It is possible to replace the firmware/GUI that comes built-into most consumer-grade wireless routers with a third-party open source firmware (DD-WRT). But why should you do that? To increase the features and functionality of the consumer-grade wireless router, of course. You may not be able to get all enterprise wireless network features, but you can get pretty close!
In this article, let’s look at some reasons why you should consider loading an open source firmware (DD-WRT) on consumer grade routers and use it for your (small) business. Be warned that this may not be a replacement to enterprise controller/access point systems, but if you can’t afford that you can still get many features/functionality through DD-WRT open source wireless firmware software (which is free to download, btw).
Here are some reasons why you should replace your existing wireless router’s firmware with DD-WRT:
#1. Access Restrictions: You can create rules that govern network access based on IP/Mac address, IP address range, time of the day, traffic type, URL, etc. One can either deny access to the WAN network totally or filter certain websites based on services or keywords.
#2. Hotspot Internet Access: You can set-up a public hotspot with captive portal (external), AAA (Authentication), bandwidth restrictions, etc.
#3. Wireless Mesh (WDS): A mesh network is a wireless network where the wireless access points form a backbone network with other wireless access points using the wireless medium (instead of the wired medium, that is normally used for backbone inter-connectivity). This feature is generally available only with a few enterprise-grade access points, but DD-WRT now brings it to consumer Wi-Fi routers, as well. It is even possible to apply STP (Spanning Tree Protocol) rules to this wireless MESH network.
Apart from this, the Wi-Fi router can be configured as access point, bridge or repeater using DD-WRT open source firmware.
#4. QoS Prioritization & WMM Support: If your network contains real-time traffic like voice and video (that are latency-sensitive), you can use DD-WRT to prioritize such traffic over normal traffic. This feature is increasingly made available in consumer grade routers nowadays, but if your router doesn’t have it, DD-WRT supports QoS prioritization up to WMM (Wireless Multi Media). You can apply QoS settings per host, per SSID, per IP/Mac address range, per application, etc.
#5. Wake On LAN: Many Computers now support WoL (Wake On LAN). This is a feature that lets you switch On the computer from a remote location only for the duration you want it. It saves a lot of power because otherwise you’ll need to keep the computer On the moment you step out, until you come back. DD-WRT enables routers with WoL functionality.
#6. Advanced Wireless Settings: Among others, using DD-WRT, you can set the transmission rate, transmission power; enable frame burst to increase network speed in small networks; vary the beacon interval, vary the DTIM (Delivery Traffic Indication Message) interval, vary fragmentation threshold value (to increase performance); restrict the max. no. of clients that can associate with a particular Wi-Fi router; reverse the Tx/Rx antennas; enable bluetooth coexistence to minimize interference from bluetooth devices; disable wireless GUI settings for clients (for security); etc.
#7. Connect to Internet via Cellular phone: Connect router’s USB port (if available) to cellular phone (via USB cable) for Internet connectivity.
#8. Dual or Multiple WAN Connections: You can connect multiple Internet lines to the wired ports of the router and enable round robin equalization, failover & standby modes.
In addition to the above mentioned, you can install ntap/rflow on the router to monitor network traffic; integrate with OPEN DNS, OPEN VPN; enable port blocking and port forwarding; use syslog and klog daemons to log system, kernel, and firewall events; throttle P2P file sharing applications to prevent degradation of (other) application performance; block multicast traffic on Wi-Fi and/or other interfaces that do not need it, etc.
* Note: These features have not been tested by me. This list is a partial curation of features from DD-WRT tutorials/features page. Refer to that link for more info on features/functionality of the DD-WRT firmware.
Also, DD-WRT has been described as a third-party open source firmware applicable for many routers (802.11a/b/g/n/ac) based on Broadcom & Atheros chip reference designs, not all routers. To evaluate if your router is compatible with DD-WRT and to learn how to install it, refer to this page.
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