4 Reasons To Use Your Own Router with Verizon FiOS
#1 Buying or Leasing Verizon’s Routers: Ridiculously Overpriced
You might already have a router and would rather not pay $10/month or $150 to purchase their router, considering that you can get a very capable “ac” router supporting the latest/fastest standard for about $50. $150 one-off is grossly overpriced, while $10/month is nothing short off highway-robbery when you consider that you might keep your contract for several years.
#2 No Support for 3rd Party (Open-Source) Firmware
Another reason might be that you want to install one of the open-source firmware options (e.g. OpenWrt, dd-wrt) that unlocks the full capabilities of your router. Verizon’s router does not support changing the firmware.
#3 Privacy: Using Alternate DNS Servers
If you care about privacy, you should definitely consider replacing the provided FiOS router as it is configured to use Verizon’s own DNS servers, effectively insuring that they can keep track of every website you visit. This setting is locked and cannot be altered through the router configuration pages. While you might not care and otherwise might use Google’s public DNS anyway (which comes with the same concerns), there is growing concern about the data that is being collected.
#4 Net Neutrality – Access Any and All Services
There are reports that Verizon’s routers block or throttle certain services (e.g. VoIP) that compete with their own offerings. It might be worth looking into this if you’re having trouble using certain services with your current FiOS-G11 Quantum Gateway.
I have used the DNS servers of the Swiss Privacy Foundation for several weeks and find them to be working quite well. The intention of Alternate DNS by WikiLeaks is to provide you with options if you’re DNS servers are censored, but you it’s also a good source if you want to avoid using your ISP’s or Google’s DNS servers.
Why I Replaced Verizon’s FiOS-G1100 Quantum Router
Admittedly I am already suspicious if a company tries to push me to use their hardware when there are countless options available, but the pricing was the dealbreaker for me. They initially did allow me to provide my own router, although it still had to be a Verizon FiOS model. I went ahead and bought a used Verizon FiOS Actiontec MI424-WR Actiontec on eBay. Unfortunately, when the tech came to install FiOs he insisted that with my selected bandwith (100 Mbit/s up & down) I would have to use the G1100.
After 3 weeks without internet in the new house it was not the time to argue, so I went ahead with their router!
Soon enough I discovered that connecting to the router had resulted in the installation of several software packages. While I cannot say what exactly this “bloatware” was doing, I certainly have privacy concerns about it. I was able to uninstall the software although the it did require some manual removal of a few leftovers after the uninstall process had finished.
The trigger to finally replace the router was that I wanted OpenWrt to change the DNS servers, harden my network (using VLANs for segregation) and overall be able to freely configure my router.
If the latter is of no concern to you, there might be routers with stock firmware that you could use instead. However, the crucial point is that your replacement router will have to let you override the MAC address of the WAN interface. OpenWrt does and there’s a good chance that dd-Wrt will, but I doubt that any home router will let you do this out-of-the box.
So What’s the MAC Address Anyway?
It’s unique to every network interface and is used for low-level (i.e. Data-Link layer) authentication in networks. A switch, for example, operates on the MAC addresses, not the IP address (which is used up the stack on the the Network layer). Whenever a packet arrives, the switch will find the MAC address corresponding to the destination IP address and forward the packet to the connected host.
Now it’s not hard to see how “spoofing” the MAC address can be a nasty little trick to be able to receive packages meant for a different host. It’s sensible thus that most firmwares typically will not let you override (“spoof”) the MAC address.
Admittedly, overriding the MAC address is not usually necessary for the average user, unless you have a legitimate reason like replacing your Verizon FiOS router.
The MAC Address and your Verizon FiOS Router
Without knowing exactly how the Verizon network operates, it turns out that after installation your router’s MAC address is used just like it is on your home switch. This means even though you can easily get an IP address via DHCP for your new router, you won’t receive any traffic unless you also change the MAC address.
I suppose that you might also be able to call Verizon customer support to have a technician update the MAC address on their end, but if you’ve ever called Verizon’s customer service you will agree that buying a new router, flashing a custom firmware and changing the MAC address sounds like a much less painful option!
Step-by-Step Guide to Replacing Your Verizon FiOS-G1100 Router
1. Note down the MAC Address of the FiOS-G1100
Perform this step before making any changes!
- Log-on to your router’s configuration page (e.g. 192.168.1.1)
- Navigate to “My Network” and select “Network Connections” on the left hand side
- Select “Broadband Connection (Ethernet/Coax)” and you should see the configuration page shown below
2. Release the DHCP Lease
- On the “Broadband Connection Properties” page, click “Settings” at the bottom.
- Towards the bottom is the “DHCP Lease” section that should have “Release” and “Renew” buttons next to it. Click “Release”.
- Go back to the Properties page using the same steps you used before. Do not click “Apply” as this will automatically renew the DHCP lease.
- On the Properties page confirm that the Broadband Connection has no IP Address assigned and then immediately unplug the router.
The G1100 appears to automatically renew its lease once lost, so you want to quickly unplug your device after releasing the DHCP lease.
Now we are ready to set up the new router. The steps below apply to the latest version of OpenWrt as of late 2016 (OpenWrt Chaos Calmer 15.05.1), but should be more or less identical on all versions. Any router that allows you to override the MAC address should also work and require similar steps.
3. Configure the OpenWrt Router
- Log on to the OpenWrt web interface (LuCI) using the router’s IP address (OpenWrt default is 192.168.1.1)
- Select Networrk -> Interfaces and then click “Edit” in the “WAN” section
- On the “General Setup” page, ensure that the protocol is set to “DHCP client”
- Navigate to the “Advanced Settings” tab enter the MAC Address noted in step #1 into the “Override MAC address” field towards the bottom.
- Click “Save & Apply” and reboot your router (changing the hardware address required a reboot).
If all went well, you should get an IP address from Verizon once the OpenWrt device is back up!
Congratulations! You have just achieved full Router Freedom!