Don’t like the firmware that comes on your wireless router? You may be able to replace it with an open source alternative such as OpenWRT or DD-WRT as a way to tighten security, tweak performance, keep an old router up to date after it’s no longer supported by the manufacturer, or just to gain more control over the way the device works.

But if you buy a recent TP-Link router in the United States, you may not be able to install custom firmware: the company has announced that it will no longer support flashing of third-party firmware.

Why? Because the company says it’s the easiest way to comply with new rules from the FCC.


So here’s the deal: the US Federal Communications Commission passed rules designed to prevent devices from operating in ways that could cause interference with other wireless gear… and while the FCC says the goal wasn’t to prevent users from installing third-party firmware on their routers, Ars Technica noted last year that one of the simplest ways for wireless equipment makers to comply with the rule would be to block firmware replacements such as DD-WRT or OpenWRT.

Now it looks like that’s exactly what TP-Link is doing.

In February, we started to see reports that the company’s routers were locked down. Now it looks like TP-Link has issued a “Statement and FAQ for Open Source Firmware” that confirms that versions of its routers sold in the United States will not support flashing of third-party firmware.

The rule only affects routers “marketed and sold in the US.”

via Ars Technica

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20 replies on “TP-Link routers sold in the US won’t support DD-WRT, OpenWRT”

  1. this is dumb.

    literally doesnt matter if they support it or not. no trouble installing 3rd party stuff. just flash it back if you need the warranty coverage. who in hell warranty repairs one of these anyways? who asks for tplink support when flashing ddwrt??

    no issues nothing to see here move on…

  2. This puts a lot of heat on TP-Link developers, I suppose. I recently got a TP-Link TL-WR940N and was planning to stick with the stock firmware, but it would drop connections occasionally. If I lived in the USA, this nice piece of hardware would be in the TP-Link return pile now, instead of doing a good service.

  3. I just came across a small vendor (GL Innovations ) that seems to run OpenWRT on all of their systems. Suspiciously, the dual band model MT750 does not appear to be available for sale anywhere.
    At this time the selection of dual band, inexpensive, decent performing WAPs is very lean; hopefully it will improve when I really need one. Meanwhile an old Linksys router will suffice paired with my Ubiquiti Edgerouter X – great hardware value if you can deal with semi-closed (but Debian based) firmware.

  4. So what prevents anyone buying a non-US router from Canada or the EU? Guess nothing. So all the people who wants open firmware on their routers will buy it abroad. Which is most of the guys who buy the flagship models (because honestly, why would you want 128MB of RAM and 64MB of flash on your new AC router, only to run the stock TPlink stuff on it?). So, I guess the new flagship models won’t make it big in the US, and TPlink will stop selling them there. But because only the mediocre and cheap models will be present on the shelves, the average buyer will associate TPlink with crap, and won’t buy them. At the end of the day, any manufacturer who complies to this idiocity of the FCC will loose buyers big time.

    Anyhow I personally would only buy Mikrotik so moot point for me 🙂

    1. A better question is: Why would anyone bother buying a TP-Link router knowing it doesn’t support 3rd party firmwares? The market is flooded with these cheap chinese routers with not-so-good security. I don’t think anyone is going to notice a single company Streisanding itself out of the market. Microtik and Ubiquiti were some of the options I looked at, but found their choice of processors to be a bit weak. I went with building a pfsense box myself.

  5. I just had this very router (pictured above) delivered today. Not that I was planning to install another firmware but it would have been a nice option.

  6. I wonder how long it will take before router OEMs figure out they can make a huge profit by selling for-the-US at a 300% premium… Instead of competing against their next-door factories, now they’ll simply need to sell for 5$ less then what it would take to manufacturer in the US.

    1. That’s not the issue. TP-Link’s routers are already made in China, they just can’t be legally sold in the US if they don’t comply with FCC regulations. That applies to all router manufacturers, no matter where they might be based. If all the other US retailers follow TP-Link’s lead, one of two things will happen:

      a) Hackers will find a way to unlock the US version of the router, or
      b) There will be a thriving grey-import router market.

      But most likely, at least one of the major manufacturers — e.g. Linksys or D-Link — will continue to sell FCC-approved routers that can be installed with DD-WRT.

      1. > But most likely, at least one of the major manufacturers — e.g. Linksys
        or D-Link — will continue to sell FCC-approved routers that can be
        installed with DD-WRT.

        You put too much faith on Asian markets competitiveness. If the FCC opens up such a huge opportunity for market segmentation, the OEMs will coordinate price and fleece the US market. It’s what’s done done in automobile and telecommunication infrastructure equipment already.
        It’s why the US usually makes huge efforts at coordinating big regulatory changes with international trade agreement. Without this, the US will simply segregate itself from the world market.

        1. I would not be surprised to see the EU and other regulatory units to adopt very similar requirements. Then manufacturers would probably take the same action for those markets as well. TP-Link is probably only the first for that matter.

        2. The market for DD-WRT capable devices is tiny compared with the overall router market. The vast majority of users can barely change the password on their routers.
          And the major Asian manufacturers are hardly going to jack up the prices on all routers just because of a niche market. Nobody’s going to be selling a flashable router for $50 more than the equivalent non-flashable one.

      2. I like option c) people rather than trying to hack their PoS chinese routers, spend that time learning some networking and get something better, or build their own.

  7. That’s too bad. I was a TPLink fan because I had good luck installing DD-WRT. It looks like i’m going to have to look elsewhere for my next setup.

  8. Most router purchasers don’t know how or why to replace the firmware. I wonder how hard/expensive it will be to import these models from outside the United States.

    1. Yeah, this will only impact a tiny minority of router users, which probably factored into their decision. TP-Link’s router software already does more than enough for all but the most specialized of uses.

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