No choice of modem for ethical software proponents (NBN, VDSL2)

It appears that there is no way for a person to use the NBN in a way that respects a person’s wish to only operate free license and open source (FOS) firmware on their device.

I would like to run OpenWRT on any modem device that I could possibly find. Here is a list of modem’s that are currently supported by OpenWRT community:

It is however with great pain that I must inform anyone thinking of going down this path that:

a) it is effectively impossible to find any of the above listed hardware in stores in Australia, and
b) even if you were to find one, any VDSL/VDSL2 functionality will require running proprietary blobs of code, ie. VDSL is not yet FOSS according to the folks in OpenWRT forums. I can dig up the link to the forum thread if needed.

Given that Australians are generally forced onto VDSL2 (unless they enter into the most expensive plan with an upgrade path to fibre, or so I was told by an ISP), I’m effectively at a complete loss.

I honestly don’t know how I can safely operate the internet in the home moving forward. I refuse to operate non-FOS softwares in my home.

Do I need to give up on any possibility of having an internet connection?

How it can be that the FOS community has been so gutted? I get that there is very little money in FOS and it’s highly dependent on volunteers, but modem firmware is fundamental.

HELP. Is there an option to use ADSL for affordable plans that I’m not seeing?

Welcome to the Community @shauno

Rather than a problem with NBN mandates and listed products perhaps this is a problem caused by reliance on open source communities ability to support a sufficiently wide range of products in a timely manner, such as open source communities provide support in any case.

Neither Choice nor the Community forum are technical support resources although many members have a go, and as your problem revolves around your personal decisions and comfort level your options and worries may be best posed to the NBNCo, to the manufacturers who will never respond ‘it will work’, or to the open source development community who might tell you to have a go and risk bricking an untested combination.

My TP-Link VR600v documentation states it can be loaded with open source firmware at my own risk, no promises made. FWIW all modem/router product firmware seems to be based on the same open core these days.

You could go with a mobile service as one option or Starlink as another. If your location is serviced by NBN HFC, VDSL does not come into play but you will have to use the NBN supplied cable modem and if you reject that you will have rejected NBN service.

Anyone else with an opinion or advice?

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Hi @shauno, welcome to the community.

I get the feeling that you believe OpenWRT is more secure or ‘safer’ than factory loaded firmware. I would be interested to know why you believe this is the case.

OpenWRT has had vulnerabilities in the past…

Any code isn’t perfect and relies on someone identifying vulnerabilities, writing and loading update code in devices before those who can exploit them do. While updating is generally straight forward, identifying bugs/vulnerabilities and getting every device updated poses challenges.

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Whirlpool might be the better forum for discussing the issue.

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Really is pretty simple, if you don’t like the conditions or equipment, don’t use the NBN service, use one of the alternative offerings. Nobody is forcing you to use the NBN. There is no shortage of alternatives now.
No good complaining when 99.9% are probably totally happy with the equipment used.
I use Telstra and Optus mobile data full time with Telstra Nighthawk/Netgear M6 Pro. The modem offereings are even less than what is available on the NBN. Sadly we have to put up with sub-standard equipment and now with removed functionality at a higher price. No good complaining about it, Telstra don’t care or give a damn. You are in the same boat.

Agree. Use it daily on the tech side.

Is actually FOSS - Free and Open Source Software
Many people surpringly like to get paid for thier software programming, and use it as a means to feed and clothe themselves, I did.

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You must have an interesting home. Every appliance even down to LED light globes has some sort of software. And most of it will be invisible to you.

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There is no guaranteed money in FOSS - that’s in the term itself (Free and Open Source Software). This means that if you are wanting to run entirely on FOSS you are entirely dependent on the developers’ kind-heartedness in giving stuff away. Some developers will provide you with a means of paying them or encourage you to ‘pay it forward’ by helping out new developers, but ultimately they are at most donation-funded. They give of their time and expertise to develop software that many of us rely upon (the Linux kernel, GIMP, Audacity etc.).

There are also problems with FOSS. The model relies upon the ability of the public to review code, identify errors and notify the devs. That works to some extent with large projects, but not necessarily with smaller ones - and @phb has already mentioned a problem with one of those large projects.

