Powerline Adapters and Freedom/Completley free setups.

ryry - almost 3 years ago -

Hi all
Does anyone know how Ethernet power-line adapters, such as those made by TP-Link, are considered from a free software perspective. It appears that it is possible to flash new firmware onto them, which means a user should have freedom in these devices? In much the same way we should with routers and other networking etc? I see that in parabola we have the open-plc-utils package, which I believe allows access to the lower level functions/flashing firmware. So my question is are these devices compatible with/trying to run a completely free network?

Any help with this would be helpful as it seems to be an area I can find little information on regarding software freedoms.


Replies (4)

RE: Powerline Adapters and Freedom/Completley free setups. - freemor - almost 3 years ago -

Flashable is good. and I've had some good experiences with TP-Link hardware. But the real question is (as always) the chipsets.
Does the wifi chip require a nonfree blob to run. Does the CPU boot without any Blobs? (many ARM based things need blobs to even boot.)

So what you'll want to do is ssh/telnet into the device (if it allows such) and run lspci/lsusb/ or the equivs to enumerate the hardware.

Then Internet search for the specific bits look to see if they require Firmware and if so is it Libre or Proprietary.

Most embeded things these days are tiny ARM based computer. So just like a full general purpose computer the question runs deeper then
can I install my own OS (software then runs on the main CPU) (a.k.a re-flash the device), because just like the computer in front of you
there is also the firmware for all the vairous bits like WiFi controlers which is loaded into the devices during boot-up by the OS or the
bootloader to render then alive and useful.

So if the question was "Can I Liberate my Ethernet power-line adapters". the answer is "..... Maybeeee"
If the question is "Can I use/Talk to my Ethernet power-line adapters from Parabola?" Then digging throught the open-plc-utils documentation
to see if it supports your device or speaks the same protocol.

It is doubtful that the adapters would be fully free right out of the box. That doesn't mean that a fully free OS wouldn't talk to them.
Just that you'd never be completely sure what they were up to.

RE: Powerline Adapters and Freedom/Completley free setups. - bill-auger - almost 3 years ago -

i think the question was more like: "i do not own this yet -
i am wondering if i should bother to invest any money or time
into these gadgets"

FWIW the unfortunate thing this thread reminds me of, is that
these ethernet-over-powerline, -over/phone-wires, -over/tv-wires
have been around since the 90s - they surely did not have
embedded processors then - they were probably much simpler
"passive" DSP circuits; and the technology which provides their
primary value has not changed - i.e. they were never the sort of
device for which software freedom was relevant; yet now they are
apparently, although no one who buys one actually needs it to
have its own CPU and OS - they are only trying to extend the
range of the network without running new ethernet wires

RE: Powerline Adapters and Freedom/Completley free setups. - freemor - almost 3 years ago -

Another couple of off-topic points (not about compatibility) to consider are:
Throughput will probably be fairly low. House wireing is not set up with bandwidth in mind. not twisted pairs, not shielded, unsoldered mechanical connections, etc. none of which will be good for speed.
Abd RFI (radio frequency Interference). As a RF user I can tell toy that a crap router will make even shielded/twisted/ cat6 ethernet cables scream in the RF range. (actually had to ditch a cheapo outer as it was making my CB un-usable). Sending the same high speed data over long run unsheilded wires will definitely be screaming RF noise all over the place.

RE: Powerline Adapters and Freedom/Completley free setups. - bill-auger - almost 3 years ago -

when i looked at these a long time ago, they were capped at 11mbps - its probably still the same, based on physical SNR limitations

really, the simplest solution for the OP question of a "completely free setup" is: "just run some ethernet wires" - for the sake of neatness, you can even get wall-mount jacks at hardware, home repair, or office supplies shops, that look the same as standard power sockets plates - that would be less costly and guaranteed software freedom, because software is not really needed to accomplish the goal of extending ethernet