Encryption, the next "feature" for 2.4GHz?

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Encryption, the next "feature" for 2.4GHz?

Postby RCModelReviews » Thu May 27, 2010 2:12 am

If you've read this article I'd like to hear your comments.

Will "brand-name" manufacturers decide to implement encryption as a way of slowing down the cloners?

Are we about to see DRM and copy-protection affect RC systems?
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Re: Encryption, the next "feature" for 2.4GHz?

Postby Lead Wings » Thu May 27, 2010 2:58 am

Agree this is a path that the manufactuers may go down.

The good news (in the short term) is that they can't go retrospective - so if youve got a Dx6, DX7 etc then they (or the copiers) will continue to make Rx's for them while there is demand. So unless a new generation of Tx's come out with piles of new wonderful featuers that are a must-have, then the market will probably opt for the simpler and cheaper systems (while they are available).

If they make it too tight, the appeal of alternative systems (like Assan, wFly etc) that have all the features/relaibility but not the headaches become more chosen - so they lose again.
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Re: Encryption, the next "feature" for 2.4GHz?

Postby Bane » Thu May 27, 2010 7:19 am

If it is the encryption that is their main concern, I think the big brands are thinking very wrong and short termed about RC radio technology and it's future. I believe that RC radio equipment has came to age where it is mature and that there aren't really important new features they might add to make many of us change to the new propitiatory/patented/encrypted system completely, and shell out loads of money in the process. Spektrum DX7 which I got few months ago is at least 5 (if not more) years old radio model, re-branded and somewhat upgraded over time by several different companies which bought of rights to manufacture it from one another. I'm not using DX7 to it's full potential, and I really can't see what would make me sell it off with several expensive rx's and get something completely new.
Looks like the next big thing they hope will make you change tx and rx (again) is telemetry. For example, I personally couldn't care less about the exact voltage or temperature of 15$ Zippy/Rhino/Flightmax Lipo during the time I fly my model. I can't even look into the radio screen and fly model in the same time. I know it is after about 6 or 7 minutes it is going to be empty and that is all I need to know.

What I think they should think less about is locking in customers and maybe think more about making open software systems which can be programmed and upgraded. Something like those Linux wireless network routers. I'm sure there are a lot of smart people out there who would have all kinds of fantastic ideas on how to use and change such device.
But I guess it is too hard for them to look past sales figures and power point charts and be objective for a moment and I can understand that too.
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Re: Encryption, the next "feature" for 2.4GHz?

Postby RCModelReviews » Thu May 27, 2010 7:51 am

Bane wrote:What I think they should think less about is locking in customers and maybe think more about making open software systems which can be programmed and upgraded.


Apple just overtook Microsoft as the second largest company in the USA after Exxon Mobil.

They didn't make all that money by selling open systems and now they are worth US$222 BILLION. That, is a *lot* of money -- far more than *any* open systems vendor can ever hope to be worth.

In fact, Apple is one of the most closed-systems in the computer marketplace -- that's how they made their money.

JR, Spektrum, Futaba and others have also now found out just how profitable it can be to "lock customers" into proprietary systems such as DSM and FASST. How else could they get away with charging US$140 for a basic receiver?

No, I don't think you'll see *any* of the major RC brands going "open" again any time soon.

In fact, Futaba's promotion of the S-Bus is yet another example of how they're seeking to further "close" their products rather than open them. If Futaba gets its way, you'll only be able to use Futaba S-Bus servos with its RC systems at some time in the not-too-distant future.

The only hope for open-systems in the RC marketplace is with the Chinese. FrSky have started it with their open telemetry system.
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Re: Encryption, the next "feature" for 2.4GHz?

Postby mkaz » Thu May 27, 2010 1:14 pm

I agree with Bruce, don't believe that brand name manufacturers (JR, Futaba, Spektrum, ...) will create open systems soon.
In my opinion they will be better off using conventional marketing principles. Many other electronic markets are divided into 'brand names' and low cost duplicators. Brand name manufacturers use their better R&D and larger resources to offer cutting edge technologies and rapidly offered new models, additions and enhancements. Duplicators and low cost products lag behind.

I do believe that the area where brand name manufacturers felt secure by locking in customers without showing real and fast new developments is history. To stay in the market these companies will have to show real new developments, quality and value for the money they are asking for the products.
This may be good for for us and the general market.
Bruce example of Apple is similar. Apple where first to the market with the Iphone and copiers still have not managed to create the same quality copies (even with Google's resources). Apple are continuously pressing on with new products, editions and enhancements to keep the cutting edge.
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Re: Encryption, the next "feature" for 2.4GHz?

