Do you have a Cisco or Linksys wireless router at your home or office? If so, it probably has limited functionality. It just can't offer the same level of functionality that an enterprise router or enterprise wireless access point can, right? Actually, it can. Enter aftermarket firmware for your Linksys wireless router.
This topic may seem somewhat divergent from the typical focus of this column. But keep in mind that many smaller businesses don't have the networking needs to require a Cisco router and may opt for a Linksys router instead. (Linksys is a Cisco-owned company.)
In its GPL Code Center, Linksys provides the source code for most of its devices. However, unless you're a programmer, this isn't going to do you much good.
What can help you out is what Sveasoft has done with that source code. Based in California, this company has taken Linksys' source code and created new versions for replacing factory firmware.
Basically, installing this firmware takes a limited functionality $50 consumer router and adds many of the features of an enterprise router. While this firmware is not free, neither is it expensive. A $20 yearly subscription includes unlimited upgrades and access to the company's tech support forums. Keep in mind that this is the basic version—Talisman Basic.
So why would you want to do this? This approach offers several advantages. According to Sveasoft, using its Talisman Basic firmware (version 1.0.5) offers the following benefits:
- Increased RF power output by 900 percent to 251 mw
- Client/Bridge mode for multiple clients
- WDS/Repeater mode
- Web-based wireless statistics
- SNMP to graphing and statistics programs such as PRTG and NTOP statistics
- PPTP VPN server and client
- SSH server and client
- Command prompt and scripting
- Kron scheduling
- VLAN support
- Syslog server
- NTP client
- Ability of advanced routing protocols, such as BGP, RIP2, OSPF, to run simultaneously
- Read-write file system with standard SysV startup and shutdown scripts in /usr/local/etc/init.d
- Unlimited port triggering, port forwarding, port range forwarding, and port redirection
- Advanced QoS bandwidth management
- IPv6 support
- Advanced IPv4 filtering
- Enhanced DNS server
- DHCP server with unlimited DHCP static leases with MAC ignore capability and DHCP relay
Here's a look at more specialized versions of Talisman that are currently in development:
- Talisman Micro—built for smaller devices with only 2 MB of Flash, such as the WAP54G
- Talisman VPN—offers a PPTP and IPSec VPN server
- Talisman Hotspot—built for use as a hotspot in a box and offers an on-board RADIUS server and SQL server for user authorization and data storage
- Talisman Mesh—designed to create a wireless meshed network in a neighborhood or campus environment; can create a wireless internet service provider (WISP) with inexpensive hardware and little configuration
- Talisman VoIP—offers voice over IP features
Sveasoft actually sports three different families of firmware: Sveasoft firmware for Linksys WRT54G and WRT54GS routers, Alchemy firmware that works with a list of routers (which is free and adds a lot of the features listed above), and the aforementioned Talisman firmware.
Of course, as with any technology, Sveasoft's open source products do have some drawbacks. They can be prone to bugs, and you may have difficulty getting support.
But thanks to Sveasoft, you can take your home wireless router and suddenly use it to take advantage of many of the same features previously restricted to enterprise wireless routers. Such product offerings demonstrate the best parts of the open source movement. Linksys released its source code to the public, and the public made an effort to improve on the original. Think of the possibilities if Cisco released its IOS source code to the public.
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David Davis has worked in the IT industry for 12 years and holds several certifications, including CCIE, MCSE+I, CISSP, CCNA, CCDA, and CCNP. He currently manages a group of systems/network administrators for a privately owned retail company and performs networking/systems consulting on a part-time basis.