Osmocom.org migrating to redmine

In 2008, we started bs11-abis, which was shortly after renamed to OpenBSC. At the time it seemed like a good idea to use trac as the project management system, to have a wiki and an issue tracker.

When further Osmocom projects like OsmocomBB, OsmocomTETRA etc. came around, we simply replicated that infrastructure: Another trac instance with the same theme, and a shared password file.

The problem with this (and possibly the way we used it) is:

  • it doesn't scale, as creating projects is manual, requires a sysadmin and is time-consuming. This meant e.g. SIMtrace was just a wiki page in the OsmocomBB trac installation + associated http redirect, causing some confusion.
  • issues can not easily be moved from one project to another, or have cross-project relationships (like, depend on an issue in another project)
  • we had to use an external planet in order to aggregate the blog of each of the trac instances
  • user account management the way we did it required shell access to the machine, meaning user account applications got dropped due to the effort involved. My apologies for that.

Especially the lack of being able to move pages and tickets between trac's has resulted in a suboptimal use of the tools. If we first write code as part of OpenBSC and then move it to libosmocore, the associated issues + wiki pages should be moved to a new project.

At the same time, for the last 5 years we've been successfully using redmine inside sysmocom to keep track of many dozens of internal projects.

So now, finally, we (zecke, tnt, myself) have taken up the task to migrate the osmocom.org projects into redmine. You can see the current status at http://projects.osmocom.org/. We could create a more comprehensive project hierarchy, and give libosmocore, SIMtrace, OsmoSGSN and many others their own project.

Thanks to zecke for taking care of the installation/sysadmin part and the initial conversion!

Unfortunately the conversion from trac to redmine wiki syntax (and structure) was not as automatic and straight-forward as one would have hoped. But after spending one entire day going through the most important wiki pages, things are looking much better now. As a side effect, I have had a more comprehensive look into the history of all of our projects than ever before :)

Still, a lot of clean-up and improvement is needed until I'm happy, particularly splitting the OpenBSC wiki into separate OsmoBSC, OsmoNITB, OsmoBTS, OsmoPCU and OsmoSGSN wiki's is probably still going to take some time.

If you would like to help out, feel free to register an account on projects.osmocom.org (if you don't already have one from the old trac projects) and mail me for write access to the project(s) of your choice.

Possible tasks include

  • putting pages into a more hierarchic structure (there's a parent/child relationship in redmine wikis)
  • fixing broken links due to page renames / wiki page moves
  • creating a new redmine 'Project' for your favorite tool that has a git repo on http://git.osmocom.org/ and writing some (at least initial) documentation about it.

You don't need to be a software developer for that!

Some update on recent OsmoBTS changes

After quite some time of gradual bug fixing and improvement, there have been quite some significant changes being made in OsmoBTS over the last months.

Just a quick reminder: In Fall 2015 we finally merged the long-pending L1SAP changes originally developed by Jolly, introducing a new intermediate common interface between the generic part of OsmoBTS, and the hardware/PHY specific part. This enabled a clean structure between osmo-bts-sysmo (what we use on the sysmoBTS) and osmo-bts-trx (what people with general-purpose SDR hardware use).

The L1SAP changes had some fall-out that needed to be fixed, not a big surprise with any change that big.

More recently however, three larger changes were introduced:

proper Multi-TRX support

Based on the above phy_link/phy_instance infrastructure, one can map each phy_instance to one TRX by means of the VTY / configuration file.

The core of OsmoBTS now supports any number of TRXs, leading to flexible Multi-TRX support.

OCTPHY support

A Canadian company called Octasic has been developing a custom GSM PHY for their custom multi-core DSP architecture (OCTDSP). Rather than re-inventing the wheel for everything on top of the PHY, they chose to integrate OsmoBTS on top of it. I've been working at sysmocom on integrating their initial code into OsmoBTS, rendering a new osmo-bts-octphy backend.

This back-end has also recently been ported to the phy_link/phy_instance API and is Multi-TRX ready. You can both run multiple TRX in one DSP, as well as have multiple DSPs in one BTS, paving the road for scalability.

osmo-bts-octphy is now part of OsmoBTS master.

Corresponding changes to OsmoPCU (for full GPRS support on OCTPHY) are currently been worked on by Max at sysmocom.

Litecell 1.5 PHY support

Another Canadian company (Nutaq/Nuran) has been building a new BTS called Litecell 1.5. They also implemented OsmoBTS support, based on the osmo-bts-sysmo code. We've been able to integrate that code with the above-mentioned phy_link/phy_interface in order to support the MultiTRX capability of this hardware.

Litecell 1.5 MultiTRX capability has also been integrated with OsmoPCU.

osmo-bts-litecell15 is now part of OsmoBTS master.

Summary

  • 2016 starts as the OsmoBTS year of MultiTRX.
  • 2016 also starts as a year of many more hardware choices for OsmoBTS
  • we see more commercial adoption of OsmoBTS outside of the traditional options of sysmocom and Fairwaves

Back from netdevconf 1.1 in Seville

I've had the pleasure of being invited to netdevconf 1.1 in Seville, spain.

After about a decade of absence in the Linux kernel networking community, it was great to meet lots of former colleagues again, as well as to see what kind of topics are currently being worked on and under discussion.

The conference had a really nice spirit to it. I like the fact that it is run by the community itself. Organized by respected members of the community. It feels like Linux-Kongress or OLS or UKUUG or many others felt in the past. There's just something that got lost when the Linux Foundation took over (or pushed aside) virtually any other Linux kernel related event on the planet in the past :/ So thanks to Jamal for starting netdevconf, and thanks to Pablo and his team for running this particular instance of it.

