Netgear joined a select band of network equipment makers after announcing the release of an open source wireless router, designed to be highly customisable.

The WGR614L Wireless G router is being touted as a highly flexible piece of equipment for both the open source community and tech enthusiasts. To this end, Netgear has also announced a community portal called My Open Router to encourage programmers to customise and write applications for the WGR614L.

Besides offering open source firmware downloads, forums, blogs, and source code, the portal also offers a number of user guides and articles about the router, including how to configure the open source firmware and how to recover the router. Dedicated support is also available from "open source experts," in case things go wrong. (or read our guide on the subject)

According to Som Pal Choudhury, senior product line manager for advanced wireless at Netgear, the website, which has been running for two months, already has 350 to 400 registered users. "The site is kick-starting open source application writing for the router," he told Techworld.

Choudhury believes the router will also be of interest to the VAR channel. "Take for example a VAR selling hotel hotspot solutions," he said. "Companies often take a vanilla router, and then write an application for it, and then install the equipment. VARs can take our router, and see if there are applications for more specific SSID, billing engines, more fancy bandwidth monitoring etc. All these applications reside on the router."

"The VAR can register on the portal, and get immediate access to applications and support functions," he said. "It offers very active and timely responses."

Netgear is not the first to offer an open source router. Back in March this year, Vyatta launched an open source device for the small-to-midsized business market. Before that, the Linksys' WRT54G router has also been running open source firmware.

"There is no question that Linksys is the most prominent and widely known provider of an open source router (followed by Buffalo and Ayava)," said Choudhury. "Linksys sells millions of dollars worth of open source routers worldwide."

"In Eastern Europe, China, and India, there is a huge open source community, and in those regions they are relying mostly on Linksys," he admitted. "However, we wanted to build up an associated open source community with our router. We obviously want to sell hardware, but we want to this to open source router standard."

"That is the goal," he added. "We are in the hardware business, not software. We want others to come and write the applications."

And Choudhury thinks that Netgear has the edge over its rivals. "The mass open source community mostly uses Linksys and Buffalo right now. But we now have a much later and faster processor, and a lot of cache and memory compared to the Linksys and Buffalo platforms."

He also feels that the ability get an answer in a day to technical queries will be very attractive. "We have a bunch of Netgear employees on the My Open Router site, and if an answer has not been answered in 24hours, I get an email from the site administrator."

"We have the better hardware platform, and the open source community will give us the success," said Choudhury. "Linksys doesn't offer any type of support, and that is the market leader."

The most popular open source firmware, Tomato and DD-WRT, are available on WGR614L, and support will soon be added for OpenWRT.

"Our open source experts are already working on OpenWRT, and it should be available at end of Q3 early Q4. That is the plan," said Choudhury.

The WGR614L features a 240MHz MIPS32 CPU core with 16KB of instruction cache, 16KB of data cache, 1KB of pre-fetch cache, and incorporates 4MB of flash memory and 16MB of RAM. It comes with two external dBi antennas, but also features a second internal diversity antenna to provide enhanced performance and range

The WGR614L also has one 10/100 Internet WAN port and a four-port 10/100 LAN switch. The 802.11g access point supports wireless connectivity at speeds of up to 54Mbit/s.

Static and dynamic routing with TCP/IP is also supported, as is VPN pass-through (IPSec, L2TP), NAT, PPTP, PPPoE, DHCP (client and server), and Bigpond. A Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) firewall is included, and the wireless connection is secured by support for 40-, 128- and 152-bit WEP encryption, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), WPA2-PSK, and Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS).

Additional security features include: Exposed Host (DMZ), MAC address authentication, URL content filtering, logs and email alerts of Internet activity.

The WGR614L has a retail price of $69 (£34) and comes with a one-year hardware warranty. There is a European version, but a UK version will only be coming in the next month or so.

The delay, according to Choudhury, is because the UK uses different plugs. He also warns that the price will not be a straight US conversion. "Local pricing is still to be announced," he said. "We will look at competitor products and make a decision. Every country has a different price point."