DD-WRT, an open source firmware has developed an almost cult-like following among those wanting more out of their Wi-Fi equipment. This is rightly so, as the firmware turns comparatively cheap consumer-grade wireless routers having limited feature sets into highly sophisticated devices with capabilities approaching that of expensive enterprise equipment. Evidence of its popularity is the estimated one million wireless routers with DD-WRT firmware in use at this time. This large number of converted routers takes on added significance since installing DD-WRT immediately voids the original manufacturer’s warranty, not to mention the potential risk of bricking the router during the firmware install.
So what is DD-WRT?
DD-WRT is firmware released under the terms of the GPL and designed to work on 802.11g wireless routers. Linksys and Buffalo wireless routers are the most popular routers being converted to DD-WRT. By doing so the router gains a rather impressive feature set including:
- Client isolation mode
- Client mode
- Hotspot Portal
- PPTP VPN server and client
- QoS Bandwidth management
- WDS repeater mode
Although not scientifically verified, it’s generally acknowledged that a wireless router loaded with DD-WRT firmware has increased stability and reliability when compared to the original firmware installed on the wireless router.
Enter Buffalo Technology
It appears that Buffalo Technology is agreeing with DD-WRT supporters. Buffalo Technology just announced a partnership with Newmedia-Net, the marketing arm of DD-WRT. Along with the partnership, Buffalo Technology also announced the release of a new wireless router,WHR-HP-G54DD which combines the already existing wireless router WHR-HP-G54 (good performance record) and DD-WRT firmware, hence the additional DD in the name. The DD-WRT firmware used by Buffalo Technology is the commercial version, which includes support for PPPoE-Relay and Per User Bandwidth Control, features not available on the open-source version.
Controversy times two
As with most successful open-source technology, there comes a tipping point of whether to commercialize the product or not. Apparently Buffalo Technology and Newmedia-Net have made that choice and are now waiting to see if it was the right one. Time will tell, as there is a great deal of negative buzz by DD-WRT and open-source stalwarts claiming that Brainslayer (one of the original developers of DD-WRT) has sold out to “the man.” Brainslayer claims that the open-source version will still see development, but to many that is becoming a tired cliché.
Yet another controversy pits Buffalo Technology against Australia’s research organization Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). The CSIRO holds several patents related to 802.11a/g/n and the organization contends certain patents are being infringed upon by wireless equipment manufacturers including Buffalo Technology. In one of my earlier post, 802.11n ratification in jeopardy due to Australian patents, I discussed how these patents may affect the schedule and or outcome of the 802.11n standard. More importantly, a U.S. court has already ruled in CSIRO’s favor saying Buffalo Technology has infringed on CSIRO patents related to 802.11a/g. The court also placed an import ban on all products manufactured by Buffalo Technology that infringe on the CSIRO patents, which just happens to include the new WHR-HP-G54DD.
Open-source DD-WRT firmware is a logical upgrade for compatible wireless routers, especially in a business setting. Using it, SMB and SOHO operations with limited IT funds could have wireless networking capabilities that are normally only available on expensive enterprise equipment. One example would be using wireless VLANs to isolate the guest network from the in-house network, a feature normally not available on this class of router. Equipment manufacturers must grudgingly agree as they continue to build equipment that is compatible with DD-WRT firmware.
Hopefully DD-WRT will remain an actively developed open-source software package. Resolving the patent issues is also crucial, as research and equipment development is slowing to a halt while everyone waits for resolution of the patent disputes.