OpenWRT on Zyxel NBG6716

I finished up the last bit of my infrastructure revision (for now) today. Switched out the Linksys WRT-310N (router, with dd-wrt) / Netgear WNDR3700v2 (running solely as a wireless AP) combo I've been using for a while for a Zyxel NBG6716 running OpenWRT.

I'm really impressed with OpenWRT, so far. I'm running a nightly snapshot of the bleeding-edge Chaos Calmer release, though it seems like CC hasn't diverged much from the soon-to-be-released Barrier Breaker yet. I found a bug preventing build of the image for the NBG6716 which was quickly fixed, but there don't seem to be nightlies of BB and I couldn't be bothered waiting for the next RC, so CC it is. I used the Image Generator tool to produce an image, flashed it with mtd as described on the wiki page, and it came right up ready for first login. I was configuring it offline and realized it'd be a pain to get the web interface Luci installed that way, so I ran Image Generator again to build an image with the luci package included, and installed the sysupgrade version of that image, which again went in flawlessly.

I was able to reproduce my setup through the web interface more or less completely, and it's a really nice web interface - somehow my impression of OpenWRT had been that it'd be much more creaky, but it's really smooth, better than any commercial firmware or dd-wrt I've seen. There were only a couple of things I had to do behind the web interface's back. One was to set up SRV and TXT DNS records. SRV records only required me to go one level of abstraction down, to OpenWRT's UCI interface, using the /etc/config/dhcp file. I had to add the TXT record by directly editing /etc/dnsmasq.conf, but that was the only thing that needed me to go that far.

I also had to go down to the UCI level to fully configure the wireless adapters, but only because I wanted 802.11ac capability; this has only very recently been submitted for Luci. So I just had to set /etc/config/wireless appropriately; the hwmode paramter is just 11na, same as for 802.11a/n support, but you have to specify a htmode option to get full 802.11ac support. No big deal.

CLI-level access and config is really, really nice as well; a far nicer environment than dd-wrt or consumer routers. Of course you can (and should) configure it to allow console access by public key SSH only. You get a sensible shell with most of the expected commands available by default (way more than in most stripped-down router environments), and a package manager you can use to install a whole ton more. nano and htop on my router are worth the price of admission alone, so far as I'm concerned. Most config files are in /etc/config, and there's so much sensible stuff, like to re-init the wireless adapters after you change the configuration you just run wifi. It's very nice.

OpenWRT keeps pretty good track of your custom configuration (what you've altered from stock), and you can generate a backup of it from Luci (so if you ever lose it you just re-flash and then restore your backup). The sysupgrade tool for updating your OpenWRT install will preserve any files it knows you've modified - you can see the list with opkg list-changed-conffiles - and any files explicitly listed in /etc/sysupgrade.conf, so you can update your install pretty conveniently without losing your configuration.

And most importantly, of course, it works. So far, at least. After reproducing my current router config in OpenWRT I powered down the routers, switched the jacks to the new one, powered it up, and everything came right up again, existing connections remaining open even (I was pretty quick). I had to cycle every system's connection in the end anyway (because until they actually got a DHCP lease from the router, it wouldn't have them in its dnsmasq config so DNS wouldn't work), but it was still pretty smooth. Now all that's left to see is if it's stable; until recently my 310N was pretty much 100% stable, so the new one has a high bar to live up to.

I don't have any actual 802.11ac hardware yet so I can't say for sure how that protocol works, but other than that I can certainly recommend giving OpenWRT a try, and the NBG6716 seems good so far. I found three viable alternatives for 802.11ac routers with current OpenWRT support: the NBG6716, the Engenius ESR1750, and the TP-Link Archer C7 v2.0 (and possibly one other, but I forget which). The Engenius seems tohave somewhat poor performance and the Archer seems to be flat sold out, so that's why I went with the Zyxel. I'll try and remember to post an update if everything goes pear-shaped...