Worse, as I mentioned before, you are relying upon developers who are giving of their own spare time. Most developers eventually either die or find that they no longer have the will to maintain what they built. They have a few choices:

  1. Abandonware. The TrueCrypt developers walked away from their development work after maintaining the product for ten years. We still don’t know the exact reasons for this or even who those developers were, but indications are that they lost interest in the project and/or it had been superseded by OS functionality.
  2. Sale. A lot of software changes ownership or name over its life. A good proprietary example of this is software sold by Gen Digital Inc., formerly Symantec, also sells products under Peter Norton’s name (of Norton Utilities fame), bought LifeLock, was an issuer of digital certificates until it lost the trust of the major browsers, owns Avast, AVG and Avira. The company also now owns CCleaner, which was once free if not open source.
  3. Exploitation. This can actually occur with or without the original publisher’s knowledge or consent, and is best exemplified by products in the Google Play Store which were made malicious after their original developers sold them. The product has a reputation and install base, new owners leveraged that to insert malware (if I recall correctly, largely ad-based).

Australia has its own issues with FOSS and the Internet. Products (e.g. modems) must be licenced simply to connect to the telephony system, and I assume (without bothering to do any research) that this restriction remains even with fibre-optic cables. It certainly applies to the people who install those cables. A licence fee, even if it is a one-off, becomes a hurdle for someone who is trying to develop FOSS, while the licence conditions will likely affect the FOSS terms. So a manufacturer has no particular incentive to make their product FOSS-friendly in Australia. You may be able to install FOSS on proprietary hardware, but your NBN provider may refuse to recognise/allow a connection.

Of course, this brings us to a final point: sure you can use FOSS software, but you are almost inevitably running it on proprietary hardware which in turn has its own proprietary software even if only at the kernel level (per @Gregr ). This is why OpenWRT installs are based upon the hardware you use (1,176 as at March 2019). So you cannot escape the world of proprietary computer technology while hoping to stay online, and trying to do so may actually make you less secure.

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What is ‘ethical software’. Do provide your defintion before this topic spins off into the inevitable techo talk.
Woops, already has.

And terms like VDSL, ADSL refer to technologies, and standards, not software. So what has that got to do anything?

Very complex hardware and built-in firmware to make it work.

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The true ‘modem’ part of the equation seems to me to be usually the problem.

I’ve grabbed a few Netgear DGND3700 V1 boxes (not v2!) - ‘relatively’ free software is available for them to operate NBN even with the most recent requirements of SOS/SRA/ROC even though the ‘blob’ that drives the xDSL chip is still proprietry (are any open?). This runs seamlessly for me, on a 100/40 fttn plan I get:
image
Which seems ok :slight_smile:
The site for the custom firmware is DGND3700 V1 Transmission Firmware - richud.com
It hasn’t been updated in a while but as a simple modem (I’ve run many things including OpenWRT, IOS and FortiOS behind it) it runs really well.
DGND 3700 V1’s are available online - eBay etc - make sure you get a V1 though, worth checking. Richud’s site has details of original source and patches, but I’ve never bothered with the spurce and toolchains for cross compiling/etc. - more here DGND3700 V1 Transmission Firmware Build - richud.com

I’m not sure if this is helpful - is this site ‘ethical’ - unknown to me, but it works well and it’s close enough (possibly as close as we can now get?) to ‘open’ for me and works seamlessly with my home network that has many non-open products from HP, Cisco, Fortinet, etc …

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Thanks for all your responses! What a great community! Sorry for my comparatively late response but I wanted to be as thorough as possible in my responses.

Thanks, Phil. Obviously there is an element of this as I stated in my opening, but ‘router freedom’ (which extends to Modem Freedom) is a genuine plight in and of itself. It is unconscionable to me and i think problematic for Australia moving forward that any NBN mandate would preclude a household such a basic choice as ‘Software Freedom’, or extort any household wanting such by forcing them into the most expensive plan with an “upgrade path” to FttH. Maybe this is one man yelling into the void, “Router Freedom”. I’m happy to be that one voice. If a person is unable to use VDSL/2 and willing and able to use ADSL then they should be granted that ability, within limits.

As discussed in the OpenWRT forums, xDSL, insofar as being able to handle both ADSL and VDSL, no. But ADSL alone on a compatible modem as is linked to in that discussion, yes. By the way, great results for your setup! I’ll explore that “richud” website in more depth. Maybe I just need to find am ISP that cares about accomodating people who have a passion for FOS and Router Freedom? Maybe I just need a great big complete list of every little ISP in Australia and see which are good?

There are a two items in the checklist for me here; ecological and social impact. Eg. environmental = buy a music track and download it once and save it locally, rather than use a streaming service. At the social level is the software a tool that the user has full control over, or vice versa. I choose to offer my skills to FOS because all too often we find that proprietary software is designed to do bad things under the hood. Freedom respecting FOS software that is really the only ethical path I see moving forward. Digital art is of course a different kettle of fish. A digital tool is ethical if it can possibly be fixed, adapted or refined and shared by anyone. Like any physical tool. I feel like we often forget that computers are tools.

