back to article TP-Link fined $200k, told to be nice to wireless router tinkers after throwing a hissy fit

TP-Link will cough up a $200,000 fine to America's broadband regulator the FCC – and has agreed to let people tinker with the firmware in its 5GHz wireless routers. On Monday, the networking gear biz admitted [PDF] it broke US rules on radio frequency use by providing a setting in its Wi-Fi kit that ramped up the power output …

  1. Tromos

    Extra power

    BT are currently advertising the country's 'most powerful broadband' and appear to be claiming a longer range. Are their hubs pushing out more power than others are allowed to, or is it the usual false advertising?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Gimp

      Re: +1 retarded marketing

      Most powerful broadband? That's not very cientifik. How many megahurtz? How many gigapixels?

      Can it bullseye a womp rat at 50m?

      1. 2460 Something

        Re: +1 retarded marketing

        You missed a bit from their 'misleading' marketing.

        *Compared to routers from other major broadband providers in the UK.

        Obviously they decide who they are measuring against, anyone that supplies better kit is obviously not a 'major' provider and so therefore they don't test against.

        The full test report is here(PDF). 2x Virgin Media, Talk Talk, EE, 2x Sky and even plusnet.

        Which other than plusnet (BT owned) being tacked on matches with the latest info I could find on ISP's in order of subscriber numbers.

        Very PC disclaimer at the top.

        The tests were based on the IEEE802.11T method, to provide robust and repeatable data, taking into account previous Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rulings and guidance on wi-fi performance claims

        Also they are only testing the router itself, not an associated internet connection. Overall it appears less misleading than their normal run of the mill stuff. Always a pleasant surprise.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: +1 retarded marketing

          No, it's a steaming pile of horse shit.

          They're a fucking ISP. The internet connection is literally ALL that matters. Once my equipment terminates the xDSL, how I route packets around my house (using a combination of Ethernet and access points) is my responsibility.

          All this talk about who bundles the most blingy router is aimed at the can't tell arse-from-elbow tech illiterate.

    2. Linker3000
      Holmes

      Re: Extra power

      It's all very well the BT router (maybe) pumping out more power, but wifi comms is a two-way thing and your tablet or phone etc. is going to be transmitting at the same strength it has always done....so if the device's signal couldn't make it back from the potting shed before it STILL aint gonna make it back now.

      1. Kevin Johnston

        Re: Extra power

        More to the point, where you could previously get a wi-fi signal in the potting shed, this will now be swamped by the high power hubs from a street away which mean you can no longer channel-hop to find a quiet slot.

        In the last 6 months the 'visible with at least two bars of signal' points around me have gone from 4 to 19. It is now a regular activity to manually push the channel on mine just to re-connect the various phones/tablets and if you leave the house you invariably have lost it when you get back home.

    3. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Re: Extra power

      " 'most powerful broadband' "

      P=VI

      Presumably measured at the power input? Thus, what they mean to say is that they provide the most inefficient router.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Extra power

        "Presumably measured at the power input? Thus, what they mean to say is that they provide the most inefficient router."

        Most ISP provided wireless routers are cheap tat. Maybe BT are providing them thar new fangled multi-aerial directed beam thingies.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Extra power

      Isn't it just a development of the gubbins in the home-hub that came before it?

      There's an array of directional antennas which are selectively deployed according to the location of the connected device. The actual power output isn't any higher but because the beam is focused instead of omnidirectional it goes further. Think of it like a 40w bulb in a lantern versus in a headlamp. I think in Wifi terms it gets called beamforming.

  2. Shane McCarrick

    Let me get this straight

    They were abused by the FCC because customers lied about their location in order to unlock additional transmission power (hell- most of us here in Europe do- but to open additional channels, because of overcrowding- totally ignoring the transmission power). They were also abused by the FCC over people having too much control on their routers when they installed custom firmware- i.e. they were held responsible for customers installing their own firmware- and when they closed both loopholes- they got fined?

    I'm glad I'm not a company trying to do business Stateside- it seems its impossible to satisfy the regulator- come what may.

    So now- they're back allowing custom firmware again- but, and despite not having factory firmware on the devices- they are supposed to somehow control the intricacies of how the device work.........

    I suppose they could localise a version of their machine for the US- and have a separate- far more useful- far more power version- with extra channels and power- for the rest of the world......... It'll be a first- any Stateside based folk who have half a clue about tech- will be scouring EU websites trying to pick up their kit from us for a change...........

    Somehow I think my Nighthawk R8000 is safe for the time being........