I never really wanted to leave netfilter and the Linux kernel network stack behind - but then my problem appears to be that there are simply way too many things of interest to me, and I had to venture first into RFID (OpenPCD, OpenPICC), then into smartphone hardware and software (Openmoko) and finally embark on a journey of applied telecoms archeology by starting OpenBSC, OsmocomBB and various other Osmocom projects.

Staying in Linux kernel networking land was simply not an option with a scope that can only be defined as wide as wanting to implement any possible protocol on any possible interface of any possible generation of cellular network.

At times like attending netdevconf I wonder if I made the right choice back then. Linux kernel networking is a lot of fun and hard challenges, too - and it is definitely an area that's much more used by many more organizations and individuals: The code I wrote on netfilter/iptables is probably running on billions of devices by now. Compare that to the Osmocom code, which is probably running on a few thousands of devices, if at all. Working on Open Source telecom protocols is sometimes a lonely fight. Not that I wouldn't value the entire team of developers involved in it. to the contrary. But lonely in the context that 99.999% of that world is a proprietary world, and FOSS cellular infrastructure is just the 0.001% at the margin of all of that.

One the Linux kernel side, you have virtually every IT company putting in their weight these days, and properly funded development is not that hard to come by. In cellular, reasonable funding for anything (compared to the scope and complexity of the tasks) is rather the exception than the norm.

But no, I don't have any regrets. It has been an interesting journey and I probably had the chance to learn many more things than if I had stayed in TCP/IP-land.

If only each day had 48 hours and I could work both on Osmocom and on the Linux kernel...

netdevconf 1.1: Running cellular infrastructure on Linux

Today I had the pleasure of presenting at netdevconf 1.1 a tutorial about Running cellular infrastructure on Linux. The tutorial is intended to guide you through the process of setting up + configuring yur own minimal private GSM+GPRS network.

The video recording is available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4i2Gy4JhDo

Slides are available at http://git.gnumonks.org/index.html/laforge-slides/plain/2016/netdevconf-osmocom/running-foss-gsm.html

On the OpenAirInterface re-licensing

In the recent FOSDEM 2016 SDR Devroom, the Q&A session following a presentation on OpenAirInterface touched the topic of its controversial licensing. As I happen to be involved deeply with Free Software licensing and Free Software telecom topics, I thought I might have some things to say about this topic. Unfortunately the Q&A session was short, hence this blog post.

As a side note, the presentation was actually certainly the least technical presentation in all of the FOSDEM SDR track, and that with a deeply technical audience. And probably the only presentation at all at FOSDEM talking a lot about "Strategic Industry Partners".

Let me also state that I actually have respect for what OAI/OSA has been and still is doing. I just don't think it is attractive to the Free Software community - and it might actually not be Free Software at all.

OpenAirInterface / History

Within EURECOM, a group around Prof. Raymond Knopp has been working on a Free Software implementation of all layers of the LTE (4G) system known as OpenAirInterface. It includes the physical layer and goes through to the core network.

The OpenAirInterface code was for many years under GPL license (GPLv2, other parts GPLv3). Initially the SVN repositories were not public (despite the license), but after some friendly mails one (at least I) could get access.

I've read through the code at several points in the past, it often seemed much more like a (quick and dirty?) proof of concept implementation to me, than anything more general-purpose. But then, that might have been a wrong impression on my behalf, or it might be that this was simply sufficient for the kind of research they wanted to do. After all, scientific research and FOSS often have a complicated relationship. Researchers naturally have their papers as primary output of their work, and software implementations often are more like a necessary evil than the actual goal. But then, I digress.

Now at some point in 2014, a new organization the OpenAirInterface Software Association (OSA) was established. The idea apparently was to get involved with the tier-1 telecom suppliers (like Alcatel, Huawei, Ericsson, ...) and work together on an implementation of Free Software for future mobile data, so-called 5G technologies.

Telecom Industry and Patents

In case you don't know, the classic telecom industry loves patents. Pretty much anything and everything is patented, and the patents are heavily enforced. And not just between Samsung and Apple, or more recently also Nokia and Samsung - but basically all the time.

One of the big reasons why even the most simple UMTS/3G capable phones are so much more expensive than GSM/2G is the extensive (and expensive) list of patents Qualcomm requires every device maker to license. In the past, this was not even a fixed per-unit royalty, but the license depended on the actual overall price of the phone itself.

So wanting to work on a Free Software implementation of future telecom standards with active support and involvement of the telecom industry obviously means contention in terms of patents.

Re-Licensing

The existing GPLv2/GPLv3 license of the OpenAirInterface code of course would have meant that contributions from the patent-holding telecom industry would have to come with appropriate royalty-free patent licenses. After all, of what use is it if the software is free in terms of copyright licensing, but then you still have the patents that make it non-free.

Now the big industry of course wouldn't want to do that, so the OSA decided to re-license the code-base under a new license.

As we apparently don't yet have sufficient existing Free Software licenses, they decided to create a new license. That new license (the OSA Public License V1.0 not only does away with copyleft, but also does away with a normal patent grant.