I understand it to be a protocol, and not using the “old” protocol ADSL can have you blocked from NBN. The protocol need to be supported in the firmware drivers, which is where the software issue arises. If am not mistaken.

Security is a part of this. Even the Help Net Security security article admittedOpenWRT is generally more often updated than regular vendor-provided stock firmware, so it is generally a better option for those that care about security and know how to make the switch.

Another person in a thread in these forums nicely answered the security question also with an example akin to not-creating a sort of monoculture that could create harm. (Search ‘VDSL’ or ‘ADSL’, it was a thread that ran in 2020)

Maybe, maybe not, I just try to buy ethical. While electronics are amoung the least ethical products due to the amount of poorly sourced materials I keep electronics purchases to a minimum, and do research prior to purchase. I will seek out ethical retailers too, if this means not shopping at Bunnings for using facial recognition, so be it. [small]ASIDE: Since Choice revealed it last year I’ve been keenly finding replacement home and garden vendors.[/small]

I feel like this is more an philosophical, ethical and availability issue rather than technical. ‘Router freedom’ exists as a global movement and its community is active, but Australian providers appears to be racing away from it, and blocking ADSL use. I feel I need to push back and say something here at CHOICE. Maybe one question is are any basic laws or protections being undermined when FOSS is removed from the ecosystem, even if under the auspices of “progress”?

Re availability, I must reiterate that, quite conspicuously, there are no OpenWRT-supported modems left in stores, and many vendors have referenced the fact that, “We don’t sell/stock many modems because most people have them provided”. “It must be compatible with the latest changes to the NBN”. “You’re too late! We just drilled a hole in a bunch of them and threw them out” etc. So there is evidence of extreme waste here. I do not believe I would have such difficulty finding an appropriate modem if it weren’t for the mandate of NBNCo towards VDSL2 and SOS/ROC, which I don’t believe I need, and certainly never asked for greater resistance against dropouts. Again, maybe I’ve just been unlucky in my quest, and I just need to find that special ISP and special vendor who appreciates these issues.

Also, I tried Whirlpool recently, the site didn’t load.

The internet something of a must-have. Do these options have router/modem freedom with no proprietary code blobs? If so, I’ll be down with it. I’m generally opposed to emitting unnecessary EMF radiation, but everyone is going to get cancer from something, I suppose..

Anyway some compelling replies here. I often wondered where people of the “clever country” huddled. Thanks again I hope if nothing else comes from this that, maybe someone will find this and find one of the responses useful. Remaining hopeful that ethical Router Freedom is possible in Australia.

No maybe about it. Your power supply metering will have software imbedded. As will your appliances, oven, washing machine, radio, TV, clocks, computers. Your car.

Unless you live in a cave, and forgo anything electrical.

BTW. I suspect you have no idea what ADSL and VDSL actually is. Since you seem to think that ADSL is good, but VDSL is bad.

Whirlpool never fails to load for me. Perhaps a problem in your FOSS loaded modem/router? Who do you call for help? :grin:

When one wants to use a carriage service one has to agree to its mandates. Unless you find an independent network isolated from the NBN good luck to you.

As for your references of VDSL and ADSL I struggle to understand why anyone would want to use a retrogressive protocol, or taking it further is there anyone lusting for a point to point dial up modem service to express their network ‘freedom’ in 2023?

If you find a FOSS friendly product and network that suits your wants I hope you will report back for everyone’s information.

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Why do you not bridge your modem to an OpenWRT compatible router?

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If you want to use the Netgear in bridge-only mode (I do this) - check out the bottom of the page for “L2 Bridge” (which references a previous section “Turn wireless on/off”). The settings (under Advanced->Advanced Setup 2->Advanced xDSL Settings->in the gui also need to be adjusted - this can be done on the command line but easier here - I have:

image

If you really want to do it on the command line, logging into the router/bridge directly and running adslctl exposes a lot of useful settings and diagnostics.

