Homebrew Router at Arstechnica

As a follow-on to the earlier article I linked to comparing homebrew versus consumer routers, ArsTechnica has published an article with instructions on building a homebrew router.

I must admit I am very interested in such a project. I am looking at upgrading the home network, which includes obtaining more bandwidth from Verizon. I would like to have my Optical Network Terminal (ONT) switched from coaxial output to the Ethernet output. With such a configuration, I could install my own router rather than depending on the router+wifi combo that Verizon provided. Why? Just so I can have more control over my network, and I won’t have Verizon always telling me that I have too many devices and need to buy even more bandwidth. I don’t like how they can inspect all of the devices in my home network.

I am trying to decide the route to go, however. Part of me says I just need to find a consumer router and throw OpenWRT on that. I am tempted, but it can be hassle to buy a router with 802.11 AC that will work 100% guaranteed. The other option I am considering is getting a plan old router with no wireless, such as a Mikrotek, and use it out of the box. Or maybe even a plain old router with just OpenWRT? Then I could get a wireless access point and have it hook up directly to the dedicated Ethernet switch I acquired. I like the idea of having multiple devices, each handling a specific job. The downside though is that if something goes down while I’m at work or traveling for work, then I’d have to walk my wife through the troubleshooting rather than having her go flip a switch on the Verizon router.

Decisions…decisions…

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WAN Port DHCP and OpenWRT

Last weekend I installed OpenWRT (v12 Attitude Adjustment) on my WRT160Nv2 router device. Out of the “box”, the internal LAN is setup as 192.168.1.1, and I can ssh into the router for configuration. I plan to plug this router into another router device, so I would like to configure it for the following:

  • DHCP on the WAN port: If I take this to a hotel or hook it up to a another router device, I want it to automatically obtain an IP address on the WAN port
  • Private network on the LAN ports: 192.168.2.x addresses
  • [Optional] Enable wireless access so that I don’t have to plug my laptop computer into this router via Ethernet cable each time I access it.

WAN port configuration

To modify settings, one can either edit /etc/config/network directly, or use the unified configuration interface (UCI) to issue commands from the shell. I chose to do the latter. Of course you can also use the web interface if you have a normal router and not a WRT160Nv2.

The commands below modify the wan port to use DHCP to obtain an IP address and DNS settings, and then bring up the WAN interface.

uci set network.wan.proto=dhcp
uci commit network
ifup wan

To verify that the WAN port has an IP address, issue the ifconfig command and look for the IP address used from the DHCP server, in this the router device issued to me by my ISP.

ifconfig

As shown below, the WAN port is given the IP address 192.168.1.10.

eth0.2    Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx
          inet addr:192.168.1.10  Bcast:192.168.1.255  Mask:255.255.255.0
          UP BROADCAST RUNNING MULTICAST  MTU:1500  Metric:1
          RX packets:7135 errors:0 dropped:406 overruns:0 frame:0
          TX packets:4675 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
          collisions:0 txqueuelen:0
          RX bytes:4727515 (4.5 MiB)  TX bytes:745096 (727.6 KiB)

LAN IP address re-assignment

The DHCP server on my network is running on the private network 192.168.1.x, and that conflicts with the default configuration from the OpenWRT installation. The WRT160Nv2’s LAN ports need to be moved to another network. I decided to move them to 192.168.2.x.

uci set network.lan.ipaddr=192.168.2.1
uci commit network
reboot

Rebooting closes the SSH session, so reconnect to the router, but remember the address is now 192.168.2.1 for the router device!

Testing Internet access

After logging into the machine, I issued a ping command to http://www.google.com:

testdns

Success!

