Router manufacturer TP-Link has started to lock its routers in the United States so users can no longer install modified firmware on them such a DD-WRT and Tomato. The company does so to comply with new regulations of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). These ban firmware modifications for radio systems in WiFi routers and other wireless devices operating in the 5 GHz range.
The fact TP-Link has started to comply with these rules was found after an user received “error 18005” when he tried to downgrade the firmware on his router. When he contacted TP-Link support they told him that a range of current routers of the company have been locked due to the new FCC regulations. All future products will be locked too.
TP-Link’s support employee also confirmed that the router of the reporting user has been locked down and that there is no way to use another firmware.
The FCC has made the new regulations to make sure that devices respect the use of allowed frequencies, transmission power and modulations. Technically it would be possible to separate the radio firmware from the rest of the system but that would be an enormous effort for manufacturers. They would need to make sure the radio firmware is secured from manipulation while leaving the rest of the system open for modifications like DD-WRT and Tomato.
For routers that only make use of the 2.4Ghz WiFi band there are no restrictions.
Although TP-Link is now the router manufacturer in the news, it’s very likely also routers of other manufacturers will soon come with these restrictions.