Postby Bane » Thu May 27, 2010 3:21 pm

I agree with you guys completely. I might not have been clear enough.
I am relatively new in the hobby, year and a half now and I took the things as I saw them and I didn't have experience on 'how it was back when...'. I was really surprised to find out that radios haven't really changed that much in last 5 or more years, apart from 2.4GHz upgrade. They didn't even bother too much to change the looks, button placement, screen graphics...
When I got DX7 I realized why. Although it's relatively old technology, it does what 90% of RC aircraft hobbyists need it to do.

I see Futaba has been doing the same thing. Selling the same technology for years now. I guess they have their DSMs and Fassts to thank for that. Now that 2.4 GHz conversion is done, they will really have to think hard to make us all do a major replacement again, and telemetry I think, is not it.

What I'm saying is: OK, let it be locked down with encrypted and patented and who knows what else regarding the communication between the tx and rx, but make the radio itself more flexible. I think the best example of what I'm thinking of is Nokia N800 or newer models of it.
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Re: Encryption, the next "feature" for 2.4GHz?

Postby Heather » Thu May 27, 2010 9:59 pm

I would expect that most 2.4ghz already have a layer of encryption in them. However if you are ripping the code straight out of the microcontroller then its pretty irrelevant as any reverse engineering is not required.

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Re: Encryption, the next "feature" for 2.4GHz?

Postby RCModelReviews » Thu May 27, 2010 10:35 pm

Actually, I've not found any popular 2.4GHz system that actually uses a specific layer of encryption so far.

The chipping (pn) code was probably deemed to be enough encryption by most manufacturers -- however, if you're using off-the-shelf transceiver chips that's not much protection at all.

One benefit of adding encryption is that the only way to circumvent it is to copy the MCU code which then makes it a *much* simpler job to get a legal judgment against any infringing manufacturer. In the case of DSM2, it's a fairly trivial job to produce a "clean room" implementation of a "compatible" system in which case there's very little legal protection available.

Just look at how the manufacturer of Deans connectors managed to get the copies pulled from HobbyCity. They had a very sound legal case because it was clearly a copy of a protected product.

I'm betting that the OrangeRx is a true "compatible" and not a "clone". They will have simply written their own MCU firmware to process the data and not actually copied the Spektrum code. That would make it *very* difficult (ie: impossible) for Spektrum to take any legal action to stop the sale of these receivers.

However, if they used encryption then the cloners would have no option but to copy the code - which means Spektrum could have products seized at the border (under copyright law) and sue any infringing dealer (also under copyright laws -- just as Deans threatened to do).
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Re: Encryption, the next "feature" for 2.4GHz?

Postby Heather » Fri May 28, 2010 4:54 am

I wonder what the legalities are from extracting the code from an existing design and then plagiarizing it to call your own?
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Re: Encryption, the next "feature" for 2.4GHz?

Postby RCModelReviews » Fri May 28, 2010 5:49 am

If they have simply copied the original code then it is an illegal product because that code will be copyrighted to the original manufacturer.

However, white-room code creation is a widely acknowledge method of circumventing such copyright claims.

Remember when the IBM PC first came out?

Remember all those BIOSes from Phoenix and Award?

How did they get away with creating an IBM-compatible bios that worked just like the real IBM one?

They gave a bunch of programmers the specifications for the IBM BIOS (but none of the code) and let them write their own. In fact, they specifically chose programmers that had never see a byte of IBM's original BIOS code so as to avoid even the slightest risk of an accidental inclusion of the IBM original in the "clone" version.

If they've done the same thing with the Spektrum firmware then it will be legal.

How do you prove they haven't just copied the Spektrum code?

Well you have to do to the clone what the clonemakers may have done to the Spektrum -- extract the firmware from it and compare it to the original. If it's a byte-for-byte match, or even if portions of it are an exact match, then Spektrum have a good case for copyright infringement.

If not -- well then that's just bad-luck for Spektrum.

We'll see how the OrangeRx compares when I get my hands on one.

You can usually get a fair clue as to whether they've simply copied the original firmware by examining the actual electronic design and timings on key CPU pins. There's a chance I'll be able to give a definitive "No" (if they haven't just copied the firmware) within an hour or two of getting my hands on one -- but it may be more complex.

We'll just have to wait and see I guess.
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