This is very sad in several ways:

  • license proliferation is always bad. Major experts and basically all major entities in the Free Software world (FSF, FSFE, OSI, ...) are opposed to it and see it as a problem. Even companies like Intel and Google have publicly raised concern about license Proliferation.
  • abandoning copyleft. Many people particularly from a GNU/Linux background would agree that copyleft is a fair deal. It ensures that everyone modifying the software will have to share such modifications with other users in a fair way. Nobody can create proprietary derivatives.
  • taking away the patent grant. Even the non-copyleft Apache 2.0 License the OSA used as template has a broad patent grant, even for commercial applications. The OSA Public License has only a patent grant for use in research context

In addition to this license change, the OSA also requires a copyright assignment from all contributors.

Consequences

What kind of effect does this have in case I want to contribute?

  • I have to sign away my copyright. The OSA can at any given point in time grant anyone whatever license they want to this code.
  • I have to agree to a permissive license without copyleft, i.e. everyone else can create proprietary derivatives of my work
  • I do not even get a patent grant from the other contributors (like the large Telecom companies).

So basically, I have to sign away my copyright, and I get nothing in return. No copyleft that ensures other people's modifications will be available under the same license, no patent grant, and I don't even keep my own copyright to be able to veto any future license changes.

My personal opinion (and apparently those of other FOSDEM attendees) is thus that the OAI / OSA invitation to contributions from the community is not a very attractive one. It might all be well and fine for large industry and research institutes. But I don't think the Free Software community has much to gain in all of this.

Now OSA will claim that the above is not true, and that all contributors (including the Telecom vendors) have agreed to license their patents under FRAND conditions to all other contributors. It even seemed to me that the speaker at FOSDEM believed this was something positive in any way. I can only laugh at that ;)

FRAND

FRAND (Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory) is a frequently invoked buzzword for patent licensing schemes. It isn't actually defined anywhere, and is most likely just meant to sound nice to people who don't understand what it really means. Like, let's say, political decision makers.

In practise, it is a disaster for individuals and small/medium sized companies. I can tell you first hand from having tried to obtain patent licenses from FRAND schemes before. While they might have reasonable per-unit royalties and they might offer those royalties to everyone, they typically come with ridiculous minimum annual fees.

For example let's say they state in their FRAND license conditions you have to pay 1 USD per device, but a minimum of USD 100,000 per year. Or a similarly large one-time fee at the time of signing the contract.

That's of course very fair to the large corporations, but it makes it impossible for a small company who sells maybe 10 to 100 devices per year, as the 100,000 / 10 then equals to USD 10k per device in terms of royalties. Does that sound fair and Non-Discriminatory to you?

Summary

OAI/OSA are trying to get a non-commercial / research-oriented foot into the design and specification process of future mobile telecom network standardization. That's a big and difficult challenge.

However, the decisions they have taken in terms of licensing show that they are primarily interested in aligning with the large corporate telecom industry, and have thus created something that isn't really Free Software (missing non-research patent grant) and might in the end only help the large telecom vendors to uni-directionally consume contributions from academic research, small/medium sized companies and individual hackers.

Conferences I look forward to in 2016

While I was still active in the Linux kernel development / network security field, I was regularly attending 10 to 15 conferences per year.

Doing so is relatively easy if you earn a decent freelancer salary and are working all by yourself. Running a company funded out of your own pockets, with many issues requiring (or at least benefiting) from personal physical presence in the office changes that.

Nevertheless, after some years of being less of a conference speaker, I'm happy to see that the tide is somewhat changing in 2016.

After my talk at 32C3, I'm looking forward to attending (and sometimes speaking) at events in the first quarter of 2016. Not sure if I can keep up that pace in the following quarters...

FOSDEM

FOSDEM (http://fosdem.org/2016) a classic, and I don't even remember for how many years I've been attending it. I would say it is fair to state it is the single largest event specifically by and for community-oriented free software developers. Feels like home every time.

netdevconf 1.1

netdevconf (http://www.netdevconf.org/1.1/) is actually something I'm really looking forward to. A relatively new grass-roots conference. Deeply technical, and only oriented towards Linux networking hackers. The part of the kernel community that I've known and loved during my old netfilter days.

I'm very happy to attend the event, both for its technical content, and of course to meet old friends like Jozsef, Pablo, etc. I also read that Kuninhiro Ishiguro will be there. I always adored his initial work on Zebra (whose vty code we coincidentally use in almost all osmocom projects as part of libosmovty).

It's great to again see an event that is not driven by commercial / professional conference organizers, high registration fees, and corporate interests. Reminds me of the good old days where Linux was still the underdog and not mainstream... Think of Linuxtag in its early days?

Linaro Connect

I'll be attending Linaro Connect for the first time in many years. It's a pity that one cannot run various open source telecom protocol stack / network element projects and a company and at the same time still be involved deeply in Embedded Linux kernel/system development. So I'll use the opportunity to get some view into that field again - and of course meet old friends.

OsmoDevCon

OsmoDevCon is our annual invitation-only developer meeting of the Osmocom developers. It's very low-profile, basically a no-frills family meeting of the Osmocom community. But really great to meet with all of the team and hearing about their respective experiences / special interest topics.

TelcoSecDay

This (https://www.troopers.de/events/troopers16/580_telcosecday_2016_invitation_only/) is another invitation-only event, organized by the makers of the TROOPERS conference. The idea is to make folks from the classic Telco industry meet with people in IT Security who are looking at Telco related topics. I've been there some years ago, and will finally be able to make it again this year to talk about how the current introduction of 3G/3.5G into the Osmocom network side elements can be used for security research.

