Building an ecosystem to recycle used openwrt routers


Having worked for several companies that use openwrt routers as a base for their business model I've noticed the following:

-These companies often throw off routers that they do not use anymore (for various reasons), but these router are still working fine. It can be sometimes large numbers of routers that are replaced by newer ones. It can be old used routers but also new routers that where bought only for tests, or for a project that was finally abandoned.
-Being able to buy relatively large number of used openwrt routers at very low price ( 5$-10$ ), could provide very interesting economic opportunities for some companies.

I don't know If you make the same observations?

So I'm wondering, couldn't we find a way to create a platform to give sell, or buy old openwrt routers, instead of throwing them off, both for ecologic and economic purposes.

What do you think?

1 Like

Makes some sense. But is a special "ecosystem" required ? ebay could be a simple platform, to be used, or even here, just a new category "openwrt hardware to sell/buy".

I like the idea. We used to have a sub forum just for such a thing in the old board where anyone could post to give/ask/sell their devices. For me, it really is hard if I had to pay for the shipping cost.

It would be good to have a database where to search on criteria like total available quantities (aggregated from different resellers/donator), number of LAN ports, RAM, CPU frequency, architecture, Wifi (2.4ghz? 5ghz?), Nand size, 4G/LTE, and so on.

Ebay does a very poor job for this: if you have to search for routers and buy them one buy one, and check one by on if it is supported by openwrt and reaches your criteria, it's really unpracticable when you need hundreds of routers.

Just to give you a taste of what I mean:

Livebox1 is supported by openwrt:

It was used buy an ISP "Orange" in France. It was probably sold in at least 100 000 but maybe up to 1 000 000. Then the product was outdated and they replaced it for all their customers. And they most probably have destroyed the old units.

I'm not sure that "Orange" would have been willing to sell their stock. But maybe smaller companies would. I know small companies that throw off hundred of units of old routers, that may not be hard to convince.

You picked a perfect example!

8 MB Flash -- Too small for much of anything
16 MB RAM -- Basically will barely boot a current kernel, certainly won't run anything for long

256 MHz MIPS processor -- Too slow for what people are looking for at probably somewhere under 100 Mbps

Edit: 100 Mbps Ethernet, only two physical ports, almost certainly a single phy

Broadcom wireless -- barely supported, most functionality not available

Yes, there are a lot of old devices that ISPs eventually retire, but remember that

  • They were likely the lowest cost device that they could purchase, including predicted support costs
  • There is very little financial incentive for an ISP to replace CPE that isn't dead
  • One of the few financial incentives are for service up-sell, which typically means either an all-in-one box (Internet, phone TV), or just changing out the modem itself (DOCSIS 3.1 and gigabit service, for example)

No, no thank you to ancient, piece of junk modems by the thousands. In my opinion we waste enough time supporting underpowered devices already. It's pretty clear that the warnings don't do anything, as the page linked starts off with


There is plenty of post right-down life in rack hardware from Cisco and Netgear, etc, but almost zero second user value for a domestic router. I agree there's a tonne of unused routers that can be repurposed with OpenWRT; but instead these lay forgotten in drawers, are dumped into landfill or worse, get 'recycled' in a developing economy by burning off the unwanted elements.

Here in the UK, the BT Homehub 5A is one such device that's already built a maker/hacker community ecosystem.

In the meantime, why not add an extra category to the OpenWRT forum called Marketplace? This will be used to advise or advertise of routers and IoT devices with OpenWRT Inside that are up for grabs for free or, for a fee.

@ jeff

Ok I agree that Livebox V1 is very limited. But really there are lot less limited routers (RAM+processor) that end up being trashed . And I can tell you for sure that today you can make interesting things out of 8MB flash routers, that can be used on the market.

Agreed. 8MB flash and 32MB RAM should be good enough for a "dumb" AP or minimal minirouter.

100Mbps Ethernet is a bottleneck for wifi these days, sure you can use it as say a smart DSCP tagging switch for an array of SIP phones or some such thing, but new gigabit routers are something like $20-40 so the cost of warehousing and shipping and transaction handling etc has to be pretty low, so you can get one in hand for say $15. Seems unlikely.

These low end routers would be OK as dumb APs for some people. 8 / 32 It would be grate if OpenWrt had a build ready to flash to them with no firewall, dnsmasq and odhcp. I looked in to doing such a build but could not get it goodenuf to shair.

If the router has a small footprint with a multi-core CPU clocked @800+ MHz with at least 512 MB RAM + 4 GB internal storage or with at least 1 USB2 (preferrably 3) port and consumes approximately 5 Watts of electricity, I can see it can be lots of additional (besides as a router) reusable projects that can use such a hardware.

So in other words, better than a brand new router. :wink:

WRT 32X: 256MB flash and 512MB RAM, dual core 1.8 Ghz, power consumption probably above 5W

This is exactly what happens with old Telstra modems/routers:

  • TG799vac
  • TG797n v3
  • Sagem F@ST 5355
  • DJA0230
  • Netgear v7610

They have over 1 million customers with on average 2 modems

They are all very capable with >128mbyte flash and >256mbyte ram with cpu’s that run at 400mhz and up.

Eg. DJA0230
512mbyte flash
1024mbyte ram
Dual core (4 thread) 1ghz ARM Processor (BCM63138)
4x4 5g WiFi
3x3 2.4g WiFi
LTE Module and SIM slot
NFC Module

On my side I would say you can do interesting things out of routers when they have at least 8MB of flash and 64MB of RAM.

That is a good one.

This is also a great candidate.

It is indeed. Sadly the bootloader is very locked down and will only boot signed images.