Software-Defined Radio May Cause FCC to Restrict WiFi Modifications

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2015-09-08 Print this article Print
Software-Defined Radios

Because the radar uses echoes from things such as rain or even moving air, the signal levels are very low and a WiFi signal in the wrong frequency range or with too much power can wreak havoc.

Properly configured WiFi access points won't cause a problem with weather radar, but some operators had flashed their WiFi hardware with open source software such as OpenWRT or DD-WRT, and changed the settings on the WiFi equipment so that it interfered.

When that happened the FCC began studying the problem, and developed some proposals for changes to WiFi hardware that would prevent this. Those proposed changes were aimed at both SDRs and for non-software-defined wireless products.

The proposed changes for WiFi equipment would prohibit any changes from what the manufacturer of the equipment had intended, which would have two effects. First it would kill off open-source software projects to develop new approaches for WiFi hardware. Then it would make surplus a great deal of WiFi hardware for which the manufacturers had stopped developing updates (which is almost all of it).

The WiFi software industry pushed back against the proposed changes, which is one of the reasons that the comment period is being extended. What's happening now is that the FCC is trying to develop rules that would put some restrictions on what SDRs are able to do, such as limiting how much a device can be modified in terms of frequency range or power, while also allowing other parameters to be changed.

What this ultimately means is that you should be able to modify how your WiFi routers work while not letting you make them operate illegally at excessive powers in unauthorized frequencies.

This can prove to be especially important in industrial applications where it may be necessary to limit how WiFi works in conjunction with other known equipment ranging from security hardware to manufacturing machinery.

In addition, it means that your company can avoid the capital loss of having to throw away WiFi equipment simply because the manufacturer doesn't provide updates for security or new operational requirements, such as better support for IPv6 or more effective packet sizing, because you can install open source software to provide those capabilities.

Either way, the changes proposed by the FCC can go a long way to helping you protect your investment in wireless networking, while also avoiding problems caused by interference. The comment period now ends on Oct. 8. It'll be interesting to see what the FCC decides when it's over.



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