32C3 is over, GSM and GPRS was running fine, osmo-iuh progress

The 32C3 GSM Network

32C3 was great from the Osmocom perspective: We could again run our own cellular network at the event in order to perform load testing with real users. We had 7 BTSs running, each with a single TRX. What was new compared to previous years:

  • OsmoPCU is significantly more robust and stable due to the efforts of Jacob Erlbeck at sysmocom. This means that GPRS is now actually still usable in severe overload situations, like 1000 subscribers sharing only very few kilobits. Of course it will be slow, but at least data still passes through as much as that's possible.
  • We were using half-rate traffic channels from day 2 onwards, in order to enhance capacity. Phones supporting AMR-HR would use that, but then there are lots of old phones that only do classic HR (v1). OsmoNITB with internal MNCC handler supports TCH/H with HR and AMR for at least five years, but the particular combination of OsmoBTS + OsmoNITB + lcr (all master branches) was not yet deployed at previous CCC event networks so far.

Being forced to provide classic HR codec actually revealed several bugs in the existing code:

  • OsmoBTS (at least with the sysmoBTS hardware) is using bit ordering that is not compliant to what the spec says on how GSM-HR frames should be put into RTP frames. We didn't realize this so far, as handing frames from one sysmoBTS to another sysmoBTS of course works, as both use the same (wrong) bit ordering.
  • The ETSI reference implementation of the HR codec has lots of global/static variables, and thus doesn't really support running multiple transcoders in parallel. This is however what lcr was trying (and needing) to do, and it of course failed as state from one transcoder instance was leaking into another. The problem is simple, but the solution not so simple. If you want to avoid re-structuring the entire code in very intrusive ways or running one thread per transcoder instance, then the only solution was to basically memcpy() the entire data section of the transcoding library every time you switch the state from one transcoder instance to the other. It's surprisingly difficult to learn the start + size of that data section at runtime in a portable way, though.

Thanks to our resident voice codec expert Sylvain for debugging and fixing the above two problems.

Thanks also to Daniel and Ulli for taking care of the actual logistics of bringing + installing (+ later unmounting) all associated equipment.

Thanks furthermore to Kevin who has been patiently handling the 'Level 2 Support' cases of people with various problems ending up in the GSM room.

It's great that there is a team taking care of those real-world test networks. We learn a lot more about our software under heavy load situations this way.

osmo-iuh progress + talk

I've been focussing basically full day (and night) over the week ahead of Christmas and during Christmas to bring the osmo-iuh code into a state where we could do a end-to-end demo with a regular phone + hNodeB + osmo-hnbgw + osmo-sgsn + openggsn. Unfortunately I only got it up to the point where we do the PDP CONTEXT ACTIVATION on the signalling plane, with no actual user data going back and forth. And then, for strange reasons, I couldn't even demo that at the end of the talk. Well, in either case, the code has made much progress.

The video of the talk can be found at https://media.ccc.de/v/32c3-7412-running_your_own_3g_3_5g_network#video

meeting friends

The annual CCC congress is always an event where you meet old friends and colleagues. It was great talking to Stefan, Dimitri, Kevin, Nico, Sylvain, Jochen, Sec, Schneider, bunnie and many other hackers. After the event is over, I wish I could continue working together with all those folks the rest of the year, too :/

Some people have been missed dearly. Absence from the CCC congress is not acceptable. You know who you are, if you're reading this ;)

Volunteer for Openmoko.org USB Product ID maintenance

Back when Openmoko took the fall, we donated the Openmoko, Inc. USB Vendor ID to the community and started the registry of free Product ID allocations at http://wiki.openmoko.org/wiki/USB_Product_IDs

Given my many other involvements and constant overload, I've been doing a poor job at maintaining it, i.e. handling incoming requests.

So I'm looking for somebody who can reliably take care of it, including

  • reviewing if the project fulfills the criteria (hardware or software already released under FOSS license)
  • entering new allocations to the wiki
  • informing applicants of their allocation

The amount of work is actually not that much (like one mail per week), but it needs somebody to reliably respond to the requests in a shorter time frame than I can currently do.

Please let me know if you'd like to volunteer.

Anyone interested in supporting SMPP interworking at 32C3?

Sylvain brought this up yesterday: Wouldn't it be nice to have some degree of SMS interfacing from OpenBSC/OsmoNITB to the real world at 32C3? It is something that we've never tried so far, and thus definitely worthy of testing.

Of course, full interworking is not possible without assigning public MSISDN to all internal subscribers / 'extensions' how we call them.

But what would most certainly work is to have at least outbound SMS working by means of an external SMPP interface.

The OsmoNITB-internal SMSC speaks SMPP already (in the SMSC role), so we would need to implement some small amount of glue logic that behaves as ESME (external SMS entity) towards both OsmoNITB as well as some public SMS operator/reseller that speaks SMPP again.

Now of course, sending SMS to public operators doesn't come for free. So in case anyone reading this has access to SMPP at public operators, resellers, SMS hubs, it would be interesting to see if there is a chance for some funding/sponsoring of that experiment.

Feel free to contact me if you see a way to make this happen.

python-libsmpp works great with OsmoNITB

Since 2012 we have support for SMPP in OsmoNITB (the network-in-the-box version of OpenBSC). So far I've only used it from C and Erlang code.

Yesterday I gave python-smpplib from https://github.com/podshumok/python-smpplib a try and it worked like a charm. Of course one has to get the details right (like numbering plan indication).

