A Tale Of Wonky Wifi Part 2: Some History & Seeking Advice

This is part 2 in the continuing saga of my fight with replacing a dead Netgear WNR-2000 that had served a my wifi AP.  Please recall that I just RMA’d the Cisco WAP4410N that was to be its replacement.

Firstly, I think that I was a very early adopter of both residential broadband and wifi. Linksys was the obvious leader in devices for this market. I bought a Linksys WAP-11 when they were brand new and fairly pricey. I wired it into my trusty Linksys BEFSR-41 4-port wired router. That device was fed by a Time-Warner Road Runner cable modem back in 1998.

Later, when the new 802.11g type wifi was starting to become available I migrated to a Linksys WAP-54G.

When we started to use Vonage I also moved to using a Linksys BEFSR-81 wired router specifically for its QoS feature. You will see this mentioned specifically in my early post called “The Beginners Guide To Successful VOIP Over DSL”. Clearly, I’ve had my fair share of Linksys consumer products.

However, a lot of my later experience with Linksys support was less than stellar. The Linksys BEFSR-81 had some serious firmware issues that went unacknowledged  by the manufacturer for a long time. In public forums the problems were well known and documented, but the company newly acquired by Cisco, was slow to act.

This sort of thing eventually caused me to steer away from Linksys. While I might have selected another retail brand of network devices I ended up curious to try the combination of m0n0wall and a Soekris Net4501/4801 embedded single board computers. That pairing has proved to be simply fantastic!

Having just RMA’d the Cisco WAP I was left pondering what to try next. I thought it only logical to ask around and see what other people had used successfully. So I posed the question to various folks via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. The results were, at least to me, a bit surprising.

I expected to hear a variety of people offer advice about their experience with a range of products. I thought that I’d hear about names like Linksys/Cisco, Netgear, SMC, Asus, Draytech, Buffalo, Hawking, etc. While there was the occasional mention of devices from such manufacturers, by far the most common recommendation was to use a Linksys WRT-54GL router loaded with a third-party firmware like DD-WRT, OpenWRT or Tomato.

I find this to be amazing on a couple of different levels.

That there was such widespread recommendation of such an approach is very curious. People actually buy the hardware, then going to considerable trouble to re-flash it with something like DD-WRT. It’s an odd kind of condemnation of the firmware that Cisco/Linksys is themselves providing.

Cisco/Linksys has to keep developing their own firmware since taking the decision to not use Linux as the basis of the WRT-54G series hardware that doesn’t bear the “GL” suffix. These non-GL devices can be manufactured with just a little less memory, different processor, etc. The result is a device that’s slightly cheaper to manufacture. It might only be a dollar or two difference, but when they’re selling millions of units it certainly adds up.

In a Twitter exchange @phoneboy noted that Cisco should probably just use DD-WRT as their default firmware. Others suggested that Cisco just buy the company behind DD-WRT. I wonder if such a move would be the beginning of the end for DD-WRT. Is their independence a significant source of what makes DD-WRT attractive?

I can’t help but find the through of buying a WRT-54GL and then loading third party firmware vaguely offensive. It’s as if I’d be rewarding Cisco/Linksys for not delivering upon the promise of the hardware that they’re offering.

While I appreciate the feedback from everyone who made a recommendation, I don’t think that particular route is a path that I will follow.

In part 3: Considering the role of router vs wifi AP

  • Marc Abrams

    If you are going that route, I would look at OpenWRT (www.openwrt.org) because it is more open and less “hackish”. There are many vendor platforms supported and it’s quite easy to build your own firmware and flash your router. Linksys, Trendnet and D-Link products are particularly well supported. My experience has been very positive with their community and their work. And, most importantly, the stability and performance– at least what I’ve had experience with– is very impressive. Much better than the stock firmware for any of the mentioned brands and products.

  • That’s not exactly what I said 🙂 I said that they should just preloaded the DD-WRT firmware and not bother to develop their own. I don’t think they should buy out the folks behind DD-WRT, but maybe donate a dev or two to the project.

    You can load DD-WRT on a variety of Linksys devices, even the non-GL devices. Depending on the device, it can be a fair bit of work. The GL devices are more like the old school WRT54G/GS devices (prior to their switch to VxWorks) and are “hacker friendly.”

    A cheap Linksys router with DD-WRT may be better in some cases than a commercial-grade router that is several times the cost.

    • Sorry. My mistake. I went looking for that tweet but could not find it. I’ve amended the post accordingly.

  • Shamus Rask

    No questions… I have both a WRT-54GS and WRT-54GL both running DD-WRT. I agree that the optics are wrong in that Linksys/Cisco is being rewarded; however I haven’t found any other commercial router that offers the same amount of customization/tweaking that DD-WRT does on the Linksys. I run Asterisk and use the QoS features extensively. I’ve also got DHCP option 59 pointing to my TFTP server (I have a mixture of Aastra and Cisco SIP phones) and watch my monthly bandwdith usage. None of this would be possible with anything else oute there.

    I strongly recommend DD-WRT; hands down, a magnificent product!

  • tom

    i doubt that dd-wrt is really all that popular. on the other hand it would not surprise me if dd-wrt users were perhaps several hundred times more likely to leave a comment to a question about router suggestions. i use openwrt , dd-wrt and tomato almost exclusively on linksys WRT-54g series routers. my reason for using linksys routers all the time is simply that they are very easy to pick up used at thrift stores for between $3 and $10. i would like to try some other brands but am not willing to fork over the $’s to buy brand new.

  • Rod

    The ‘current’ best bang for the buck is:

    Asus RT-N16
    The latest Asus firmware is pretty good, which is a big change.

    refer http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=1273035

    You also have the option of loading Tomato etc.

  • MarkusS

    Some years ago, we switched from Cisco (not Linksys Cisco) to linux-based MikroTik http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MikroTik Routerboards http://routerboard.com/
    Those Routerboards offer almost any feature you can dream of at a very decent pricing – not only WLAN but also firewall, router, bandwidth monitoring and control, accounting … You can even create up to eight virtual routers on a routerboard which are completely isolated against each other.
    We’ve several clients running Routerboards as wireless hotspots in hotels and restaurants with multiple SSIDs, wireless bridges and even different wireless standards (802.11 a/b/g/n) and frequencies (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) in one box with up to 8 mini-PCI-WLAN-interfaces.

    Regards
    Markus

  • Fried

    Thanks for Sharing !! This sort of thing eventually caused me to steer away from Linksys. While I might have selected another retail brand of network devices I ended up curious to try the combination of m0n0wall and a Soekris Net4501/4801 embedded single board computers. That pairing has proved to be simply fantastic!

    Fried