~ # adslctl
Usage: adslctl start [–up]
adslctl stop
adslctl connection [–up] [–down] [–loopback] [–reverb]
[–medley] [–noretrain] [–L3] [–diagmode] [–L0]
[–tones <r1-r2,r3-r4,…>] [–normal] [–freezeReverb] [–freezeMedley]
adslctl configure/configure1 [–mod <a|d|l|t|2|p|e|m|M3|M5|v>] [–lpair <(i)nner|(o)uter>]
[–trellis <on|off>] [–snr ] [–bitswap <on|off>] [–sesdrop <on|off>]
[–sra <on|off>] [–CoMinMgn <on|off>] [–i24k <on|off>] [–phyReXmt <0xBitMap-UsDs>]
[–Ginp <0xBitMap-UsDs>] [–TpsTc <0xBitMap-AvPvAaPa>] [–monitorTone <on|off>]
[–profile <0x00 - 0xFF>|<“8a |8b |8c |8d |12a |12b |17a |30a”>] [–us0 <on|off>]
[–dynamicD <on|off>] [–dynamicF <on|off>] [–SOS <on|off>] [–maxDataRate ]
[–forceJ43 <on|off>] [–toggleJ43B43 <on|off>]
adslctl bert [–start <#seconds>] [–stop] [–show]
adslctl afelb [–time ] [–tones] [–signal <1/2/8>]
adslctl qlnmntr [–time ] [–freq ]
adslctl inm [–start <INM_INPEQ_MODE><INM_INPEQ_FORMAT>] [–show]
adslctl snrclamp [–shape ] [–bpshape [bpIndex-bpLevel,]]
adslctl nlnm [–show ] [–setThld <Thld_Num_Tones>]
adslctl diag [–logstart ] [–logpause] [–logstop] [–loguntilbufferfull ] [–loguntilretrain ] [–dumpBuf ]
adslctl info [–state] [–show] [–stats] [–SNR] [–QLN] [–Hlog] [–Hlin] [–HlinS] [–Bits]
[–pbParams] [–linediag] [–linediag1] [–reset] [–vendor] [–cfg]
adslctl profile [–show] [–save] [–restore]
adslctl --version
adslctl --help
~ #

This can also be especially helpful you have a bad line and need to do some diagnostics - HF interference from other household appliances being one source - dumping DMT bits-per-bin for example gives a nice map of the line that can be used to trace interference by knowing the frequencies that have been trashed by it on the xDSL service.

Probably digressing a bit … :rofl:

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While that is true, that is sometimes not the problem. Sometimes the problem is that crucial information is kept secret so that even with a willing army of free software developers, the functionality can’t be provided.

This problem is far worse with closed source devices, which are routinely and deliberately abandoned after a few years.

By contrast, with, say, something like TrueCrypt, the developers did seemingly walk away, but it was simply picked up by other developers and forked as VeraCrypt - and hence lives on. You can do that with open source. You can’t do that with closed source (blackbox).

If open source is truly abandoned, it is usually because it is superseded (although sometimes there are annoying small gaps between what used to be available and what is now available) or just obsolete (no longer needed).

That said, abandonware (intentional obsolescence) does occur in the open source world.

… which may or may not be any better from a FOSS point of view. There’s usually some closed source (blackbox) firmware hiding somewhere.

That may not be a fair suggestion given that the OP didn’t say that.

While I’m very much aligned with your goal, as a philosophical question, suppose you use a blackbox modem in bridged mode. What is the difference between 100% security fail / 100% privacy fail / 100% everything fail in the modem v. at the other end of the link (i.e. the next device in that path i.e. in the ISP’s network)?

If you were talking about a mobile (portable) device, I would agree that there is a big difference.

Are you sure about that? Yes, you can buy “smart” globes that do have software in them (with known security weaknesses) but I think you can buy LED globes that have no software in them. The latter is what I think I am buying - but, as you say, there is no way for me to be sure.

Even if there is software in my “dumb” LED globes, I think the risk to me is lower than with, say, an internet gateway router. Being network-connected automatically opens up the possibility of remote exploitation, and remote discovery of an exploitable device.

There are ‘smart’ globes, and ‘dumb’ globes.

But the point is that anything that has some sort of ‘chip’ in it to provide function requires software. And that software is generally hidden.

Be it your debit or credit card, or electric drill, or washing machine, or any TV or radio, there is software. And it is there.

A statement like refuse to have anything to do with software that is not free and open source is just nonsensical.

I understand where you are going but perhaps there is a difference between “sensible but impractical” and “nonsensical” - or indeed a difference between “a goal or target” and “what will actually or can actually be achieved”.

Anyway the OP does have a more limited subject area in mind (NBN) as well as the bigger picture.

With my relatively primitive appliances, I may have fewer chips than most people do in that domain.

Electric drill? Really?

Pull one apart. Look at the electronics. There will be a microcontroller with imbedded software.

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