Send in your ideas. Deadline October 1, 2024
Stay up to date
Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2020-08
End: 2020-08

802.11n feature of openwifi

Open Hardware implementation of wifi

The Openwifi project aims to offer an open source Wi-Fi chip design that could act as a missing piece of the open source software/hardware puzzle. In the past decades, open source software has played a key role towards the open and trusted internet. In recent years, the open source processor project, like openRISC and RISC-V, pushes forward to construct open source devices/computers. However, the radio connectivity of the device still relies on the black-box radio chips (Wi-Fi, BLE, cellular). As the initial step of the open source Wi-Fi chip, openwifi project has implemented the 802.11a/g full-stack on the FPGA based Software Defined Radio (SDR) platform. The FPGA (Xilinx Zynq SoC) also includes a multi-core ARM processor, so that we can have Linux (TCP/IP, mac80211 and driver) and Wi-Fi (Low MAC and PHY) in the same chip. This NGI funding opportunity will support openwifi project development of 802.11n feature, which moves the project closer to the state of art Wi-Fi technology. The development mainly includes 3 tasks: Adding the 802.11n mode to the original 802.11a/g PHY (Physical layer) transceiver; Extending the low MAC (Media Access Control) and processor interface to support the additional 802.11n elements, such as the SIGNAL field and bigger payload size; Improving the openwifi driver to handle the 802.11n elements and expose the 802.11n capabilities to Linux mac80211 framework. The Openwifi project currently focuses on the Wi-Fi functionality, integrity and stability. In the future, the platform independent methodology will be considered: Integrating the openwifi IP with open source on-chip bus (such as wishbone) and RISC-V processor by open source EDA tools.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

When you go to a store to buy a laptop or mobile phone, you may see different brands on the outside but choice in terms of what is inside the box (in particular the most expensive component, the processor technology) is pretty much limited to the same core technologies and large vendors that have been in the market for decades. This has a much bigger effect on the users than just the hefty price tag of the hardware, because the technologies at that level impact all other technologies and insecurity at that level break security across the board.

In the field of software, open source has already become the default option in the market for any new setup. In hardware, the situation is different. Users - even very big users such as governments - have very little control over the actual hardware security of the technology they critically depend on every day. Security experts continue to uncover major security issues, and users are rightly concerned about the security of their private data as well as the continuity of their operations. But in a locked-down market there is little anyone can do, because the lack of alternatives. European companies are locked out of the possibility to contribute solutions and start new businesses that can change the status quo.

Thankfully, alternatives are underway, as communities of engineers and developers are hard at work to create hardware that is transparently designed from top to bottom, creating components for fully auditable, verifiable devices. This is not an easy task however, as modern hardware consists of countless parts and components each with their own functionalities and possible vulnerabilities. This project aims to create an open hardware alternative to a very critical piece of most smartphones, tablets and computers: the radio chip that for example handles Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular connectivity. Further development will push this open source radio chip design to match current-day wireless networking standards, ultimately providing a crucial component of truly trustworthy open hardware devices.

Run by IDLab, Gent university - imec

Logo NLnet: abstract logo of four people seen from above Logo NGI Zero: letterlogo shaped like a tag

This project was funded through the NGI0 PET Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825310.