I have been told privately more than once that some manufacturers routinely and purposely ship routers with transmit power exceeding FCC limits. NETGEAR decided to do something about the alleged practice, filing suit against ASUS last year.
But does ASUS really ship routers with spec-busting transmit power? And does anyone else? I decided to do a little testing.
To keep things simple, I measured beacon pulse power because it's a nice clean signal repeated at a set interval. For measurement, Rohde & Schwarz (R&S) graciously loaned me an NRP-Z11 Power Sensor. This is R&S' top-of-line three-path diode power sensor with a USB output that connects to a base unit, or a Windows, MacOS or Linux computer running R&S' Power Viewer Plus software.
Rohde & Schwarz NRP-Z11 Power Sensor
I have a quiet Wi-Fi environment and was measuring conducted, not radiated, power. So I just set everything up on my office bench as shown in the photo below. Note the 20 dB fixed attenuator added to the R&S sensor's cable to prevent overload. The Power Viewer Plus conveniently allows you to enter an offset so that you can read corrected measurements directly off the screen.
Transmit power test setup
In the U.S., maximum power delivered to the antenna (conducted power) is limited as shown in Table 1. Note that this is the total power of all transmit chains. For devices with more than one transmit chain, per chain power limits are adjusted as shown in the table.
|5 GHz U-NII Band-I
(Ch. 36 - 48)
|5 GHz Band-IV
(Ch. 149 - 165)
Table 1: Maximum conducted transmit power limits
Table 1 is a simplified form of the actual rules, which got a lot more complicated when technologies like MIMO, beamforming and smart antennas came into play. In FCC testing, these limits are adjusted downward if array gain due to various MIMO techniques exceeds 6 dBi. Since I wasn't looking for minor variations from spec, I didn't bother making these adjustments. As it turned out, I didn't have to.
I took detailed data on five 802.11ac routers and one 802.11n that are listed alphabetically in Table 2. I first updated each router to the most recent firmware posted and included the firmware revision in the table. For all the routers in the table, "Chain 0" is the left-most antenna facing the front of the router, with the others in order from left to right. For 2.4 GHz measurements, I set channel bandwidth to 20 MHz. For 5 GHz, I used the Auto or 20/40/80 MHz setting to ensure 802.11ac operation.
Measurements exceeding the FCC limits are in bolded red. All these routers were easy to measure because they had external RP-SMA antenna connectors. So all I had to do was unscrew the antennas and screw on the R&S sensor cable.
All the power values in Table 2 are shown in dBm. The total column is the sum of all active chain powers, calculated by converting each chain power to mW, summing the values, then converting back to dBm.
|Chain 0||Chain 1||Chain 2||Chain 3||Total||Limit|
Table 2: Test results
The results show only two routers—ASUS' RT-AC66U and RT-N66U—exceeded the FCC limit. This happened only on the 5 GHz U-NII Band-I channels (36 - 48) where the power limit is 17 dBm (50 mW). The data shows those channels' transmit power limit appeared to be treated the same as the Band-IV channels' (149 - 165), i.e. 30 dBm (1 W). The screenshot below shows R&S' Power Viewer Plus screen while measuring the RT-AC66U set to Channel 48.
ASUS RT-AC66U - Channel 48
It's interesting to note that ASUS' AC1900 class RT-AC68U did not exceed the FCC limits. In fact, its total transmit power for Channels 36 and 48 was next to lowest among the measured routers at just under 11 dBm.
I also ran quick checks on a few other routers. TRENDnet's TEW-818DRU V2 had no spec violation for 5 GHz. But for some reason, I wasn't able to successfully find the 2.4 GHz beacon pulse. I know it was there, however, because the SSID showed up on a wireless client.
I chiseled away the goop securing the connectors on Edimax' BR-6478AC AC1200 router and was able to check the 5 GHz radio, which I found did not exceed FCC transmit power limits. But I must have broken the connection on the 2.4 GHz connector I picked at because I couldn't measure a signal there.
Edimax BR-6478AC AC1200 board
You might ask why no D-Link routers were measured. I had only the DIR-868L, having given the others away. But D-Link clearly doesn't want anyone making any measurements in the field since silicone goop was applied to all antenna connectors.
D-Link DIR-868L inside
EnGenius prides itself on producing high power routers, so I disassembled its ESR1750 to get at its two QCA-based radios. The connections for each radio had only a little goop on them and were easy to get apart so that I could attach the power sensor. I checked only one chain on each radio but found power levels well below the FCC limits. I measured 10 - 12 dBm on Channels 36 and 48, 17 - 18 dBm on Channels 149 and 153 and 16 dBm on Channels 1 and 6.
EnGenius ESR1750 board
This is admittedly not an exhaustive study and I'm not claiming laboratory accuracy for the measurements. But the only two FCC limit violations I found in the ASUS routers didn't require high accuracy; they were pretty obvious.
So while I haven't found rampant boosting of transmit power above FCC limits, it sure looks like NETGEAR has at least two examples for its suit against ASUS.
My thanks again to Rohde & Schwarz for the loan of the NRP-Z11!