Sunday, August 15. 2021
There is a previous post in this series about wireless technology.
Wi-Fi 6 hardware is available, but uncommon. Since its introduction three years ago, finally it is gaining popularity. A practial example of sometimes-difficult-to-obtain part is an USB-dongle. Those have existed at least 15 years now. There simply is none with Wi-Fi 6 capability.
Additional twist is thrown at me, a person living in EU-reagion. For some weird (to me) reason, manufacturers aren't getting their radio transmitters licensed in EU. Only in US/UK. This makes Wi-Fi 6 appliance even less common here.
When I throw in my absolute non-negotiable requirement of running a reasonable firmware in my access point, I'll limit my options to almost nil. Almost! I found this in OpenWRT Table-of-Hardware: Linksys E8450 (aka. Belkin RT3200) It is an early build considered as beta, but hey! All of my requirements align there, so I went for it in Amazon UK:
Wi-Fi 6 Access Point: Belkin RT3200
This is exactly what I wanted and needed! A four-port gigabit switch for wired LAN, incoming Internet gigabit connector. 12 VDC / 2 A barrel connector for transformer. Given UK power plugs are from 1870s they're widely incompatible with EU-ones. Luckily manufacturers are aware of this and this box contains both UK and EU plugs in an easily interchangeable form. Thanks for that!
Notice how this is a Belkin "manufactured" unit. In reality it is a relabled Linksys RT3200. Even the OpenWRT-firmware is exactly same. Me personally, I don't care what the cardobard box says as long as my Wi-Fi is 6, is fast and is secure.
Illustrated OpenWRT Installation Guide
The thing with moving away from vendor firmware to OpenWRT is that it can be tricky. It's almost never easy, so this procedure is not for everyone.
To achieve this, there are a few steps needed. Actual documentation is at https://openwrt.org/toh/linksys/e8450, but be warned: amount of handholding there is low, for newbie there is not much details. To elaborate the process of installation, I'm walking trough what I did to get me OpenWRT running in the box.
Step 0: Preparation
You will need:
- Linksys/Belkin RT3200 access point
- Wallsocket to power the thing
- A computer with Ethernet port
- Any Windows / Mac / Linux will do, no software needs to be installed, all that is required is a working web browser
- Ethernet cable with RJ-45 connectors to access the access point's admin panel via LAN
- OpenWRT firmware from https://github.com/dangowrt/linksys-e8450-openwrt-installer
- Download files into a laptop you'll be doing your setup from
- Linksys-compatible firmware is at at:https://github.com/dangowrt/linksys-e8450-openwrt-installer/releases, get
- Also download optimized firmware
- Skills and rights to administer your workstation to have its Ethernet port a fixed IPv4-address from net 192.168.1.1/24
- Any other IPv4 address on that net will do, I used 192.168.1.10
- No DNS nor gateway will be needed for this temporary setup
Make sure not to connect the WAN / Internet into anything. The Big Net is scary and don't rush into that yet. You can do that later when all installing and setupping is done.
If you just want to try OpenWrt and still plan to go back to the vendor firmware, use the non-UBI version of the firmware which can be flashed using the vendor's web interface.
Process described here is the UBI-version which does not allow falling back to vendor firmware.
Step 1: Un-box and replace Belkin firmware
After plugging the Access Point to a wall socket, flicking the I/O-switch on, attaching an Ethernet cable to one of the LAN-switch ports and other end directly to a laptop, going to http://192.168.1.1 with your browser will display you something like this:
For the "Ethernet cable is not connected" you need to click Exit. When you think of the error message bit harder, if you get the message, your Ethernet IS connected. Ok, ok. It is for the WAN Ethernet, not LAN.
This is your unconfigured admin / admin -scenario. Log into your Linksys ... erhm. Belkin.
Select Configuration / Administration / Firmware Upgrade. Choose File. Out of the two binaries you downloaded while preparing, go for the
ubi-initramfs-recovery-installer.itb. That OpenWRT firmware file isn't from manufacturer, but the file is packaged in a way which makes it compatible to allow easy installation:
Step 2: Upgrade your OpenWRT recovery into a real OpenWRT
Now that you're running OpenWRT, your next task is to go from recovery to real thing. I'm not sure if I'll ever want to go back, but as recommended by OpenWRT instructions, I did take backups of all four mtdblocks: bl2, fip, factory and ubi. This step is optinal:
To repeat the UBI / non-UBI firmware: This is the UBI-version. It is recommended as it has better optimization for layout and management of SPI flash, but it does not allow fallbacking to vendor firmware.
Step 3: Setup your wireless AP
Second time, same screen but with this time there is a proper firmware in the AP. Go set the admin account properly to get rid of the "There is no password set on this router" -nag. Among all settings, go to wireless configuration to verify both 2.4 and 5 GHz radios are off:
As I wanted to improve my WLAN security, I steer away from WPA2 and went for a WPA3-SAE security. Supporting both at the same time is possible, but securitywise it isn't wise. If your system allows wireless clients to associate with a weaker solution, they will.
Also for security, check KRACK attack countermeasures. For more details on KRACK, see: https://www.krackattacks.com/
Step 4: Done! Test.
That's it! Now you're running a proper firmware on our precious Wi-Fi 6 AP. But how fast it is?
As I said, I don't have many Wi-Fi 6 clients to test with. On my 1 gig fiber, iPad seems to be pretty fast. Also my Android phone speed is ... well ... acceptable.
For that speed test I didn't even go for the "one foot distance" which manufacturers love to do. As nobody uses their mobile devices right next to their AP, I tested this on a real life -scenario where both AP and I were located the way I would use Internet in my living room.
After three year wait Wi-Fi 6 is here! Improved security, improved speed, improved everything!