Choosing AP with OEM firmware


#1

I have been having WiFi coverage trouble with my Netgear R7500 v2 (not sure if it’s with a hardware or firmware issue, or just plain saturation). In any event, I’m looking to augment my WiFi with stand alone access points (starting off with 1).

Searching the TOH and comparing it to current hardware availability, there really isn’t anything that I would buy. I like the Ubiquity, Linksys, Open Mesh, etc. that is round, unobtrusive, and can be mounted on a ceiling. It needs to be essentially unnoticed: No extrernal antennas, neural/white in color etc. (I have to stay married, you know).

Given this, the biggest list of supported AC AP’s have stopped supporting 3rd party OEM, were sold (Open Mesh), or are just plain hard to find in the US. Moreover, I don’t have the time or desire to “make” one of my own.

Sooooo - given my long winded pre-amble, can anyone provide advice on AC AP’s that would play well with my OpenWrt router. I’m looking at business grade hardware (e.g., Ubiquity, etc.) rather than consumer grade packages like Google WiFi.

I’d also be interested in proposed configurations since most require their own proprietary controllers. I suspect this is going to become a bigger issue and one that needs some guidance in order for OpenWrt to remain relevant. I love my router software and all of it’s features, but it has to work with other devices that don’t support an OpenWrt option.

I hope somebody has guidance and a recommendation.


#2

It isn't necessary to match the operating system of your APs to the main router, as the data transport over the Ethernet cable is very standardized. If it's a local controller system you'll just need the controller somewhere on your LAN.

I like the UAP-AC series flashed to OpenWrt. Have not tried them with the stock firmware.


#3

You don't need to limit yourself to products marketed as AP. Any router with built-in wi-fi has the potential to be an AP


#4

Hi @mk24, I have been leaning toward the Ubiquiti AP’s too and liked the OpenWrt support. However, according to the OpenWrt documentation the newer ubnt firmwares now actively block 3rd party firmware. There may be a way to overcome that, but can’t say for sure because I haven’t bought one.

I understand that I can use their OS for the AP controller, and I understand that it’s pretty good. I will also have wired POE backhaul. However, it’s my AP’s themselves that will be mixed - 2 OpenWrt and 1 UniFi. I’m fuzzy on whether I can use common SSID’s, VLANs, how roaming will work, etc. in that type of environment. I expect it can be done, but haven’t seen any guidance anywhere (I.e., even outside of OpenWrt’s doc and forums) that explain the best way to accomplish it. All I see are things like “you need to use all AP’s from a single vendor”.

I’d really welcome any wisdom for architecting an effective solution.

@mbo2o, I completely understand what you’re saying. My problem is that I’d have a big ugly box with antennas hanging down in my foyer, which won’t work. The thought is too ugly for me. And my wife; not a chance. I’d be really excited if you are aware of a low profile, inconspicuous router that I may not have seen.

I thank you both for taking the time to read my post and respond. I’d love know anything else you may have to share now that I’ve better clarified my objective.


#5

How about this one. Seems to be supported and doesn't look bad. If the wife complaints, you could tell her it's a smoke detector.
https://www.tp-link.com/en/products/details/cat-5692_EAP120.html
https://openwrt.org/toh/hwdata/tp-link/tp-link_eap120


#6

Hi @mhegab, I saw that one. Unfortunately when clicking on the link you included it says: Not recommended for future use with OpenWrt due to low flash/ram.

I agree that it looks nice and is currently supported, but I want to be able to upgrade it in 6 months.

It’s also only a 2.4 ghz single band device. This goes back to a prior period when the manufacturers were much more open source friendly. That appears to be changing for the worse I’m afraid.


#7

Gl-inet gl-b1300? Comes with openwrt out of the box? Or their travel device gl-ar750?


#8

Hi @dlakelan, that’s a possibility. I actually have a GLiNet travel router and I really like it. I’d just need to figure out how to mount it and hide the wires on the ceiling (they come out of the back like a typical router rather than the bottom).

I’ve also been doing some more research on wired AP’s designed for this; it seems that my concern about configuring other device firmware may be overblown given that they will all be backhaulled with cat6. The Ubiquiti AP’s supposedly even use a modified OpenWrt which they subsequently lock down - rather rude, don’t you think?

I suspect that installing the full wpad package on my router may enable everything necessary. I’d greatly appreciate any tips, pointers, other wisdom along those lines so that I don’t fumble over configuration for days.

What a wonderful community to have so many people willing to read and provide options for my challenge.


#9

It doesn't have to be on a ceiling, you could plop it on a desk or behind a TV or a nightstand or a dresser, or a stereo cabinet or a bookshelf


#10

Ahhh, but there’s the rub. It needs a cable back to the switch. I unfortunately had a tree fall on my house, but in the reconstruction process was able to run some Cat6 while some of the walls were open. The following picture goes back to a 24 port Cisco POE switch. It would be a pity not to use it.


#11

The TP-Link EAP225 is the new model. If you prefer round, go with the UAP-AC-LR. Both of these are plug and play on 802.3af POE.


#12

TP-Link EAP 225 v3 is probably a good inexpensive choice to put on a ceiling with PoE, and it has a controller mode but also has a standalone mode. It's never going to run OpenWrt due to Broadcom, but it's inexpensive and its a "business" offering so I think they update the firmware more often (not necessarily often but more often)


#13

Don't want to hijack this topic, but what would be the benefit of putting OpenWRT firmware e.g.: on a UBNT AC-lite AP ?