    1. John Sager

      Re: Let me get this straight

      I suppose they could localise a version of their machine for the US- and have a separate- far more useful- far more power version- with extra channels and power- for the rest of the world

      It's a bit more subtle than that. The US power limits are higher than most other countries - 30dBm on 2.4GHz versus 20dBm in the UK. However they haven't got the top 10MHz of the band that we have. There is much more variation though in allowed frequency ranges in the 5GHz band across the world, and this is probably what gets the FCC's knickers in a twist.

      It's one thing, though, to set regulatory limits. It's entirely another thing whether the radio hardware will actually produce the allowed power. Probably kit designed as APs will, but that will not necessarily be the case for clients such as laptops.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Pirate

      Re: Let me get this straight

      It's called protectionism. Bread and butter US policy but cranked up to 11 whenever the economy is most embarrassingly down the shitter. It absolutely must be made more expensive for a good honest God fearing foreign company to do business than for one of those goddam evil yankee corporations.

      Hence the recent blizzard of record breaking arbitrary extortion levies hurled against goddam evil foreign electronics/vehicle/petrol vendors and the like, for patently fabricated summary transgressions.... while our patriotic God fearing domestic parasites are encouraged to get away with murder.

  3. Hans 1 Silver badge

    > allow people to install custom firmware with protections in place to prevent any tampering with the radio's broadcasting parameters. That's good news for fans of open-source router firmware. ®

    I re-re-re-read that and I do not understand why "protections in place to prevent any tampering with the radio's broadcasting parameters" is good news for fans of open-source router firmware.

    Yes, it is good news that they will shortly be able to flash their routers again, but these protections can go the way of the F$(K ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Face it: the radio spectrum is a shared resource. You don't own it. You and your devices have to play by the rules, otherwise your selfish behaviour can disrupt other people rights, and you're not a special being endowed by some other special being to do whatever you like, no matter how big your self-esteem is.

      Open source firmwares are free to add features and improve performance *within the rules* - they can't take the shortcut of improving your performances while crippling everybody else.

    2. Ol' Grumpy

      Surely the point is that people should be free to run whatever firmware they like on their routers but the hardware shouldn't be capable of breaking FCC rules regarding signal strength should it cause aeroplanes to fall out of the sky and the world to end etc?

      *EDIT: looks like the AC above beat me to it and was far more eloquent. Have an upvote! :)

      1. handle

        It is, but because different jurisdictions have different limits, these different limits now somehow have to be enforced in hardware rather than software, which means more product variations, leading to higher cost.

      2. Gordon JC Pearce

        > the hardware shouldn't be capable of breaking FCC rules regarding signal strength

        ... and cars should be mechanically limited to 35mph in case people in Guernsey break the speed limit.

    3. Lennart Sorensen

      Well two years is a LONG time in the electronics market. I would suspect that means the current models that are locked down will NEVER be unlocked, and only new models in the future will have a different design for locking down the radio while not locking everything else.

      So really, it sounds like bad news for the current owners of such products.

      The result of the new FCC rules is exactly what everyone (except the FCC) said it would be. The FCC of course insisted the rules didn't require locked down firmware, since there were other ways to implement the rules. Unfortunately the simplest and cheapest solution is to lock down the firmware, so that is what most companies are now doing for the US market.

    4. PNGuinn
      Facepalm

      ""protections in place to prevent any tampering ..."

      Why is it that I seem to see a dirty great potential security hole right there?

      I mean, I presume these "protections" will not be hardware defined, so a bit of "non upgradable" firmware ....

      TINFOIL HAT ON

      .... with ....

      Won't someone think of the poor TLAs?

  4. Ragequit
    Devil

    Smoke and mirrors...

    This narrative would probably have been one of cooperation if the FCC had been working with an American company. And it's not exactly like this went down as quickly as this article suggests. I bought a tp-link wifi router as soon as I caught wind of what the FCC was planning. It was months later that tp-link pulled their products over this.

    Not that I'm defending tp-link. I just think it's silly to say they threw anything when it was the FCC that started this. Sounds like damage control via a slap on the wrist.

    I seem to recall a certain embedded processor company offering a virtualization stack as a solution to this very problem. Wonder if all wifi products sold in two years time in the US are going to mysteriously use this. Who at the FCC is on their board or is in their pocket? :P

    1. Ragequit
      Facepalm

      Re: Smoke and mirrors...

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/06/14/imagination_come_back_to_mips_wifi_vendors_we_have_an_fcc_workaround/

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Smoke and mirrors...

      Strawman example. American companies don't make consumer hardware anymore. It all comes from China.

  5. Ian Emery Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Simple work around

    Just stick some +9db antenna on, and away you go.

    Yep, every TPL router I have come across has replaceable antenna.

    My old TPL can be picked up at reasonable strength in the park, 200m away from its new home (mummy's), and as far away as the local CO OP (~400m), and that is with the standard antenna.