In case anyone is interested in interfacing OsmoNITB SMPP from python, I've put a working example to send SMS at http://cgit.osmocom.org/mncc-python/tree/smpp_test.py

Python tool to talk to OsmoNITB MNCC interface

I've been working on a small python tool that can be used to attach to the MNCC interface of OsmoNITB. It implements the 04.08 CC state machine with our MNCC primitives, including support for RTP bridge mode of the voice streams.

The immediate first use case for this was to be able to generate MT calls to a set of known MSISDNs and load all 14 TCH/H channels of a single-TRX BTS. It will connect the MT calls in pairs, so you end up with 7 MS-to-MS calls.

The first working version of the tool is available from

The code is pretty hacky in some places. That's partially due to the fact that I'm much more familiar in the C, Perl and Erlang world than in python. Still I thought it's a good idea to do it in python to enable more people to use/edit/contribute to it.

I'm happy for review / cleanup suggestion by people with more Python-foo than I have.

Architecturally, I decided to do things a bit erlang-like, where we have finite state machines in an actor models, and message passing between the actors. This is what happens with the GsmCallFsm()'s, which are created by the GsmCallConnector() representing both legs of a call and the MnccActor() that wraps the MNCC socket towards OsmoNITB.

The actual encoding/decoding of MNCC messages is auto-generated from the mncc header file #defines, enums and c-structures by means of ctypes code generation.

mncc_test.py currently drops you into a python shell where you can e.g. start more / new calls by calling functions like connect_call("7839", "3802") from that shell. Exiting the shell by quit() or Ctrl+C will terminate all call FSMs and terminate.

GSM test network at 32C3, after all

Contrary to my blog post yesterday, it looks like we will have a private GSM network at the CCC congress again, after all.

It appears that Vodafone Germany (who was awarded the former DECT guard band in the 2015 spectrum auctions) is not yet using it in December, and they agreed that we can use it at the 32C3.

With this approval from Vodafone Germany we can now go to the regulator (BNetzA) and obtain the usual test license. Given that we used to get the license in the past, and that Vodafone has agreed, this should be a mere formality.

For the German language readers who appreciate the language of the administration, it will be a Frequenzzuteilung für Versuchszwecke im nichtöffentlichen mobilen Landfunk.

So thanks to Vodafone Germany, who enabled us at least this time to run a network again. By end of 2016 you can be sure they will have put their new spectrum to use, so I'm not that optimistic that this would be possible again.

No GSM test network at 32C3

I currently don't assume that there will be a GSM network at the 32C3.

Ever since OpenBSC was created in 2008, the annual CCC congress was a great opportunity to test OpenBSC and related software with thousands of willing participants. In order to do so, we obtained a test licence from the German regulatory authority. This was never any problem, as there was a chunk of spectrum in the 1800 MHz GSM band that was not allocated to any commercial operator, the so-called DECT guard band. It's called that way as it was kept free in order to ensure there is no interference between 1800 MHz GSM and the neighboring DECT cordless telephones.

Over the decades, it was determined on a EU level that this guard band might not be necessary, or at least not if certain considerations are taken for BTSs deployed in that band.

When the German regulatory authority re-auctioned the GSM spectrum earlier this year, they decided to also auction the frequencies of the former DECT guard band. The DECT guard band was awarded to Vodafone.

This is a pity, as this means that people involved with cellular research or development of cellular technology now have it significantly harder to actually test their systems.

In some other EU member states it is easier, like in the Netherlands or the UK, where the DECT guard band was not treated like any other chunk of the GSM bands, but put under special rules. Not so in Germany.

To make a long story short: Without the explicit permission of any of the commercial mobile operators, it is not possible to run a test/experimental network like we used to ran at the annual CCC congress.

Given that

  • the event is held in the city center (where frequencies are typically used and re-used quite densely), and
  • an operator has nothing to gain from permitting us to test our open source GSM/GPRS implementations,

I think there is little chance that this will become a reality.

If anyone has really good contacts to the radio network planning team of a German mobile operator and wants to prove me wrong: Feel free to contact me by e-mail.

Thanks to everyone involved with the GSM team at the CCC events, particularly Holger Freyther, Daniel Willmann, Stefan Schmidt, Jan Luebbe, Peter Stuge, Sylvain Munaut, Kevin Redon, Andreas Eversberg, Ulli (and everyone else whom I may have forgot, my apologies). It's been a pleasure!

Thanks also to our friends at the POC (Phone Operation Center) who have provided interfacing to the DECT, ISDN, analog and VoIP network at the events. Thanks to roh for helping with our special patch requests. Thanks also to those entities and people who borrowed equipment (like BTSs) in the pre-sysmocom years.

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

Osmocom Berlin meetings

Back in 2012, I started the idea of having a regular, bi-weekly meeting of people interested in mobile communications technology, not only strictly related to the Osmocom projects and software. This was initially called the Osmocom User Group Berlin. The meetings were held twice per month in the rooms of the Chaos Computer Club Berlin.

There are plenty of people that were or still are involved with Osmocom one way or another in Berlin. Think of zecke, alphaone, 2b-as, kevin, nion, max, prom, dexter, myself - just to name a few.

Over the years, I got "too busy" and was no longer able to attend regularly. Some people kept it alive (thanks to dexter!), but eventually they were discontinued in 2013.

Starting in October 2015, I started a revival of the meetings, two have been held already, the third is coming up next week on November 11.

I'm happy that I had the idea of re-starting the meeting. It's good to meet old friends and new people alike. Both times there actually were some new faces around, most of which even had a classic professional telecom background.