If i would do that, where would all the low-level WiFi software/firmware come from ? Is that bundled with OpenWRT, or would that still be UBNT, OpenWRT would just do the ethernet switching and GUI ? I just had bad experience with different routers WiFi compatibility with various home network devices and so my current thinking is that i want the WiFi firmware to be one from a vendor that has a lot of market in those type of networks, and UBNT seems to be good (at least my connection problems stopped immediately after i migrated from my mikrotik OpenWRT routers WiFi to the UBNT AP...).


#14

Reasons might include standardizing your software environment (similar configuration across multiple devices; OpenWrt does not include the concept of central managing of multiple device (e.g. wireless controllers) at this moment) or wanting to run opensource software you can actually check and/ or build yourself and/ or longer support cycles (as long as a device meets bare system requirements, it's quite likely to remain supported 'indefinitely' as part of the general target arch); e.g. KRACK fixes were implemented in OpenWrt within days.

This depends…
Taking the general situation for QCA/ Atheros (ath10k) as an example (which isn't really different from Marvell or Mediatek):

  • bootloader (often u-boot) usually doesn't get touched by OpenWrt and remains as is from the OEM (on many lantiq devices or SBCs (e.g. sunxi) you usually to replace it)
  • kernel and rootfs are completely replaced with the OpenWrt image
    • this means you'll now use the mainline (FOSS) ath10k kernel modules instead of QCA's proprietary driver (ath_pci)
      • the kernel modules require a binary firmware to function, this is provided by QCA to the OEM or via linux-firmware (with access to older and newer versions via kvalo's ath10k-firmware repository) by OpenWrt.
        Recent OpenWrt versions (master and upcoming 19.03.x) use ath10k-ct from Candela Tech. instead.
      • Depending on the SOC, board-files are provided either by QCA (for the whole chipset generation) or by the OEM for their very own board (typically all ipq40xx devices); these are typically submitted and distributed via linux-firmware. There are multiple formats in use for these board-files, but they are usually the same and can be transcoded between their different representations (see QCA swiss army knife)
  • Calibration data (ART) for all wlan cards is stored on a dedicated partition of each device, this is device specific and never changes.

Depending on the device, MAC addresses are usually stored in the bootloader environment or ART.

If you were running (vanilla, not some vendor fork of it) OpenWrt on your Mikrotik devices, they were running ath10k - while OEM firmwares usually rely on QCA's proprietary wlan drivers (aside from version skew, the firmware is usually the same).


#15

Hi @toerless - My biggest reason for NOT using OpenWrt consistently, at least in this specific case, is that the manufacturers are making it much more difficult to flash OpenWrt. Based on my reading, that appears to be the case for UBNT.

That said, deep in the recesses of the Ubiquiti AC Lite documentation, they identify a “stand alone” mode. My guess is that they don’t say much about it because they want traction across their product line. That’s the direction I’m leaning toward.

@slh I saw an OpenWrt wiki that suggested that there may be a native OpenWrt controller in the 19+ timeframe. Do you know how likely that will be? If so, would it be possible to pick-up stand alone devices like this? I don’t know if it’s even possible, but my understanding is consistent with what you said - the firmware on these devices is all very similar. Additionally, because they have to meet the IEEE standards, I hope that access would be similar enough that this would work.

I have a strong preference to use OpenWrt on the edge because that is the primary attack vector. For AP’s? I’m much more comfortable using the vendor software as long as it will play nicely with the remainder of the OpenWrt network.


#16

openwrt-19.03 is to be branched off very soon, even considering that the package feeds have a little more time before the 19.03.0 release than the main repository, there's simply no time left for major feature additions, which would probably need changes across multiple packages. Personally I'm not really following wireless controller development, so I have no idea if anyone is developing one for OpenWrt (nor in which potential timeframe), but integrating this into netifd and hostapd would require quite major changes.


#17

Thanks for all the details, but what you describe to me doesn't give me he confidence that i would get on average better wifi firmware then if i depended on the selection/fixes of firmware from a very large AP vendor like UBNT. Especially when i consider incompatibilities with some stranger type of new home equipment, i can easily see how there will be a lot more UBNT customers complaining and making UBNT drive upgrades than in a much smaller community of OpenWrt. I can see how i am of course more empowered myself to force upgrade to the latest chip/chipset firmware when running OpenWrt, but tha would primarily be relevant for vendors that have the fire&forget firmware politics. Most low-end router vendors do, but what i have seen from UBNT, thats not the case there, because of their controller centric design. Sure, UBNT firmware ripens at the customer site, but as long as it arrives ripe enough to run in the beginning and they don't introduce lethal bugs along the way... :wink: I think we all know pro/cons of too old vs. too new .


#18

Would agree with most of your opinions. For me, as i outlined also in another thread, WiFi and L2 switches in my homes don't really need a lot of functionality, just reliability, speed, VLANs and diagnostics which bloody device is connected where (AP or switch port). And UBNT has that well covered with their controller. I can think of really no feature that i'd like to add or play with beyond this.

L3 router/NAT/firewall/server is all exactly the opposite. Hard to find any vendor that would ever give me all i want. If i am lucky i get it nicely via LuCI, if i am less lucky i need OpenWrt config files, if i am even less lucky i need to add a debian container and do it there. And if i am extremely unlucky i have to add a windows VM into the debian for some even less well supported function (planning to run x86 openwrt so i have all the flexibility).


closed #19

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