I recently bought a wireless / phone adapter / VDSL modem from my Internet Service Provider (ISP) during my last outage. It generally works fine as a VDSL modem, but unfortunately, I can't seem to get used to configuring the device through their clickety web user interface... Furthermore, I am worried that I can't backup the config in a meaningful way, that is: if the device fails, I will probably not find the same model again and because they run a custom Linux distributions, the chances of the backup being possible to restore on another machine are basically zero. No way i will waste my time configuring this black box. So I started looking at running a distribution like OpenWRT on it.

(Unfortunately, I don't even dare hoping to run a decent operating system like Debian on those devices, if only because of the exotic chipsets that require all sorts of nasty hacks to run...)

The machine is a SmartRG SR630n (specs). I am linking to third party site, because the SmartRG site doesn't seem to know about their own product (!). I paid extra for this device to get one that would do both Wifi and VoIP, so i could replace two machines: my current Soekris net5501 router and a Cisco ATA 186 phone adapter that seems to mysteriously defy the challenges of time. (I don't remember when I got that thing, but it's at least from 2006.)

Unfortunately, it seems that SmartRG are running a custom, proprietary Linux distribution. According to my ISP, init is a complete rewrite that reads an XML config file (and indeed it's the format of the backup files) and does the configuration through a shared memory scheme (!?). According to DSL reports, the device seems to be running a Broadcom 63168 SOC (system on a chip) that is unsupported in Linux. There are some efforts to write drivers for those from scratch, but they have been basically stalled for years now.

Here are more details on the sucker:

Now the next step would logically be to "simply" build a new image with OpenWRT and install it in place. Then I would need to figure out a way to load the binary blobs into the OpenWRT kernel and run all the ADSL utilities as well. It's basically impossible: the odds of the binary modules being compatible with another arbitrary release of the Linux kernel are near zero. Furthermore, the userland tool are most likely custom as well. And worse of all: it seems that Bell Canada deployed a custom "Lucent Stinger" DSLAM which requires a custom binary firmware in the modem. This could be why the SmartRG is so bizarre in the first place. As long as the other end is non-standard, we are all screwed. And those Stinger DSLAM will stick around for a long time, thanks to bell.

See this other good explanation of Stinger.

Which means this machine is now yet another closed box sitting on the internet without firmware upgrades, totally handicapped. I will probably end up selling it back for another machine that has OpenWRT support for their VDSL modems. But there are very few such machines, and with a lot of those, VDSL support is often marked as "spotty" or "in progress". Some machines are supported but are basically impossible to find. There's the Draytek modems are also interesting because, apparently, some models run OpenWRT out of the box too, which is a huge benefit. This is because they use the more open Lantiq SOC. Which are probably not going to support Stinger lines.

Still, there are some very interesting projects out there... The Omnia is one I am definitely interested in right now. I really like their approach... But then they don't have a VDSL chipset in there (I asked for one, actually). And the connectors are only mini-PCIe, which makes it impossible to connect a VDSL PCI card into it.

I could find a single VDSL2 PCI card online, and it could be supported, but only the annex B is available, not the annex A, and it seems the network is using "annex A" according to the ADSL stats i had in 2015-05-28-anarcat-back-again. With such a card, I could use my existing Soekris net5501 router, slam a DSL card into it, and just use the SmartRG as a dumb wifi router/phone adapter. Then it will remain to see how supported are those VDSL cards in FreeBSD (they provide Linux source code, so that's cool). And of course, all this assumes the card works with the "Stinger" mode, which is probably not the case anyways. Besides, I have VDSL2 here, not the lowly ADSL2+.

By the way, Soekris keeps on pushing new interesting products out: their net6501, with 2 extra Gig-E cards could be a really interesting high-end switch, all working with free software tools.

A friend has a SmartRG 505n modem, which looks quite similar, except without the ATA connectors. And those modems are the ones that Teksavvy recommends ("You may use a Cellpipe 7130 or Sagemcom F@ST 2864 in lieu of our SmartRG SR505N for our DSL 15/10, DSL 25 or DSL 50 services."). Furthermore, Teksavvy provides a firmware update for the 505n - again, no idea if it works with the 630n. Of course, the 505n doesn't run OpenWRT either.

So, long story short, again I got screwed by my ISP: I thought i would get a pretty hackable device, "running Linux" that my ISP said over the phone. I got weeks of downtime, no refund, and while i got a better line (more reliable, higher bandwidth), my costs doubled. And I have yet another computing device to worry about: instead of simplifying and reducing waste, I actually just added crap on top of my already cluttered desk.

Next time, maybe I'll tell you about how my ISP overbilled me, broke IPv6 and drops large packets to the floor. I haven't had a response from them in months now... hopefully they will either answer and fix all of this (doubtful) or I'll switch to some other provider, probably Teksavvy.

Many thanks to the numerous people in the DSL reports Teksavvy forum that have amazing expertise. They are even building a map of Bell COs... Thanks also to Taggart for helping me figure out how the firmware images work and encouraging me to figure out how my machine works overall.

Note: all the information shared here is presented in the spirit of the fair use conditions of copyright law.

comment 1
Take a look on sagem3764xt project - Sagemcom F@st 3764 is fairly available, yet I've switched to DGT VDSL2 FG4B which is not that open, but a bit better.
Comment by boskar
comment 2
Here in Belgium you're required to use the ISP's stupid modem/router combo. Luckily it has passthrough, so you can run whichever router you want behind it. I wish they just gave out dumb modems instead.
Comment by Frans
Re: @Frans

Required by what? By law?

In Poland we are provided with modems by ISP, but there is still a chance to buy a compatibile modem on our own.

Comment by boskar
comment 4
They (Belgacom/Proximus) block unapproved modems. There's a minute list of white-listed modems. That means you can only use theirs or one of the two modems an alternative ISP (EDPNet) got approved: the FRITZ!Box 7360 and the FRITZ!Box 7490. I imagine that means you could buy those from wherever and use them regardless of your actual ISP, but don't quote me on that.
Comment by Frans
stinger + where to find?

@boskar so the Sagem project looks interesting, and it would be great to see an open platform like this. There are various modems supported by OpenWRT, as I mentionned before: the problem is where to find those devices. Do you know where I could buy such a router?

Furthermore, would it support the Stinger extensions required by Bell Canada?

Thanks for the feedback!

Comment by anarcat [id.koumbit.net]
Layer 2 is the answer.
Crap with bad OS/firmware/software is best left to layer 2. I have one of those modems. I use it at layer 2. I use a real machine to do pppoe. Similarly I have a 3512 GigE switch in the core network. Layer 2 only. I use serial to manage it :). It's crap that we can't change. Until we have something approaching standards for home access. Maybe GigE?
Comment by Dave
Modem with Voip

I own the Thimson TG784. It is ADSL2 and has 2 Voip lines. I have had no issues in the past year or so and they are easily configured. I recently tried the SmartRg-sr630n being VDSL and have seen minimal change if any. Needless to say I have decided to return the SMARTRG and am going to direct Cable.

That being said, if you are looking the a good solution, my Thomson is up for grabs. Still with all the papers, cables and originally Box. It hasn't moved since day 1 and is in perfect condition from a non smoking home.

Comment by Mike