Frank Ch. Eigler wrote on 2014-08-03 14:29:
Too bad OpenWRT is not just a Fedora Spin.
adamw wrote on 2014-08-03 16:14:
I dunno, it's a very very specialized environment. These days I'm kinda of the opinion that it makes sense to use dedicated projects for appliance-like roles; I run OpenElec on my HTPC box (an XBMC appliance distro), and I'd probably use FreeNAS on my NAS if I get time to switch it from the stock firmware. Single-purpose systems benefit from a really *focused* OS.
Pedro wrote on 2014-09-07 09:40:
Does the nbg6716 run stable with openwrt?
adamw wrote on 2014-09-07 15:52:
root@OpenWrt:~# uptime 08:51:28 up 35 days, 12:10, load average: 0.23, 0.14, 0.14 root@OpenWrt:~# survey says "yes". ;) And that's with the Chaos Calmer random nightly I'm running on it, I never bothered moving back to BB (even though the bug I reported is now long fixed) because this build works perfectly for me.
Pedro wrote on 2014-09-07 17:07:
Hi Adam, thanks for the update. I'm totally unhappy with the stock firmware. Now I know what to do. One question: does one run the image builder on the router itself. I never had to do with openwrt, so sorry for the trivial question :-). Best regards, Pedro
adamw wrote on 2014-09-08 04:55:
you run it from a PC, but you don't really need to - since the bug I filed got fixed, nightly trunk builds and BB RC builds have included the images for the nbg6716. is the BB RC3 image for flashing from the stock firmware.
Pedro wrote on 2014-09-08 05:28:
OK, thanks a lot.
Audrey wrote on 2014-09-09 10:14:
Howdy! This is kind of off topic but I need some help from an established blog. Is it very ifficult to set up your own blog? I'm not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick. I'm thinking about setting up myy own but I'm not sure where to start. Do you have any points or suggestions? Thank you
hgoor wrote on 2014-09-11 11:40:
Hi, some (old) reviews point out the WAN - LAN throughput is horrible even though this thing has gigabit ethernet. What's your experience? Plus how easy/dificult is openwrt to install on this router in your opinion?
adamw wrote on 2014-09-11 16:40:
I've noticed no such problems, though my WAN connection is 'only' 50Mb/sec . Installing OpenWRT is very simple now the images are being generated; you grab the 'factory' image and flash it as per , it's a one-line command on the router's console (you can ssh or telnet to the stock firmware, I forget which). I did not have to do the change listed under "WiFi" on the wiki, it looks like that has been resolved.
hgoor wrote on 2014-09-11 20:35:
Thanks for your response. Ok, that sounds good. I can pick one up for $79 instead of $109 and I was wondering of it would be a good choice to replace a non 5ghz non A/C wifi I have now (TP-Link WR841N runing OpenWRT). Seems they fixed the WAN - LAN issue with new firmware, but running OpenWRT would be my preference anyway. I could flah my TP-Link using the build-in firmware flash, but for this Zyxel I need to do it by console I understand... I found the Wiki page already... Anyway: I just ordered one, so I'm hopeful it will be good price/quality buy...
meTho wrote on 2014-10-20 11:33:
Hi, could you please tell me, if you chose a specific profile for building the image? Because I can't find one for the NBG6716. Regards, Th.
meTho wrote on 2014-10-20 11:46:
Never mind :) 'make info' revealed it. Best, Th.
adamw wrote on 2014-10-20 15:10:
Cool. :) FWIW I built a new CC image a couple days ago and it's been working fine. BB's kernel is too old to support the 5K radio properly (I tried it briefly).
Andrus wrote on 2014-11-09 13:14:
Sitecom WLR-8100 has official OpenWrt support: Sitercom has USB 3 port while ZyXel has only USB2 port. So Sitercom is much better than Zyxel NBG6716
Christian wrote on 2014-11-17 19:57:
Is there a chance to roll back to stock firmware in case something went wrong? And does the OpenWRT firmware for Zyxel NBG6716 supports GUI, HTTPS WAN/LAN remote management, custom DynDNS addresses, custom vlan management, custom ssh port, ssh authentication by key, custom script support? Best, Chris
adamw wrote on 2014-11-19 18:08:
OpenWRT is the same software platform whatever hardware you run it on; capabilities like the ones you mention aren't tied to the hardware. I don't use most of those things so I can't tell you in detail, but I believe they're all possible, yes. It's usually possible to undo anything you do to a router some way or other, but 'something went wrong' is a fairly broad concept, things can go 'wrong' to rather different degrees. In the worst case you may need to do some soldering to get a direct serial connection to the device to do a very low-level recovery flash, I believe, but I've never broken things that badly so I don't know the details. Check the OpenWRT wiki.
J wrote on 2014-12-13 13:40:
@andrus: NBG6716 still has more RAM and a bigger FLASH plus the Zyxel is one of the few routers fully supporting DFS. Btw. who needs USB3.0 on a router? Oh and AdamW: Have successfully compiled a bleeding edge openwrt version with DFS included respectively working properly? I'm currently had to switch back to the latest stock firmware V1.00(AAKG.7)C0 because of this. Would be nice if you could supply a link or something. Regards, J
adamw wrote on 2014-12-14 01:41:
I haven't done a build for about a month, and I haven't looked into DFS at all. Unless it's on by default and was ~1 month ago, no, I haven't built with it.
J wrote on 2014-12-15 13:33:
It is in the stock Firmware, but afaict not compiled into the openwrt firmwares. I guess because the openwrt guys just aren't aware about the Zyxel being capable of the DFS feature.
Anders wrote on 2015-02-19 20:54:
Hi, I downloaded the openwrt-ar71xx-nand-nbg6716-squashfs-factory.bin file and followed this guide: Last message from the router (NBG6716) was "reboot" in the telnet console, now it's dead :-( Any ideas what went wrong ? For a small fee Zyxel will replace my dead router for a new, I bought this router because it supports OpenWRT, but I dont know if I dare to try flashing OpenWRT again ? Best regards Anders
adamw wrote on 2015-02-19 22:02:

That's unfortunate! I'm afraid I don't know why that happened to you :( I didn't have any issue like that, I just flashed mine according to the instructions and it worked perfectly.

Have you tried recovery using the tftp instructions on the wiki page? That's usually a fairly low-level path that may work when the router appears to be 'dead' to normal use.

UR wrote on 2015-07-28 15:58:
The instructions on <a href=">this page require OpenWRT r2343 as a basic install. However, recent software from ZyXEL for nbg6716 is r3365. Should the upgrade as described on the page above work as well for this release?
adamw wrote on 2015-07-28 16:06:

I'm not sure I'd want to bet on it :( I'm afraid I wasn't at all involved in developing the upgrade file and I'm not anywhere near enough of an OpenWRT expert to know exactly how this method works and how likely it is an image like that would work with a different factory firmware revision. I'd say the best bet would be to try and track down and ask the person/people who actually did the initial enablement work and produced that image.

UR wrote on 2015-07-28 18:47:
Well, thanks, I have posted that question here as well:
adamw wrote on 2015-10-02 23:01:

Folks following here might be interested in this follow-up post on upgrading to CC final: