UBNT vs Cambium -The legal battle

The Recently, it was announced that Ubiquiti Networks Inc (UBNT) is suing Cambium over the Cambium Elevate.   This will be a long post, so sit back with your favorite beverage and read away.

Disclaimers. I have been in the ISP world since 1991. I cut my teeth on BBS systems and moved onto dial-up. I am also an independent Cambium certified consultant.  Read about the consultant program here... I also have clients who run a wide variety of UBNT products, and the last ISP we sold was 90 percent UBNT. We run some UBNT routers in MidWest-IX as well.  My father was an attorney for over 40 years. I grew up around attorneys, have regular conversations with friends who are attorneys, and was learning about the law from the time I was 10. Having said that, I am not an attorney. Nothing in here should be construed as an official legal opinion.

So let’s get some background on what has transpired with Cambium and their elevate software. Cambium came up with a way to load their software onto select UBNT wireless units and, after a reboot, had the cambium EPMP software active on them.

Why did this work?
UBNT Airmax radios use U-Boot loader. If you want to read all about it you can read the references at the bottom of this article under References. The thing to know is it is released under the GNU General Public License.

UBNT and Cambium EPMP both use “commodity” wifi chipsets.  This keeps the cost down and the software becomes the majority of the “special sauce” that makes them different.   This is in contrast to the UBNT Airfiber and Cambium 450 lines. These use custom made chipsets. This is is one reason those lines are more expensive.

By using an open source bootloader and commodity hardware Cambium was able to figure out how to load their own software onto the UBNT devices.   UBNT countered with modifying the bootloader to accept only signed software images. The only images that were recognized were ones signed by UBNT.  If you are interested in learning more about signed software go here: https://www.quora.com/What-does-signed-firmware-means

Cambium came up with instructions on how to downgrade and by-pass the ability to only load signed firmware onto the device.  The method I am aware of is downgrading the installed UBNT firmware to a certain version.

All in all the Elevate process turned the UBNT hardware into a device running Cambium’s software.

The gray areas aka this is why we have attorneys
There are several arguable points in this lawsuit.  If you want to read articles on the Lawsuit

Debate #1 – The Hardware
The term Software Defined Radio (SDR) has been around for quite some time now.  Basically, this is a radio with very little RF elements to it.  Ham radio has been using SDRs for quite some time now.  The idea is the manufacturer uses off the shelf components to build a single radio which can do various functions depending on what software is loaded.  It also allows features in the chipset to be activated and licensed should the programmer want to support them.  It’s interesting to note Wireless is not the only place this is happening. Software Defined Networking (SDN) is a growing thing, as well as a plethora of devices. A PC could be considered a software-defined device.  More on that later.

So an argument could be made the UBNT devices are a software defined radio.  they did not use custom chips.  They most certainly have a proprietary board layout, but that is not a criterion in an SDR. So if a customer buys a piece of hardware, should they be able to load whatever software they want on it?

An argument saying yes they should can be pulled from many areas.  This Verge Article (more in the reference at the bottom) says the Government ended the debate in 2015 giving consumers the ability to Jailbreak their phones and devices without legal penalties.  Before that is was briefly illegal to “Jailbreak” your phone.   This was mainly lead by Apple. The government said it was fair use to Jailbreak, but not carrier unlock your phone without permission.

Apple also went through this briefly when they switched to Intel processor chips.  People were figuring out ways to load Apple OSX onto Dells, HP, and other “PCs”. The debate was whether this was legal or not. The following article sums up why these “hackintosh” computers were shut down. By clicking on the “Agree” of the End User License Agreement (EULA) before installing OSX you agree to a great number of things.   The short of it was the user license of OSX says you can not install this on non-apple hardware.  However, it says nothing about installing non-Apple Operating systems on the hardware.  Apple knows it is commodity hardware.  If you want to buy a 2000 mac and put windows 10 on it, go ahead.  They even help you with an option called Bootcamp.

Our last example is the Linksys WRT54G and DD-WRT and its variants.  A quick history of the DD-WRT Controversy doesn’t revolve much around the loading of the software onto Linksys hardware, it involves the use of the GPL license by DD-WRT. There were some FCC concerns, but we will talk about those later.

So the questions to be argued for this point:
Q1.Is the UBNT device a software-defined Radio?
2. Does the user have the legal ability to load whatever software they want to on hardware they own?

Debate #2 – Was the UBNT firmware “hacked” as they allege?
There are lots of unknowns here.  Attorneys try to prove intent in arguments like this.
Did Cambium somehow reverse engineer the UBNT software, thus violating copyright laws?  At what point is the line crossed? Since UBNT used a bootloader free to everyone, was the simple act of loading new software onto the units a hack? From what I know, and I am not a programmer, is Cambium used the bootloader to overwrite the UBNT software and install their own.  How is this any different than installing Linux on a Dell PC? Computers have a bootloader called a BIOS. On a Wireless radio, where does the bootloader stop and the software start? To me, these are clearly defined. Bootloader and Image file.

If you boot up the UBNT unit out of the box without agreeing to the EULA have you violated the EULA? Can you be penalized for loading software onto a device you never had the opportunity to see and agree to anything? Did the simple act of taking it out of a box and booting it up via TFTP cause you to agree to something?

In a Brothers Wisp video on this topic, Justin Miller mentions some arguments on why this can be allowed.

Debate 3 – Did Cambium violate FCC rules?
If we believe the user has the ability to load software onto units they own it is the user, as well who developed the software to go on the device, to follow all laws then it is not up to UBNT to police this.  This is the job of the FCC, provided it is agreed that once the user buys the hardware it is theirs.  For this specific case, UBNT claims Cambium is violated allowed power limits by loading their software onto the UBNT device.   Also, is the new device an FCC certified system? Most likely not unless it is resubmitted to the FCC for testing, and any labels removed and new ones added.  However, this is not up to UBNT to enforce this. This is the job of the FCC.

Is UBNT being a steward of the community to bring this to the attention of the FCC, thus saving UBNT from possible issues with the FCC? Maybe, but why not bring suit against any of these others?

It’s interesting to note this page on HamNet

I am not a telecom attorney and I do not know the ins and outs.  From what little I know of being in the industry you have to have an FCC certified system with proper identification stickers.  I remember when UBNT had to send out stickers for units several years ago for DFS certification.  You were supposed to put them on all your upgraded radios to be compliant. By changing the software did Cambium no longer make it a certified system? Or, because they use the same chipset is it still legal in the eyes of the FCC?

Debate 4 – Collusion and the end user
This is the biggest bombshell out of this whole ordeal and actually makes my blood boil.  UBNT is suing Cambium of course.  They are also suing a distributor and an end-user ISP.   Cambium I can understand. UBNT is trying to protect their intellectual property and believe it was violated.  They have every right to do so.

The distributor I can understand the argument.  The distributor allegedly participated in distributing the “hacked” software. Not saying it’s right or wrong, but I can see why there would be the argument.

The most disturbing part of this an end-user ISP is named in the lawsuit.  UBNT is suing a customer who was using the UBNT product and then decided to switch to a competitors product.  In the case of elevate, the end-user ISP loaded the software onto their existing hardware.  If we go along with the idea of you own the hardware, UBNT is suing a customer who bought their hardware and loaded the elevate software on it.  This would be like Dell suing a school corporation for loading Linux onto new PCs they bought.

Many of the arguments you read are about you don’t own the software.  If you buy the hardware, and it has a GPL licensed bootloader and load your own software onto the device, what laws have you violated?

Imagine this scenario.  A user opens up a UBNT radio they bought.  They see it uses an Atheros chipset, like many other radios.  They write some code to talk to the hardware, all without ever looking at the software that came on the radio, boot up the unit via TFTP and load their own compiled image onto the hardware.  All the while they never have seen the UBNT software.  Did they violate any laws or user agreements?

This case and some others will help define who owns the hardware.  We know the company, in this case, UBNT, owns the software.  You have no legal standing to de-compile their intellectual property. That is cut and dry.  What isn’t, is if they are using the same hardware everyone else, the same bootloader, is that considered proprietary? If not, and you overwrite their software were you allowed to because you own the hardware. Is the GPL bootloader considered proprietary?  If we apply the analogy the bootloader is the same as the BIOS in the PC, no it is not proprietary.  The BIOS debate has already been solved in court. Many of the PC debates have been loading a company’s software onto other hardware, such as Apple Hackintosh Computers and not the other way around, such as this case. As we talked in point 1, in the PC world, Apple even gives you the tools to install other Operating systems.

If UBNT sticks code in that says the bootloader only recognizes signed images is that “hacking” to put your own software on? Is this any different than Jailbreaking an Iphone?

So what does this all mean?
Going forward I believe we will see EULA and licensing agreements change.  The hardware from a manufacturer will still be the property of the manufacturer, much like John Deere software.

The definition of what you own and have access to will change.

Proprietary bootloaders will take the place of Open Source bootloaders.

There will be a rise in manufacturers who make white box radios.  Will there be a long-term solution? Only time will tell.  We are seeing this trend in software-defined networking.

We will see more NDAs to end users about products.  I believe we will see fewer case studies on newer products.  End users will definitely be more tight-lipped about what they are doing.

So it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.  Will there be enough precedent in the hardware world to squash some of this? Or does UBNT have a case? Obviously, UBNT has a responsibility to their shareholders to vigorously defend their Intellectual property.  This case will help define where the commodity/open source items stop and where the intellectual property starts.

Where does this leave distributors? Do they want to continue carrying the Elevate product? Do they want to cut relationships with a manufacturer who has sued one of their own? The same goes for the end-user community.  Do WISPs want to do business with a company that could potentially sue them for using and talking about a competitor’s product? Do the end users own the hardware they buy? If so, how much freedom do they have? If you don’t own the product, imagine the accounting ramifications.




Feds okay iPhone Jailbreaking

Is the Bios an Operating System?

Google Chromium OS

New PMP Solutions (LTE baby)

-450M is the 3GHZ platform of today.
-LTE will be a split architecture system
-LTE standards-based
-Working on the ability to swap out an existing AP from another manufacturer and still keep the subscribers.
-Named “cnRanger”
-450 is still going to outperform LTE in many ways

-8×8 Baseband unit (BBU) and Remote Radio Heads (RRH)
-BBU can drive 4 2×2 radios to provide 350 degree coverage
-One radio for a single Sector MU-MIMO support
-Fiber optic connection between BBU and RRH
-Release of 3.xGHZ in Q2 2019 is the goal
-64 SMs per sector initial
-2x Gige ports in the BBU
-Possibility and possibility is stressed, that 450 3ghz subscribers might be able to connect to the new platform.
-Sim cards are aiming to be built in.

Full site approximate price for a complete build for $15,000.

Things could change

MTIN Family of web-sites

Cambium Roadshow 2018 Morning Session

Recently I attended the Cambium Roadshow 2018. Some notes.

-Epmp 3000 expected to be here in September.  4×4 Mimo product. Early marketing should be coming in the next couple of weeks.
-820C pricing is getting aggressive.
-Mikrotik Open beta Elevate is out.  Ability to elevate Mikrotik units.

Force 300
-second radio can be used as management access or a realtime spectrum analyzer
-No more java client for the analyzer
-65k packets per second
-About 10% throughput at the sector in a legacy network.  Future software updates can lessen this.
-Dynamic spectrum capability
-Future vision is to have CNMaestro be aware of spectrum. This opens up the ability to view channels and interference on a network level.

450 Product Line
-Channel sizes have increased to 30 and 40mhz
-450b radios Integrated (17dBi for $299) and high gain (24dBi for $349)
-New processor
-4.9-5.925 GHZ
-Single gigabit port
-30 volt power supply, polarity Agnostic
-450 3.65 will be SaS compliant

-iPhone app should be here soon.
-Ability to push configs from the App

-8×8 mimo due to physical size. 12×12 or 16×16 would mean a very large product
-Integrated 90 degree sector
-Direct DC power
-SFP port
-Current SMs will connect


MTIN Family of web-sites

Ac Wave 1 vs Wave 2

There has been much discussion on the performance of going from an N Series outdoor wireless system to AC.  Not all AC is created equal.  Right now there is AC Wave 1 and AC Wave 2.  Just about all the AC stuff currently in the pipeline for outdoor wireless is wave 1.  There is wave 2 indoor gear available, but for a WISP you are interested in the outdoor gear.