In order to emphasize the focus is strictly not on Osmocom alone ( particularly not about its users only), I decided to rename the event to the Osmocom Meeting Berlin.

If you're in Berlin and are interested in mobile communications technology on the protocol and radio side of things, feel free to join us next Wednesday.

Progress on the Linux kernel GTP code

It is always sad if you start to develop some project and then never get around finishing it, as there are too many things to take care in parallel. But then, days only have 24 hours...

Back in 2012 I started to write some generic Linux kernel GTP tunneling code. GTP is the GPRS Tunneling Protocol, a protocol between core network elements in GPRS networks, later extended to be used in UMTS and even LTE networks.

GTP is split in a control plane for management and the user plane carrying the actual user IP traffic of a mobile subscriber. So if you're reading this blog via a cellular interent connection, your data is carried in GTP-U within the cellular core network.

To me as a former Linux kernel networking developer, the user plane of GTP (GTP-U) had always belonged into kernel space. It is a tunneling protocol not too different from many other tunneling protocols that already exist (GRE, IPIP, L2TP, PPP, ...) and for the user plane, all it does is basically add a header in one direction and remove the header in the other direction. User data, particularly in networks with many subscribers and/or high bandwidth use.

Also, unlike many other telecom / cellular protocols, GTP is an IP-only protocol with no E1, Frame Relay or ATM legacy. It also has nothing to do with SS7, nor does it use ASN.1 syntax and/or some exotic encoding rules. In summary, it is nothing like any other GSM/3GPP protocol, and looks much more of what you're used from the IETF/Internet world.

Unfortunately I didn't get very far with my code back in 2012, but luckily Pablo Neira (one of my colleagues from netfilter/iptables days) picked it up and brought it along. However, for some time it has been stalled until recently it was thankfully picked up by Andreas Schultz and now receives some attention and discussion, with the clear intention to finish + submit it for mainline inclusion.

The code is now kept in a git repository at http://git.osmocom.org/osmo-gtp-kernel/

Thanks to Pablo and Andreas for picking this up, let's hope this is the last coding sprint before it goes mainline and gets actually used in production.

Germany's excessive additional requirements for VAT-free intra-EU shipments

Background

At my company sysmocom we are operating a small web-shop providing small tools and accessories for people interested in mobile research. This includes programmable SIM cards, SIM card protocol tracers, adapter cables, duplexers for cellular systems, GPS disciplined clock units, and other things we consider useful to people in and around the various Osmocom projects.

We of course ship domestic, inside the EU and world-wide. And that's where the trouble starts, at least since 2014.

What are VAT-free intra-EU shipments?

As many readers of this blog (at least the European ones) know, inside the EU there is a system by which intra-EU sales between businesses in EU member countries are performed without charging VAT.

This is the result of different countries having different amount of VAT, and the fact that a business can always deduct the VAT it spends on its purchases from the VAT it has to charge on its sales. In order to avoid having to file VAT return statements in each of the countries of your suppliers, the suppliers simply ship their goods without charging VAT in the first place.

In order to have checks and balances, both the supplier and the recipient have to file declarations to their tax authorities, indicating the sales volume and the EU VAT ID of the respective business partners.

So far so good. This concept was reasonably simple to implement and it makes the life easier for all involved businesses, so everyone participates in this scheme.

Of course there always have been some obstacles, particularly here in Germany. For example, you are legally required to confirm the EU-VAT-ID of the buyer before issuing a VAT-free invoice. This confirmation request can be done online

However, the Germany tax authorities invented something unbelievable: A Web-API for confirmation of EU-VAT-IDs that has opening hours. Despite this having rightfully been at the center of ridicule by the German internet community for many years, it still remains in place. So there are certain times of the day where you cannot verify EU-VAT-IDs, and thus cannot sell products VAT-free ;)

But even with that one has gotten used to live.

Gelangensbescheinigung

Now in recent years (since January 1st, 2014) , the German authorities came up with the concept of the Gelangensbescheinigung. To the German reader, this newly invented word already sounds ugly enough. Literal translation is difficult, as it sounds really clumsy. Think of something like a reaching-its-destination-certificate

So now it is no longer sufficient to simply verify the EU-VAT-ID of the buyer, issue the invoice and ship the goods, but you also have to produce such a Gelangensbescheinigung for each and every VAT-free intra-EU shipment. This document needs to include

  • the name and address of the recipient
  • the quantity and designation of the goods sold
  • the place and month when the goods were received
  • the date of when the document was signed
  • the signature of the recipient (not required in case of an e-mail where the e-mail headers show that the messages was transmitted from a server under control of the recipient)

How can you produce such a statement? Well, in the ideal / legal / formal case, you provide a form to your buyer, which he then signs and certifies that he has received the goods in the destination country.

First of all, I find if offensive that I have to ask my customers to make such declarations in the first place. And then even if I accept this and go ahead with it, it is my legal responsibility to ensure that he actually fills this in.

What if the customer doesn't want to fill it in or forgets about it?

Then I as the seller am liable to pay 19% VAT on the purchase he made, despite me never having charged those 19%.

So not only do I have to generate such forms and send them with my goods, but I also need a business process of checking for their return, reminding the customers that their form has not yet been returned, and in the end they can simply not return it and I loose money. Great.

