Note: This story has been updated from the original to clarify the effect the FCC’s rulings have on projects like this one.
From the beginning of June new FCC rules came into effect in the United States for Wi-Fi devices such as Access Points. The rules were designed to ensure that devices were secured so that users couldn’t operate them at non-compliant frequencies or using too high a power.
In response hardware vendors started locking down their hardware so end users couldn’t install custom firmware, such as OpenWRT. This has had a knock on effect throughout the world, as these changes have affected routers not just in the United States but also in Europe and the east.
The ruling has also had an effect on development and prototyping products. The most recent project affected: The Tessel 2 board, which is based on OpenWRT and thus runs directly afoul of the ruling.
While the FCC rules are in place primarily to govern Internet routers and switches, Maker devices such as the Tessel 2 are subject to the same FCC oversight and testing requirements.
Last week Technical Machine sent out a status email to those that had pre-ordered the new board, and amongst the good news — they’d just received their first run of manufactured hardware — was some bad:
FCC Issues Blocking Release: We have a software issue preventing us from completing FCC certification. We’re working actively to solve this, as this blocks us from shipping Tessel. Read more about it on our tracking issue. If you have OpenWRT experience, we’d love your help! Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The team’s post on OpenWRT forum requesting help so far has been met with silence,
Can someone can help us troubleshoot or discover exactly what failure mode we are running into? Are there any other test modes or things we should be doing besides monitor mode/packetspammer? It would be a huge help, as this is the last blocker before we can move forward to full production.
Unfortunately this is probably the first of many incidents where the FCC’s rulings cause problems for Makers producing development boards.
The new rules are targeted at mass manufactured routers and Wi-Fi Access Points, not microcontroller boards like the Tessel. But devices like the Tessel 2 can clearly conflict with rules designed to keep shared bandwidth clean or secure.
Though complying with FCC guidelines can introduce burdensome costs to product design and delay shipping of many radio-based products, it is a reality of doing business.