So what’s the difference?
For some reading about spatial streams, channel sizes, etc. look at this article https://info.hummingbirdnetworks.com/blog/80211ac-wave-2-vs-wave-1-difference

For the WISP folks who want the Cliff Notes version here are some key differences.

-Wave 1 uses 20,40,and 80 Mhz Channels.  Wave 2 can support 80 and 160mhz channels.  The 160mhz channel would be two 80mhz channels bonded together.

-Wave 1 can do 3 spatial streams.  Wave 2 does 4. This requires an additional antenna to take advantage of wave2.  This is a hardware upgrade from wave1 to wave 2.

-Wave 2 supports MU-MIMO. The AP can talk to 4 clients individually at once.  The client must also support this, which is a hardware upgrade from wave 1 to wave 2 on both the client and the AP.

The question to ask your vendors is what is the upgrade path if you are using existing AC gear.  If you are running AC currently you are most assuredly going to have to replace your AP radios and antennas.  Will your existing clients work with the new AC wave 2 aps? An important thing to ask.



I will be attending WISPAMERICA next week.

I will be a panelist on the Transitioning from a bridged to a routed network on Monday from 2:15-3:15
I will be moderating the Layering Redundancy across the network on Monday from 3:45-4:45
On Thursday I will be a panelist on Advanced BGP from 2:15-3:15

You can find me hanging around the Cambium Networks booth as a Certified Cambium Consultant offering free consultation for folks looking to integrate cambium into their network.  If you don’t see me just ask one of the Cambium team members to point me out.

I will also be happy to talk about peering with MidWest-IX and general ISP consulting as well.

5.8 Cambium Elevated Devices & Max EIRP

Lately, we have had a few clients run into signals becoming worse when they elevated clients to ePMP.   This is not a result of the software being bad, but it enforcing the max EIRP on the units.  This boils down to older devices compliant with original FCC grants which allowed unlimited EIRP.  The Cambium elevate recognizes the latest grant for the devices.  This grant allows for a max of 41 dBM on 5/10/20 mhz channels and 38dBM on 40mhz.

So if you have elevated some older devices from UBNT your signals may have dropped.  This is due to compliance with the latest rules for the device.   As our industry matures, becoming compliant will become more and more important.  On the UBNT units, newer firmware from UBNT also does this.

Cambium has a forum post on this. http://community.cambiumnetworks.com/t5/ePMP-Elevate/5-8-GHz-Elevated-Devices-Maximum-EIRP-in-the-United-States/m-p/73141#M475

We have some tricks of the trade we can do. Contact MTIN for how we can help.

Libre and Cambium

What Can Libre do for the Cambium operator?

Number of registered SMs. This AP has 7


Interface traffic

Number of GPS Satellites tracked


Libre can be setup for thresholds.  Any of the above graphs can be set up to alert based upon a threshold.  You could setup an alert that says if SMs on an AP drop by 10% kick out an alert.  This could alert you to possible frequency issues.   You could set a threshold for if traffic reaches a certain level.

ePMP elevate webinar

Some highlights on the ePMP Elevate platform.

-Allows ePMP Elevate software to run on on non-Cambium 802.11n subscriber modules
-ePMP Elevate subscribers function as ePMP subscribers
-Solution for WISPs who have hardware deployed. Offers a migration plan.
-ePMP AP must be licensed for ePMP Elevate
-5GHZ Only
-XW and XM based Ubiquiti hardware
-17 supported models
-2.4 GHZ is in on the roadmap. No official comment on timeframe.
-cnMaestro support is available for XW hardware
-Replaces the UBNT software with a cambium interface. Looks pretty close to any other ePMP interface.
-If DFS is FCC certified on the hardware it will work on the hardware when it gets the elevate system.


1 Subscriber license $35
10 Subscriber License $315
You would buy multiples 10 subscriber licenses for more than 10 subs.  Locked to wired mac Address of the AP.