NOTE: this page is for archival only, see the note at the end of the page.

Linux wireless vendor support and regulatory compliance

Enhancing vendor relationship

Distributions and Linux wireless developers would like to see vendor support for FOSS drivers for their wireless chipsets. Up until now only a few wireless chipset vendors have committed time and effort into working together with wireless developers in the community in providing sane drivers for proper kernel inclusion and support. Most vendors though have either demonstrated no interest at all to support FOSS drivers, have not been responsive to inquiries on support, or have proceeded in providing proprietary solutions for their drivers based on advice from third parties which usually results in preventing us to incorporate their drivers into the kernel. On the second wireless summit we attempted to reach out to as many wireless vendors as possible so we could properly address their concerns in providing FOSS drivers.

Addressing vendor concerns

Based on discussions and conference calls before and after the summit it became clear that the main vendor concern over supporting FOSS drivers was to provide a mechanism to enforce regulatory compliance to satisfy their own and their hardware vendors (OEMs like Dell, HP, IBM) legal department's concerns over legal liability. Additional concerns have been that a FOSS driver may force hardware vendors to certify their platforms under new Software Defined Radio regulations. Additionally, also that the FCC is only one of the many regulatory agencies vendors take into consideration for certifying devices – the major vendor's geographies of interest are governed under the FCC, ETSI and MKK. Vendors explained their concerns over getting devices certified under FCC SDR regulations is the uncertainty of the details involved for such certification. The most problematic regulatory agencies vendors have to deal with are those of Singapore and Taiwan. Although a FOSS driver approach may be acceptable under the FCC, Singapore's and Taiwan's regulatory agencies may prevent the vendors from supporting devices under the same FOSS driver. Vendors need to provide driver solutions which meet legal criteria on all of their geographies of interest.

Technical difficulties on solutions

The obvious solution to all of these vendor concerns in providing support for FOSS drivers is to provide restrictions in hardware based on geography but it has been argued by vendors that this proves to be economically unfeasible. Likewise, this would also create a problem for some users wanting to roam outside of their geography using the same wireless hardware. Current vagueness under FCC Part 15 rules have allowed vendors to move forward with supporting proprietary driver solutions for management and enforcement of regulatory restrictions. Although security through obscurity is ultimately not a great security model it is one which some vendors rely on, even for Linux proprietary drivers, as it has satisfied both their own and their customers' legal departments. Alternative solutions to the problem has been to incorporate regulatory restrictions on the microcode of the resulting firmware for use on a wireless device, which does allow for a complete FOSS driver, but this approach is looked down upon by vendors as it confines the vendors to smaller amount of space available for development on the microcode.

Our stance and solution

Security through obscurity is simply not bullet proof but we do have precedents of its use to allow vendors to support drivers on Linux, either through a FOSS driver and binary firmware or through a binary driver. Real technical solutions can be used instead of relying on archaic security through obscurity mechanisms for support of FOSS wireless drivers on the Linux kernel. Our solutions have been to get commitment from the community developers to not accept patches upstream which alter regulatory considerations for drivers and to pave the way for open platforms to embrace a framework supported by the community to further advance regulatory considerations. For more details on this work please review our regulatory infrastructure page.

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