When many of us hear "Wi-Fi router" a lot of us think about a blue and black box with flashing lights and antennae sticking out of it. More specifically, we think of one Wi-Fi router in particular, the iconic Linksys WRT 54G, which was one of the most widely-sold home networking devices in the last decade.
The WRT 54G series was popular because it was inexpensive and also extremely hackable. The well-documented Broadcom and (later Atheros) chipsets which were used in the device enabled the Open Source community to create alternative firmware releases such as DD-WRT, Tomato and OpenWRT which run on the Linux operating system.
While Linksys never officially endorsed these alternative firmwares, and maintained a policy of voiding the warranty or refusing support if you used them, many of us Wi-Fi power users still chose to install them because they added a lot of other features which were not offered out of the box, many of them related to security and signal/performance diagnostics.
Some twelve years after the release of the original WRT 54G, the industry has changed considerably, which has included heavy commoditization of the Wi-Fi and home networking product ecosystem.
Linksys, once the dominant player in the space has since been joined by NETGEAR, D-LINK, ASUS and numerous other vendors making nearly identical products, not to mention that many service providers and telcos have also issued their own integrated OEM Wi-Fi routers/residental gateways included as part of basic service offerings.
Linksys as a result fell on hard times -- first being somewhat neglected by its parent company Cisco in the last several years, releasing extremely commoditized and less-reliable products which were far less open as well, making the installation and development of alternative firmware products like the aformentioned DD-WRT much more difficult.
Linksys began its re-birth just before being sold to PC accessories company Belkin in January 2013. At Winter CES this week, the company is announcing the WRT 1900AC, a powerful dual-band 802.11AC router that not only visually evokes the original WRT 54G that made the company into a home networking giant, but also demonstrates a commitment to Open Source and extensibility that the company never truly embraced from an official capacity when it was a Cisco subsidiary.
Aside from its classic looks that will make any Wi-Fi geek smile, the WRT 1900AC integrates a dual-core, 1.2Ghz ARM processor with 256MB of RAM, 3 MIMO spatial streams, 4 removable antennas for increased range, gigabit WAN and 4 gigabit ethernet ports, as well USB 3.0 and eSATA for external storage.
However, what will most attract the Wi-Fi power user is the 128MB of flash as well as support for open firmware from the day of introduction.
Unlike its namesake, the openness and performance of the re-imagined WRT series won't come cheap though. At $299 retail when the device ships this spring, it's likely only going to attract the most hardcore Wi-Fi geeks with very specific requirements and complex home networks. However I look forward to giving it a spin myself when I can get my hands on one.
Are you interested in the new, open Linksys WRT 1900AC? Talk Back and Let Me Know.