Router freedom – What is it for? Why? How does it work?

Users do not want their provider to tell them which terminal device they have to use on their internet connection. This was the result of a representative survey by the Association of Telecommunications Terminal Equipment Manufacturers (VTKE) in several European countries. In all countries, at least two-thirds of the respondents consider the free choice of terminal device on the internet connection to be particularly important.

What does “router freedom” mean?

Free choice of terminal equipment means that end users have the option of using a terminal device (e.g. a router or modem) of their own choice on their broadband connection instead of one that is prescribed and provided by the network operator. Consumers thus choose from a variety of products the exact end device that best meets their requirements in terms of quality and functionality.

In this way, they benefit from the great potential of high-performance gigabit networks, can change network providers without complications, and are in the clear regarding protection of their private data. The competition for the best end device enabled by “router freedom” also promotes innovations, from which end users benefit as well.

Why are there “compulsory routers”?

Ambiguities and gaps in regulation allow network operators to define what is known as the “network termination point” – the boundary between the public telecommunications network and the private home network – arbitrarily and at their own discretion.

According to some network operators, the network termination point is not the connection socket to the line (A), but is located on the customer-side interfaces of the end device (B). A router or modem would thus be an integral part of the public telecommunications network under the sovereignty of the network operator.

Accordingly, many network operators require that their customers use a prescribed terminal device on their broadband connection. What is more, network operators refuse to give their customers the access data needed to register the end device with the network, and no longer publish the specifications of their network access interfaces or do not publish them in full.

Why do we need “router freedom”?

Everyone can use the end device that best suits their needs

Millions of people use the internet. Most of them every day. The individual users’ requirements for a device that gives them access to the internet are extremely different. For this reason, it is impossible for internet providers to offer a suitable terminal for every customer and every need. With a free choice of terminal device, on the other hand, every consumer could decide for themselves whether they want to use a device from the provider – or their own device that perfectly suits their own needs and demands. We already know this tried and true system from the free choice of devices for mobile phones.

Up to 40 percent less power consumption and more functions

Without router freedom, many consumers are left with the option of connecting their desired device behind the provider’s modem. Connecting two devices, one behind the other, means that two devices have to be operated, which leads to higher electricity costs and unnecessarily pollutes the environment – also because of the increased electronic waste. According to a model calculation, consumers who use a combination device (router with integrated modem) for internet access can save about 40 percent of their energy costs on the fiber optic connection.

What is more, not all functions of the desired device can be used with such a series (cascaded) connection. So if consumers are allowed to decide for themselves which terminal device they want to connect to the socket on the wall, they save on acquisition and operating costs, protect the environment – and at the same time can make optimal use of their terminal device.

Easier to switch providers

Switching internet providers is much easier when you have your own device. When switching to a provider with cheaper rates or faster connections, keeping your own device means not only sticking with your preferred hardware, but also preserves all individual device and home network settings such as passwords and Smart Home settings. If the end device belongs to the provider, you usually have to return the device when you change network providers, and then set up the entire home network again with the next provider – and this manually, unlike with a smartphone, for example.

Better data protection

Communication with network devices such as printers and NAS storage takes place in the home network via the router. In the case of router freedom, the end device belongs to its own home network. This means that all data from the home network remain in the home network – where they are optimally protected. Many network operators, on the other hand, consider the router to be part of their network. The result: all communication within the home network runs via the “compulsory router” and thus via the public network under the sovereignty of the provider.

More IT security

The security of the home network is becoming increasingly important in view of rising cyber threats. Those who have control over the home end device can best protect their own network. For example, security updates from device manufacturers can be installed immediately – in some cases even via an auto-update function. This is usually not possible with provider devices. In this case, customers have to wait for the provider to take action. Depending on the provider, this can take time, not least because millions of devices have to be updated. And not every security gap is closed by all providers.

More competition in the market and innovation in products

As can be well observed with the smartphone, open competition for the best (end) device among manufacturers leads to more innovative products. With each new technology and device generation, new functions are added. And with regard to prices as well, functioning competition often has a positive effect for the consumer. With router freedom consumers would benefit in the same way by being able to purchase their preferred end device. If, on the other hand, the provider specifies the device, the willingness to innovate remains low. Open national or European competition for the best end device also strengthens European manufacturers and thus Europe’s ability to act with regard to current dependence on devices from the US and China.

Exploiting the potential of modern, high-performance broadband infrastructure

A free choice of terminal equipment allows consumers to take full advantage of the broadband infrastructure made available to them. However, many network operators provide their customers with terminals that are functionally limited or less powerful than commercially available devices.

How can “router freedom” be enabled?

Directive (EU) 2018/1972 on the European Electronic Communications Code (ECCIP) assigns the national regulatory authorities in Art. 61 (7) the competence to determine the location of the network termination point. In doing so, the respective regulatory authority must take “the utmost account” of the BEREC Guidelines on Common Approaches to the Identification of the Network Termination Point in different Network Topologies (BoR (20) 46). These guidelines provide for a “passive” network termination point (the “connection box to the line”) as the rule.

It is therefore now up to the national regulatory authority to adopt a corresponding regulatory act that creates clarity for all market participants and gives users the opportunity to choose and commission the terminal equipment at their broadband connection themselves.