Popular network hardware manufacturer TP-Link have stated that they will be preventing their users from loading open source firmware such as DD-WRT and OpenWRT onto its routers sold in the United States as part of a move to comply with new Federal Communications Commission regulations.
The rule laid out by the FCC aim to limit the amount of interference with devices, by disallowing user modifications to wireless networking hardware that causes it to operate outside of licensed radio frequency limits. The FCC do not intend to deliberately ban the use of third-party router firmware from use entirely, theoretically allowing router manufacturers to permit the installation of this firmware provided there are controls in place that block devices from operating outside of their specified frequencies, power levels and types of modulation.
With locking out custom firmware being the easiest way to ensure the new FCC regulations were upheld, the open source community feared that this would be the action taken by manufacturers. In this case, they were right.
In all TP-Link routers produced on and after June 2, 2016, TP-Link’s changes will mean that “users are not able to flash the current generation of open-source, third-party firmware.” They also stated that “excited to see the creative ways members of the open-source community update the new firmware to meet their needs.” However, they did not provide any further information as to what would allow future versions of custom firmware to be installed on these routers.
Other router makers are yet to release explicit statements regarding their plans to enforce the FCC’s new rules on their routers would be, however, it is easy to imagine many taking a similar route. Even if custom firmware developers were to rewrite their software, there would be no real assurance that it obeys the restrictions without making the radio controlling software entirely separate so there can be assurance it was not tampered with.