    As for the BT router, it aint that good; a friend has one, and it has distinctly worse coverage than the last HH he had; 30ft and a wooden door, and the signal is gone.

    A strange shape for a router, but it seems to work :-)

    1. Dabooka Silver badge

      Re: Simple work around

      I was talking about this very thing at the weekend to a pal, but not sure if all three on my router need changing or I can just do one?

      Any links or is generic eBay tat up to the job?

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Commswonk Silver badge

        Re: Simple work around

        True enough, but it is possible to have an "omnidirectional" aerial with gain. I have put quotation marks around "omnidirectional" because in the strictest sense it isn't; the gain is in the horizontal plane at the expense of the vertical beamwidth.

        In practice this might mean that while performance is improved in terms of how far it will go on the same floor of a building the performance to rooms upstairs is likely to be degraded.

        Swings and roundabouts...

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. Commswonk Silver badge

            Re: Simple work around

            ...an omnidirectional antenna radiates equally in one plane only, so you don't need the quotation marks

            Yes I know... the quotation marks were for the benefit of "non - radio" commentards who might (not unreasonably) expect an omnidirectional aerial to radiate equally in all directions; after all omnidirectional means in all directions... except when it comes to aerials, in which case the words "in the horizontal plane" have to be understood.

            <mischievous thought>: let's ask the wifi aerial maufacturers if their quoted gain is in dBd or dBi. </mischievous thought>

      2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Simple work around

        The place to use the directional high-gain aerial is usually on the device, not the router. In that case you will only be interested in signals coming from one direction.

        That said, if the router is situated at one end of the property, you can get significant improvements by fitting a simple parabolic reflector to the aerial(s) of the router to make it directional along the length of the property. You can even print one http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:177603

      3. Ian Emery Silver badge

        Re: Simple work around

        @ Symon

        No, TPL and other sell omni directional 9dB (sorry, blame the sinus infection) antenna, you can buy them on Amazon, Ebay or AliExpress. They look just like the originals, but are much longer and a bit thicker.

        There IS a downside, they obviously pick up more "noise" as well, so if there is a lot of radio pollution near the router, it actually makes things WORSE.

        As for directional antenna, there are plenty of free plans online, so you can make your own.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Simple work around

          Indeed. Plenty* of excellent designs for high gain omni aerials which you could plug straight into your router to be found all over the interwebs... I find the type employing a dozen or so c. 2"** chunks of quality*** coax cable, soldered into a core->shield->core.. and shield->core->shield... chain, to be eminently satisfactory**** and probably pretty much what's inside the better commercial ones.

          *e.g. http://wireless.gumph.org/articles/homemadeomni.html

          **precise length will depend on diameter and dielectric of your chosen cable

          ***wf165 is a fine choice. So I've heard.

          ****simple and cheap to put together and surprisingly efficacious... but then I'm not an FCC/RPB/whatever enforcement operative ;)

          Anon for probably rather obvious reasons

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

      4. Gordon JC Pearce

        Re: Simple work around

        > but a 9dB (It's a big 'B'!)

        If you're going to be picky about it, it's 9dBi - deciBels over Isotropic, or how much more power you get in the "loudest" direction compared to a point source that radiates equally in all directions.

        Since a 9dBi wifi antenna is most likely omnidirectional, you'd be hard pushed to notice any difference in directivity unless you were in a very tall building with radio-transparent floors.

  6. jms222

    It _used_ to be the case that besides the VAT man the other government agency that could flatten your front door without an appointment was the Radiocommunications Agency now swallowed into Ofcom who I assume it watered down somewhat.

    1. Ian Emery Silver badge

      Last time I tried, OFCOM were charging £115 PER HOUR to investigate radio interference issues; I and my neighbours have been suffering from wide band noise issues for over a decade - it covers EVERY frequency from MW up through 2.5GHz and beyond.

      Actually, the noise covers a moderate amount of band width, but cycles up and down through the frequencies throughout the day; so my TV can have 100% reception and signal quality at 3pm, and lose 5 out of 6 DTV channels between 5 and 7pm.

      1. GrapeBunch Bronze badge

        Mork lives in your neighbourhood and still calls home regularly.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tell me again . .

    why I want more war drivers to be able to pick up my packets without even being in the same street?

    My WiFi has the power knocked down so it is usable in the house and as little further than that as possible.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tell me again . .

      Beyond the morons 'my wifi is bigger than yours', there are also issues if you use frequencies which in your jurisdiction are reserved for other uses, and can create interferences.

  8. Captain TickTock
    Headmaster

    Tinkers..?

    or tinkerers?

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