On WiMAX and XGPHS

I recently saw in the news that Sprint has run into some legal issues trying to pull the plug on its WiMAX network. That brought back memories to 2008 when I was working with WiMAX technology. I was working on a project to build a modem for XGPHS, or Next-Generation Personal Handyfone System. XGPHS was based on the WiMAX specification, but with improvements in performance for mobile access. This was all before Mobile WiMAX started to sprout up. The last thing I remember about XGPHS is that when the world economy crashed in 2008/2009, Willcom, the company leading the push to the XGPHS technology, was running into financial problems. What ever happened to XGPHS?

I had forgotten as well, but in 2007, NTT pulled the plug on PHS service and Wilcom was the last player in the game. Apparently in 2010, Willcom filed for bankruptcy, and then Willcom was acquired by Softbank. In 2014 it was sold to e-Mobile and renamed Y!Mobile. e-Mobile, however, was a data-only 3G provider originally.  Y!Mobile was then acquired by Softbank in 2015. I saw some Japanese language information stating that PHS may have its plug pulled in November 2022. However, that still leaves six years for another firm to try to acquire the technology and keep the system going.  Or maybe not, perhaps it will remain a technology used internally. Many hospitals and large factories use PHS internally for communicating with staff–usually managers.

As for XGPHS?  It turns out that XGPHS is still alive…sort-of.  Extended Global Platform (XGP) Forum is the group now representing XGPHS.  After a cursory look, XGP Forum is focusing on TD-LTE, and has its roots in the XGPHS that I once knew. @nifty offers a wireless service that uses the AXGP and LTE.

I was curious about some other mobile technology that was once big news in Japan when I lived there.  i-Mode was an Internet service offered by NTT DoCoMo for the FOMA service (UMTS network) customers. It was a proprietary network based on WAP-like technology and was hugely popular while I was in Japan. At the end of February 2015, NTT DoCoMo pulled the plug on the network. Smartphones killed the juggernaut of Japan’s mobile industry.

And WiMAX? Unlike in the US, it looks like there are still options for WiMAX in Japan.  UQ WiMAX appears to still be available, and @nifty is offering a WiMAX service as well. I am glad to see there is still some wireless technology diversity in Japan. I cannot say that much about where I live in the USA.

Femtocell Trial

One of the disadvantages of living in a small city in North America is that mobile phone cell coverage can be rather poor.  I have very poor reception in my home and as a result I still have both a fixed telephone line and a mobile phone.  I never experienced anything like this while I was living in Japan.  My previous carrier, T-Mobile, was no better than the current.  AT&T Wireless, my current carrier, recently sent me an offer for a free 3G microcell for use in my home. I am not familiar with the microcell and cannot recall it from the 3GPP specifications, but I guess that it is something like a femtocell that is mentioned in 3GPP.  Being keen on dropping the fixed line subscription and its high-priced, limited-usage long-distance call plan, I decided to accept the offer.

I picked up the microcell at a local retail shop and the salesman took care of the activation.  At home I unboxed the microcell and was surprised that for its size it was quite light-weight, much lighter than my 802.11 wireless router.  I wonder if the size is due to the antenna, or perhaps EM shielding?  I followed the simple quick start guide and after the 90-minute setup period, sure enough I have a much stronger 3G signal in my home.

For those worrying about leechers and security, not just anyone can use the microcell.  Up to 10 mobile numbers can be registered and managed with AT&T via their website.

I will not be canceling the fixed line just yet, but if this microcell works consistently for awhile then hopefully this solution will allow me to finally kick that money-hungry fixed line operator out of my home.

An advert you don’t see every day

I found an interesting advert in the back of the Economist newspaper this past week.  You might not see this in the American printing, but there is no trade embargo in Singapore where my subscription is printed (sorry for the image quality, but if you can read the title area it is plenty):

3G license up for sale in Iran
3G license up for sale in Iran

Iran is auctioning a 3G license and they are calling for expression of interest.  I found it very interesting because, 1) I’ve never seen such an add in a newspaper before, and 2) it costs €20,000 to submit an expression of interest! I guess this is why only the “big boys” of the telecom world can step up and bid for licenses.