegal
WiFi Mods To Be Illegal
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Thursday, 10 September 2015

A free for all on the radio spectrum would be disastrous, but equally too tight a control risks strangling innovation. A new rule from the FCC threatens the development of new software and hardware.

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The Federal Communications Commission has a duty to keep the airwaves working and as such its concerns about the WiFi band are justified.

WiFi works in two unlicensed bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. These may be unlicensed, but the devices working in these bands have to be approved by the FCC and this means that things like how much RF power they can emit is specified. In the past it has been possible to modify WiFi devices so that they work outside of the regulations, but no more.  

The FCC currently considering a proposal to require a firmware lockdown on all modular transmitters of the sort found in WiFi routers, access points and micro-controllers. The main reason for this change is the advent of software-defined radios SDRs.

The SaveWiFi site has this to say:

"Many of the radios in these devices went from being single-purpose radios that can only operate within certain ranges to modifiable SDRs that can be changed. While having the freedom to change one's own hardware is important, it is also important to operate radio equipment within regulatory laws. Because a few have operated devices outside of regulations, the FCC and other regulatory bodies are proposing tighter restrictions on hardware that has WiFi or SDRs."

The key factor is that radios used to be hardware-based, and therefore difficult to modify, but now software can control the emitted power and modulation in use - hence the need to lock down the software.

This might not seem like anything to worry about, but there are a number of open source router projects, e.g. OpenWrt, which will be hit by the changes. In short, you will not be able to install new software on your new router. As Android and similar open source phones generally have a WiFi radio, this also will stop the development of any innovative new WiFi software. 

 

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ThinkPenguin, the EFF, FSF, Software Freedom Law Center, Software Freedom Conservancy, OpenWRT, LibreCMC, Qualcomm, and others have created the SaveWiFi campaign so that you can make your feelings known to the FCC. The comment period was supposed to end on September 8th, but it has been extended to October 9th even though some of the web pages concerned haven't yet been updated. 

The SaveWiFi website has instruction on how to comment and on the sorts of points to make. 

So if you want the freedom to develop the next generation of WiFi, or just to be able to use good software on your proprietary router, you know what to do.

 

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More Information

SaveWiFi

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 Many of the radios in these devices went from being single-purpose radios that can only operate within certain ranges to modifiable SDRs that can be changed. While having the freedom to change one's own hardware is important, it is also important to operate radio equipment within regulatory laws. Because a few have operated devices outside of regulations, the FCC and other regulatory bodies are proposing tighter restrictions on hardware that has WiFi or SDRs.
Last Updated ( Thursday, 10 September 2015 )
 
 

   
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