RedButton’s cutting edge hotspot firmware – making operations a cinch

Hotspot firmware – the software running on wireless routers driving your hotspot – means different things to different people. There are generally three stakeholders: first and foremost there are the end-users who expect and pay for a convenient, reliable service and don’t care about what’s under the hood. Then there are those who operate the establishment and finally the IT company providing the hotspot service. It is the latter’s responsibility to make sure that the expectations of end-users and establishment are met, and that is where RedButton’s hotspot firmware comes in.

The decision to develop custom firmware in-house was taken more than half a year ago and our primary motivation to do so was to enhance the reliability of our service. We found that the firmware we have been using until recently, called DD-WRT, was not as reliable as we wanted it to be. DD-WRT v23 (SP1-SP3) suffer from the following serious stability bugs:

  • the embedded captive portal software (chillispot) would randomly crash several times a day, especially at high usage. While DD­-WRT would automatically restart it within 60 seconds this means that anybody who was logged in at the time is thrown off and would have to log in again
  • the kernel (operating system) would randomly crash due to a bug in the driver for the wireless chip causing a reboot of the router a few times a day. Again the frequency of this occuring increases with hotspots usage and results in the same reconnection problems as above, though this time a reinstatement of the service can take 5-10 minutes
  • at low usage locations where none of the above two bugs manifest themselves a memory leak would cause the firmware to run out of memory after a few weeks of uptime causing the captive portal to stop running. Nothing short of a manual power cycle or reboot was required to get the system back to working order

v24 of DD-WRT is hardly any better; while its new wireless driver takes care of at least the second point above it is generally bloated and consumes too much RAM for the captive portal software to run reliably.

Irrespective of that, all versions of DD-WRT (as well as all other firmware out there relying on nvram to store their configuration) deployed on the Linksys WRT54GL suffer from yet another serious bug, this time in the device’s bootloader. During power cycles or spikes the firmware resets itself to factory defaults, rendering the router useless until it is manually reconfigured from scratch.

The Firmware that we have specifically adapted and developed for RedButton hotspots has been built with stability in mind and has solved all of the four problems mentioned above. At one of our largest and oldest hotspots we have thus been able to achieve 58 days of uptime since initial upgrade and counting.

In addition to that we have added the following enhancements:

  • User friendly – The web interface of our firmware makes configuration, installation and maintenance of hotspots a breeze:
    • After having flashed our firmware to your WRT54GL configuration is a 3 step process: Set a password, configure your Internet connection and set up your hotspot with minimal effort
    • Advanced tasks such as the setup of additional repeater nodes, multiple SSID’s, client mode etc. are possible with just a few clicks

  • Ease of administration – unique and proprietary monitoring and management systems ensure that all routers on the RedButton hotspot network are
    • constantly accessible remotely 24/7 by RedButton technical staff and soon resellers too without requiring complex dynamic dns or other setups. Thus network troubleshooting and customer support is greatly simplified
    • remote system logging which provides a full history of each and every potentially troublesome activity or hardware failure at all hotspots
    • 24/7 monitoring of all network equipment resulting in an early warning system for outages which often kick in before customers call to complain about and report the problem
  • Complete flexibility – thanks to uninterrupted remote access tasks such as firmware or security upgrades, configuration changes and system tuning for all customer premises equipment may be carried out quickly in an automated fashion without requiring very costly and time intensive site visits to each and every hotspot location
  • Semi-automated conversions – converting your existing dd-wrt (v23) Linksys WRT54GL to the RedButton firmware is automated as long as remote ssh access is provided to the device

All of the benefits listed above ensures that the customer not only has constant access to the Internet but also that potential problems can be detected, diagnosed and resolved speedily. To our knowledge no competitor in the hotspot market has a hardware platform with such a low cost/(reliability,flexibility) ratio and nobody in the hotspot business employing the WRT54GL platform has such tight control over each and every wireless router on their network.

Finally, here is a screen-shot of our firmware, version 0.9.10:

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