Distributions and Linux wireless developers would like to see vendor support for FOSS drivers for their wireless chipsets. Today most 802.11 vendors are working upstream with wireless developers in the community in providing sane drivers for proper Linux kernel inclusion and support. Historically though, years ago, a few vendors only provided proprietary solutions for their drivers. This was based on advice from third parties which usually prevented these drivers from being supported by the community and getting included into the Linux kernel. On the second wireless summit which was held in London in 2007 we attempted to reach out to as many wireless vendors as possible so we could properly address their concerns in providing FOSS drivers.
Based on discussions and conference calls before and after the 2007 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. Vendors need to provide driver solutions which meet legal criteria on all of their geographies of interest.
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 and increases complexity.
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 the non-technical details of our position please see our Linux wireless regulatory support statement.
For technical details on our solution on this work please see the documentation of our regulatory infrastructure page.