Apr 27, 2017

WiFi hostapd configuration for 802.11ac networks

Running Wireless AP on linux is pretty much always done through handy hostapd tool, which sets the necessary driver parameters and handles authentication and key management aspects of an infrastructure mode access point operation.

Its configuration file has plenty of options, which get initialized to a rather conserative defaults, resulting in suboptimal bendwidth with anything from this decade, e.g. 802.11n or 802.11ac cards/dongles.

Furthermore, it seem to assume decent amount of familiarity with IEEE standards on WiFi protocols, which are mostly paywalled (though can easily be pirated ofc, just use google).

Specifically, channel selection for VHT (802.11ac) there is a bit of a nightmare, as hostapd code not only has (undocumented afaict) whitelist for these, but also needs more than one parameter to set them.

I'm not an expert on wireless links and wifi specifically, just had to setup one recently (and even then, without going into STBC, Beamforming and such), so don't take this info as some kind of authoritative "how it must be done" guide - just my 2c and nothing more.

Anyway, first of all, to get VHT ("Very High Throughput") aka 802.11ac mode at all, following hostapd config can be used as a baseline:

# https://w1.fi/cgit/hostap/plain/hostapd/hostapd.conf

ssid=my-test-ap
wpa_passphrase=set-ap-password

country_code=US
# ieee80211d=1
# ieee80211h=1

interface=wlan0
driver=nl80211

wpa=2
wpa_key_mgmt=WPA-PSK
rsn_pairwise=CCMP

logger_syslog=0
logger_syslog_level=4
logger_stdout=-1
logger_stdout_level=0

hw_mode=a
ieee80211n=1
require_ht=1
ieee80211ac=1
require_vht=1

vht_oper_chwidth=1
channel=36
vht_oper_centr_freq_seg0_idx=42

There, important bits are obviously stuff at the top - ssid and wpa_passphrase.

But also country_code, as it will apply all kinds of restrictions on 5G channels that one can use.

ieee80211d/ieee80211h are related to these country_code restrictions, and are probably necessary for some places and when/if DFS (dynamic frequency selection) is used, but more on that later.

If that config doesn't work (started with e.g. hostapd myap.conf), and not just due to some channel conflict or regulatory domain (i.e. country_code) error, probably worth running hostapd command with -d option and seeing where it fails exactly, though most likely after nl80211: Set freq ... (ht_enabled=1, vht_enabled=1, bandwidth=..., cf1=..., cf2=...) log line (and list of options following it), with some "Failed to set X: Invalid argument" error from kernel driver.

When that's the case, if it's not just bogus channel (see below), probably worth to stop right here and see why driver rejects this basic stuff - could be that it doesn't actually supports running AP and/or VHT mode (esp. for proprietary ones) or something, which should obviously be addressed first.

VHT (Very High Throughput mode, aka 802.11ac, page 214 in 802.11ac-2013.pdf) is extension of HT (High Throughput aka 802.11n) mode and can use 20 MHz, 40 MHz, 80 MHz, 160 MHz and 80+80 MHz channel widths, which basically set following caps on bandwidth:

  • 20 MHz - 54 Mbits/s
  • 40 MHz - 150-300 Mbits/s
  • 80 MHz - 300+ Mbits/s
  • 160 MHz or 80+80 MHz (two non-contiguous 80MHz chans) - moar!!!

Most notably, 802.11ac requires to support only up to 80MHz-wide chans, with 160 and 80+80 being optional, so pretty much guaranteed to be not supported by 95% of cheap-ish dongles, even if they advertise "full 802.11ac support!", "USB 3.0!!!" or whatever - forget it.

"vht_oper_chwidth" parameter sets channel width to use, so "vht_oper_chwidth=1" (80 MHz) is probably safe choice for ac here.

Unless ACS - Automatic Channel Selection - is being used (which is maybe a good idea, but not described here at all), both "channel" and "vht_oper_centr_freq_seg0_idx" parameters must be set (and also "vht_oper_centr_freq_seg1_idx" for 80+80 vht_oper_chwidth=3 mode).

"vht_oper_centr_freq_seg0_idx" is "dot11CurrentChannelCenterFrequencyIndex0" from 802.11ac-2013.pdf (22.3.7.3 on page 248 and 22.3.14 on page 296), while "channel" option is "dot11CurrentPrimaryChannel".

Relation between these for 80MHz channels is the following one:

vht_oper_centr_freq_seg0_idx = channel + 6

Where "channel" can only be picked from the following list (see hw_features_common.c in hostapd sources):

36 44 52 60 100 108 116 124 132 140 149 157 184 192

And vht_oper_centr_freq_seg0_idx can only be one of:

42 58 106 122 138 155

Furthermore, picking anything but 36/42 and 149/155 is probably restricted by DFS and/or driver, and if you have any other 5G APs around, can also be restricted by conflicts with these, as detected/reported by hostapd on start.

Which is kinda crazy - you've got your fancy 802.11ac hardware and maybe can't even use it because hostapd refuses to use any channels if there's other 5G AP or two around.

BSS conflicts (with other APs) are detected on start only and are easy to patch-out with hostapd-2.6-no-bss-conflicts.patch - just 4 lines to hw_features.c and hw_features_common.c there, should be trivial to adopt for any newer hostpad version.

But that still leaves all the DFS/no-IR and whatever regdb-special channels locked, which is safe for legal reasons, but also easy to patch-out in crda (loader tool for regdb) and wireless-regdb (info on regulatory domains, e.g. US and such) packages, e.g.:

crda patch is needed to disable signature check on loaded db.txt file, and alternatively different public key can be used there, but it's less hassle this way.

Note that using DFS/no-IR-marked frequencies with these patches is probably breaking the law, though no idea if and where these are actually enforced.

Also, if crda/regdb is not installed or country_code not picked, "00" regulatory domain is used by the kernel, which is the most restrictive subset (to be ok to use anywhere), and is probably never a good idea.

All these tweaks combined should already provide ~300 Mbits/s (half-duplex) on a single 80 MHz channel (any from the lists above).

Beyond that, I think "vht_capab" set should be tweaked to enable STBC/LDPC (space-time block coding) capabilities - i.e. using multiple RX/TX antennas - which are all disabled by default, and beamforming stuff.

These are all documented in hostapd.conf, but dongles and/or rtl8812au driver I've been using didn't have support for any of that, so didn't go there myself.

There's also bunch of wmm_* and tx_queue_* parameters, which seem to be for QoS (prioritizing some packets over others when at 100% capacity). Tinkering with these doesn't affect iperf3 resutls obviously, and maybe should be done in linux QoS subsystem ("tc" tool) instead anyway. Plenty of snippets for tweaking them are available on mailing lists and such, but should probably be adjusted for specific traffic/setup.

One last important bandwidth optimization for both AP and any clients (stations) is disabling all the power saving stuff with iw dev wlan0 set power_save off.

Failing to do that can completely wreck performance, and can usually be done via kernel module parameter in /etc/modprobe.d/ instead of running "iw".

No patches or extra configuration for wpa_supplicant (tool for infra-mode "station" client) are necessary - it will connect just fine to anything and pick whatever is advertised, if hw supports all that stuff.

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