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Sat, 20 Feb 2010
Restructuring OpenBSC and OsmocomBB code

I've spent the better part of the day with , renaming files/functions/include paths, Makefiles, autotools and the like.

The result of this is a new sub-project called libosmocore that gathers all the shared code between the network-side GSM implementation OpenBSC and the phone-side implementation OsmocomBB. The library is portable enough that it can run on a proper OS (like GNU/Linux) but also be cross-compiled to work on the actual phone without any OS.

On the other hand we now have a master Makefile in OsmocomBB to build libosmocore for host PC and target (phone), as well as the osmocon and layer2 host programs and the phone firmware itself.

Let's hope I can now return to writing actual code...

[ /gsm/osmocom-bb | permanent link ]

Fri, 19 Feb 2010
Announcing OsmocomBB: Free Software / Open Source GSM Baseband firmware

Last, but not least, I am proud to announce the OsmocomBB project publicly. During the last 7 weeks, a small group of skilled developers has been working on this

It has now reached a point where we can

  • scan the spectrum for the strongest signal GSM channels
  • lock onto them and performing AFC (automatic frequency control)
  • decode the SCH burst to obtain BSIC and GSM frame time
  • decode the BCCH of the cell, pass it over to the host PC and feed it into wireshark

Since this in itself is a valuable and useful milestone of the project, it was the ideal opportunity to take this project public.

There's still a lot of work to be done in many areas. Most of them are not even related to the GSM air interface. So if you're familiar with C development on an ARM7TDMI based microcontroller, know your way around I2C and SPI, are familiar with the GNU toolchain for ARM and want to help us out: Please join the baseband-devel mailing list right away!

[ /gsm | permanent link ]

Sat, 13 Feb 2010
In six weeks from bare hardware to receiving BCCHs

After six weeks of full-time hacking, with the help of a few friends, we have made it to receiving actual BCCH data from a GSM cell.

So what does this mean? As I have indicated publicly at the 26C3 conference: Now, that we have managed to create a working GSM network-side implementation (OpenBSC) during the last year, we will proceed to do the same with the phone side.

Initially we spent quite a bit of thinking on building our own custom hardware. But while planning for the first prototype, we realized that it would simply distract us too much from what we actually wanted to do. We don't want to take care of component sourcing, prototype generations, quality assurance in production, production testing, etc. -- All we want is to write a Free Software GSM protocol implementation for a phone.

Unfortunately (as usually in the industry), the silicon and device makers do not publish sufficient documentation about their devices to enable third-party developers to go ahead and write their own software: The never ending problem of Free Software in many areas beyond more-or-less standardized hardware like in the PC industry.

So, if you want to write Free Software for such a device, you have two options:

  • Reverse engineering the existing hardware and writing your code based on that information
  • Building your own hardware and then writing the software you wanted to write.

I've been involved in both approaches multiple times while looking only at the application processor (the PDA side) of mobile phones: OpenEZX and gnufiish are two more or less abandoned projects aimed at reverse engineering. Openmoko was the project that had to build its own hardware as a dependency to be fulfilled before writing software.

If you're not a company and don't want to sell anything, the reverse engineering approach looks more promising. You can piggy-back on existing hardware, don't need to take care of sourcing/production/certification/shipping and other tedious bits.

If you are a company and want to generate revenue, then of course you want to build the hardware and ship it, as it is what you derive your profits from.

So, just to be clear on this: Neither OpenEZX, nor gnufiish nor Openmoko were ever about writing Free Software for the GSM baseband processor, i.e. the beast that exchanges messages with the actual GSM operator network. But this is what we're working on right now.

It's about time, don't you agree? after 19 years of only proprietary software on the baseband chips in billions of phones, it is more than time for bringing the shining light of Freedom into this area of computing.

To me personally, it is the holy grail of Free Software: Driving it beyond the PC, beyond operating systems and application programs. Driving it into the billions of embedded devices where everyone is stuck with proprietary software without an alternative. Everybody takes it for granted to run megabytes of proprietary object code, without any memory protection, attached to an insecure public network (GSM). Who would do that with his PC on the Internet, without a packet filter, application level gateways and a constant flow of security updates of the software? Yet billions of people do that with their phones all the time.

I hope with our work there will be a time where the people who paid for their phones will be able to actually own and control what it does. If I have paid for it, I determine what software it runs and when it send which message or doesn't.

Oh, getting back to what our work: It will be published as soon as it is sufficiently stable and fit for public consumption. You won't be able to make phone calls yet, but we'll get there at some later point this year.

[ /gsm | permanent link ]

Fri, 05 Feb 2010
Symbian is Open Soruce - Really?

In recent news, the Symbian Foundation announced that "All 108 packages containing the source code of the Symbian platform can now be downloaded from Symbian's developer web site". This is great news!

This morning I tried to look at the parts most interesting to me: phonesrv (implementing call engine, cell broadcast and SIM toolkit APIs) and poc (implementing push-to-talk). Their pages don't have the usual "source code" tab at the bottom right which links to mercurial and tarball download pages!

Either I'm too stupid, or I am unable to find any source code for those two components. I'm quite sure something essential like the API's for making phone calls are considered part of the Symbian platform. So how does that match with the statement that all packages containing the Symbian platform can now be downloaded?

[ /gsm | permanent link ]