Track+Trace / Courier Services

Now there are some alternate ways in which a Gelangensbescheinigung can be generated. For example by a track+trace protocol of the delivery company. However, the requirements to this track+trace protocol are so high, that at least when I checked in late 2013, the track and trace protocol of UPS did not fulfill the requirements. For example, a track+trace protocol usually doesn't show the quantity and designation of goods. Why would it? UPS just moves a package from A to B, and there is no customs involved that would require to know what's in the package.

Postal Packages

Now let's say you'd like to send your goods by postal service. For low-priced non-urgent goods, that's actually what you generally want to do, as everything else is simply way too expensive compared to the value of the goods.

However, this is only permitted, if the postal service you use produces you with a receipt of having accepted your package, containing the following mandatory information:

  • name and address of the entity issuing the receipt
  • name and address of the sender
  • name and address of the recipient
  • quantity and type of goods
  • date of having receive the goods

Now I don't know how this works in other countries, but in Germany you will not be able to get such a receipt form the postal office.

In fact I inquired several times with the legal department of Deutsche Post, up to the point of sending a registered letter (by Deutsche Post) to Deutsche Post. They have never responded to any of those letters!

So we have the German tax authorities claiming yes, of course you can still do intra-EU shipments to other countries by postal services, you just need to provide a receipt, but then at the same time they ask for a receipt indicating details that no postal receipt would ever show.

Particularly a postal receipt would never confirm what kind of goods you are sending. How would the postal service know? You hand them a package, and they transfer it. It is - rightfully - none of their business what its content may be. So how can you ask them to confirm that certain goods were received for transport ?!?

Summary

So in summary:

Since January 1st, 2014, we now have German tax regulations in force that make VAT free intra-EU shipments extremely difficult to impossible

  • The type of receipt they require from postal services is not provided by Deutsche Post, thereby making it impossible to use Deutsche Post for VAT free intra-EU shipments
  • The type of track+trace protocol issued by UPS does not fulfill the requirements, making it impossible to use them for VAT-free intra-EU shipments
  • The only other option is to get an actual receipt from the customer. If that customer doesn't want to provide this, the German seller is liable to pay the 19% German VAT, despite never having charged that to his customer

Conclusion

To me, the conclusion of all of this can only be one:

German tax authorities do not want German sellers to sell VAT-free goods to businesses in other EU countries. They are actively trying to undermine the VAT principles of the EU. And nobody seem to complain about it or even realize there is a problem.

What a brave new world we live in.

small tools: rtl8168-eeprom

Some time ago I wrote a small Linux command line utility that can be used to (re)program the Ethernet (MAC) address stored in the EEPROM attached to an RTL8168 Ethernet chip.

This is for example useful if you are a system integrator that has its own IEEE OUI range and you would like to put your own MAC address in devices that contain the said Realtek etherent chips (already pre-programmed with some other MAC address).

The source code can be obtaned from: http://git.sysmocom.de/rtl8168-eeprom/

small tools: gpsdate

In 2013 I wrote a small Linux program that can be usded to set the system clock based on the clock received from a GPS receiver (via gpsd), particularly when a system is first booted. It is similar in purpose to ntpdate, but of course obtains time not from ntp but from the GPS receiver.

This is particularly useful for RTC-less systems without network connectivity, which come up with a completely wrong system clock that needs to be properly set as soon as th GPS receiver finally has acquired a signal.

I asked the ntp hackers if they were interested in merging it into the official code base, and their response was (summarized) that with a then-future release of ntpd this would no longer be needed. So the gpsdate program remains an external utility.

So in case anyone else might find the tool interesting: The source code can be obtained from http://git.sysmocom.de/gpsdate/

Deutsche Bank / unstable interfaces

Deutsche Bank is a large, international bank. They offer services world-wide and are undoubtedly proud of their massive corporate IT department.

Yet, at the same time, they fail to get the most fundamental principles of user/customer-visible interfaces wrong: Don't change them. If you need to change them, manage the change carefully.

In many software projects, keeping the API or other interface stable is paramount. Think of the Linux kernel, where breaking a userspace-visible interface is not permitted. The reasons are simple: If you break that interface, _everyone_ using that interface will need to change their implementation, and will have to synchronize that with the change on the other side of the interface.

The internet online banking system of Deutsche Bank in Germany permits the upload of transactions by their customers in a CSV file format.

And guess what? They change the file format from one day to the other.

  • without informing their users in advance, giving them time to adopt their implementations of that interface
  • without documenting the exact nature of the change
  • adding new fields to the CSV in the middle of the line, rather than at the end of the line, to make sure things break even more

Now if you're running a business and depend on automatizing your payments using the interface provided by Deutsche Bank, this means that you fail to pay your suppliers in time, you hastily drop/delay other (paid!) work that you have to do in order to try to figure out what exactly Deutsche Bank decided to change completely unannounced, from one day to the other.

If at all, I would have expected this from a hobbyist kind of project. But seriously, from one of the worlds' leading banks? An interface that is probably used by thousands and thousands of users? WTF?!?

The VMware GPL case

My absence from blogging meant that I didn't really publicly comment on the continued GPL violations by VMware, and the 2015 legal case that well-known kernel developer Christoph Hellwig has brought forward against VMware.

The most recent update by the Software Freedom Conservancy on the VMware GPL case can be found at https://sfconservancy.org/news/2015/oct/28/vmware-update/

In case anyone ever doubted: I of course join the ranks of the long list of Linux developers and other stakeholders that consider VMware's behavior completely unacceptable, if not outrageous.

For many years they have been linking modified Linux kernel device drivers and entire kernel subsystems into their proprietary vmkernel software (part of ESXi). As an excuse, they have added a thin shim layer under GPLv2 which they call vmklinux. And to make all of this work, they had to add lots of vmklinux specific API to the proprietary vmkernel. All the code runs as one program, in one address space, in the same thread of execution. So basically, it is at the level of the closest possible form of integration between two pieces of code: Function calls within the same thread/process.

In order to make all this work, they had to modify their vmkernel, implement vmklinux and also heavily modify the code they took from Linux in the first place. So the drivers are not usable with mainline linux anymore, and vmklinux is not usable without vmkernel either.

If all the above is not a clear indication that multiple pieces of code form one work/program (and subsequently must be licensed under GNU GPLv2), what should ever be considered that?

To me, it is probably one of the strongest cases one can find about the question of derivative works and the GPL(v2). Of course, all my ramblings have no significance in a court, and the judge may rule based on reports of questionable technical experts. But I'm convinced if the court was well-informed and understood the actual situation here, it would have to rule in favor of Christoph Hellwig and the GPL.

What I really don't get is why VMware puts up the strongest possible defense one can imagine. Not only did they not back down in lengthy out-of-court negotiations with the Software Freedom Conservancy, but also do they defend themselves strongly against the claims in court.

In my many years of doing GPL enforcement, I've rarely seen such a dedication and strong opposition. This shows the true nature of VMware as a malicious, unfair entity that gives a damn sh*t about other peoples' copyright, the Free Software community and its code of conduct as a whole, and the Linux kernel developers in particular.

So let's hope they waste a lot of money in their legal defense, get a sufficient amount of negative PR out of this to the point of tainting their image, and finally obtain a ruling upholding the GPL.

All the best to Christoph and the Conservancy in fighting this fight. For those readers that want to help their cause, I believe they are looking for more supporter donations.

What I've been busy with

Those who don't know me personally and/or stay in touch more closely might be wondering what on earth happened to Harald in the last >= 1 year?

The answer would be long, but I can summarize it to I disappeared into sysmocom. You know, the company that Holger and I founded four years ago, in order to commercially support OpenBSC and related projects, and to build products around it.

In recent years, the team has been growing to the point where in 2015 we had suddenly 9 employees and a handful of freelancers working for us.

But then, that's still a small company, and based on the projects we're involved, that team has to cover a variety of topics (next to the actual GSM/GPRS related work), including

  • mechanical engineering (enclosure design)
  • all types of electrical engineering
    • AC/electrical wiring/fusing on DIN rails
    • AC/DC and isolated DC/DC power supplies (based on modules)
    • digital design
    • analog design
    • RF design
  • prototype manufacturing and testing
  • software development
    • bare-iron bootloader/os/application on Cortex-M0
    • NuttX on Cortex-M3
    • OpenAT applications on Sierra Wireless
    • custom flavors of Linux on several different ARM architectures (TI DaVinci, TI Sitara)
    • drivers for various peripherals including Ethernet Switches, PoE PSE controller
    • lots of system-level software for management, maintenance, control

I've been involved in literally all of those topics, with most of my time spent on the electronics side than on the software side. And if software, the more on the bootloader/RTOS side, than on applications.

So what did we actually build? It's unfortunately still not possible to disclose fully at this point, but it was all related to marine communications technology. GSM being one part of it, but only one of many in the overall picture.

Given the quite challenging breadth/width of the tasks at hand and problem to solve, I'm actually surprised how much we could achieve with such a small team in a limited amount of time. But then, there's virtually no time left, which meant no gpl-violations.org work, no blogging, no progress on the various Osmocom Erlang projects for core network protocols, and last but not least no Taiwan holidays this year.

ately I see light at the end of the tunnel, and there is again a bit ore time to get back to old habits, and thus I

  • resurrected this blog from the dead
  • resurrected various project homepages that have disappeared
  • started some more work on actual telecom stuff (osmo-iuh, for example)
  • restarted the Osmocom Berlin Meeting

Weblog + homepage online again

On October 31st, 2014, I had reeboote my main server for a kernel upgrade, and could not mount the LUKS crypto volume ever again. While the techincal cause for this remains a mystery until today (it has spawned some conspiracy theories), I finally took some time to recover some bits and pieces from elsewhere. I didn't want this situation to drag on for more than a year...

Rather than bringing online the old content using sub-optimal and clumsy tools to generate static content (web sites generated by docbook-xml, blog by blosxom), I decided to give it a fresh start and try nikola, a more modern and actively maintained tool to generate static web pages and blogs.

The blog is now available at http://laforge.gnumonks.org/blog/ (a redirect from the old /weblog is in place, for those who keep broken links for more than 12 months). The RSS feed URLs are different from before, but there are again per-category feeds so people (and planets) can subscribe to the respective category they're interested in.

And yes, I do plan to blog again more regularly, to make this place not just an archive of a decade of blogging, but a place that is alive and thrives with new content.

My personal web site is available at http://laforge.gnumonks.org/ while my (similarly re-vamped) freelancing business web site is also available again at http://hmw-consulting.de/.

I still need to decide what to do about the old http://gnumonks.org/ site. It still has its old manual web 1.0 structure from the late 1990ies.

I've also re-surrected http://openezx.org/ and http://ftp.gpl-devices.org/ as well as http://ftp.gnumonks.org/ (old content). Next in line is gpl-violations.org, which I also intend to convert to nikola for maintenance reasons.