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blosxom


Contact/Impressum

       
Mon, 26 Mar 2012
h-online article covering OpenBTS and OpenBSC

You can find a 3-page article about OpenBTS, OpenBSC and related projects available from the h-online web site.

[ /osmocom | permanent link ]

OsmoDevCon 2012 is over...

We just finished the 4th and final day of the OsmoDevCon 2012. It contained four days of in-depth presentations and discussions related to Free Software communications systems, most notably OsmocomBB, OpenBSC, OpenBTS, OsmoNITB, SIMtrace, OsmoGMR, OsmoSDR, rtl-sdr and many more.

I think it was a great chance to make sure the key developers involved with those projects are up-to-date with what everyone else is hacking on. I was especially happy with the presentations of Holger's smalltalk implementation of certain GSM protocols/interfaces, and it seems my small informal Erlang intro has raised some interest.

If anything, the 4-day conference has shown that there is a massive amount of work going on in the various different projects, and that it has clearly grown beyond anything that a single person could still be involved in all the sub-projects.

Personally, I'm happy to see what has grown out of this "we have a BS-11, let's see what we can do with it" that Dieter and I started in 2008. Now we're no longer talking about BTS/A-bis/BSC, but about SS7, MSC, TCAP/MAP, SCCP, HLR, Erlang, smalltalk, DECT, SIM/USIM, COS, SDR, GMR/Thuraya, TETRA and more recently also femtocells as well as NodeBs.

In the spirit of that 2008 presentation Running your own GSM network using the BS-11, Dieter Spaar has now demonstrated his talk on Running your own UMTS network, using NSN or Ericsson NodeBs. I'm really excited to see where that will take us - despite the fact that due to the 5 MHz wide channels, it's pretty close to impossible to get the experimental spectrum licenses that most of us have been able to get in recent years for our work.

As an outlook, over the remaining year 2012, I see progress in the following areas:

  • osmo-nitb will get a VLR/HLR split (async database access)
  • we will build a stand-alone osmo-msc with A interface
  • the signerl TCAP/MAP implementations will be used in production
  • OsmoSDR firmware will be completed, the hardware will start shipping
  • a new card operating system (OsmoCOS) will emerge
  • a UMA gateway will be implemented
  • a Free Software GPRS/EDGE PCU and RLC/MAC implementation will appear
  • last but not least, sysmoBTS will start commercial shipment really soon now

I'd like to thank our host c-base for having us block their conference room for 4 days, as well as all attendees who have travelled from all parts of Europe, but even the United States and Russia to participate. There definitely will be another OsmoDevCon, though we don't know yet at which point in time.

[ /osmocom | permanent link ]

Sun, 18 Mar 2012
Using a cheap (USD 20) DVB-T USB stick as SDR receiver for (not only) gnuradio

Fellow Osmocom hacker Steve Markgraf has been working on what now seems to be the cheapest way to receive real-world radio signals for PC-based SDR like gnuradio: rtl-sdr. RTL refers to the RTL2832U chipset frequently used in such devices. It can be used to obtain 2.8 Ms/s of 8-bit I+Q samples.

Below is a picture (courtesy of Steve) how the hardware looks like:

[ /osmocom | permanent link ]

Fri, 16 Mar 2012
Osmocom GPS timing source with u-blox LEA6-T

Recently we have been looking for an inexpensive way to generate a high-accuracy clock source for E1 lines, as it is required by a number of classic BTSs that don't have a sufficiently accurate OCXO built-in.

Luckily, the Digium E1 cards like TE-410P have a timing connector, to which an 8.192 MHz signal can be injected. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any OCXOs around for that frequency. That's where the u-blox LEA-6T comes into play: It has a configurable TIMEPULSE2 output that can generate any frequency up to 10 MHz. We use this in our board to generate 8.192 Mhz and want to feed that into the Digium card.

So all we had to do is build a small board that contains the module and connector for antenna input, clock output and the obligatory 2.5mm stereo jack for the OsmocomBB-style UART:

Thanks to Sylvain for doing the schematics/PCB design, and thanks to Pablo for writing the code to configurea and activate the 8.192MHz output.

Once the design is verified, the schematics + gerber will be available, as well as board from the sysmocom webshop.

[ /osmocom | permanent link ]

Wed, 14 Mar 2012
Alcatel MTK phone UART pinout

The Alcatel OT-890D is a MT6573 based smartphone. It seems one of the UARTs is available on test pads as seen in this picture:

The voltage level is still 3.3V, so no fancy 1.8V gear is required.

During boot, the UART is first used at 19200 bps, where it prints the strings "MW01" and "MW02". I then switches to 115200 bps where it prints "READY", and finally switches to 921600 bps, where it seems to output some mixed binary/text messages containing AT commands and responses between AP and BP, as well as some debug information:

�Ue� � � T+CREG=2
�Ue�!�!�!T+CSQSQ=1
�Ue�!�!�!AT+CREG=2
�Uew�"w�"w�"SQSQ=1
'Ue"""      AT+EFUN=1
      SML: Load!_Ue""""""
                         SML: Load!hU("("("

I haven't yet investigated if the binary between the text is some standard HDLC framing or a TS 07.10 multiplex.

If anyone knows more about the boot process (MW01/MW02/READY) or the binary protocol, please let me know.

[ /gsm | permanent link ]

Fri, 02 Mar 2012
The next project on the horizon: A Free Software CardOS

Now that we have a 100% free software GSM protocol stack and baseband firmware for the network and mobile phone side, the only remaining proprietary part is the SIM card. And what is a SIM card? It's a small embedded computer / SoC with integrated flash + RAM.

Once again, like in many other areas of the telecommunications industry, development of Free Software has been hampered by lack of available register-level hardware documentation. Without such information, how should you be able to program? Hardware without such documentation is an insult to every software developer.

The next problem is that typically, the Card Operating System (COS) is written into mask ROM of the smartcard SoC. Making such a mask is quite expensive, and it means that for every software version, different silicon will have to be produced. So unless you are going to have millions of units in quantity, it is unlikely that it would make economic sense.

However, in recent years, purely flash based smartcard chips have been available and getting less and less expensive. However, none of them (like the Atmel AT90SC7272 or similar devices) have freely available documentation. Furthermore, availability on the open market is somewhat of a problem, mainly because they have been used extensively by people cracking encrypted satellite TV channels. In recent years, the smartcard industry is trying hard to cut any kind of supply to that group of users.

However, luckily, we now see small/independent chip design houses in China picking up and producing their own smartcard chips. They are not only cheaper, but they simply hand out the documentation to anyone who asks them. No questions asked, no NDA required. Welcome to the promised land! That's what Free Software developers like:

  • Free access to documentation without any confidentiality agreements
  • development samples available at the same price as quantity pricing later on
  • inexpensive development hardware with JTAG access
  • reference source code provided without NDA
  • they are happy that somebody wants to develop for their hardware

As you can see, I am quite enthusiastic about this. I like this no-bullshit approach. No stupid marketing and sales droids who charge ridiculous fees for proprietary development tools that are inflexible and force developers to use one particular OS/IDE/toolchain.

I'm not sure how much time there will be, given the multitude of other projects that are all asking for attention. However, I think this is a chance that the Free Software community doesn't get every day. Let's hope some other people like bare iron programming in small embedded systems can get excited and we can create a FOSS COS. It doesn't have to be something serious. Something quite simple would be sufficient for the beginning. I'm not thinking of EAL4+ certification, multiple channels and public key crypto. SIM/USIM cards are simple, they just require a bit of filesystem read/write operations plus authentication. And luckily, SIM toolkit development doesn't have to be done in Java this way, either ;)

[ /osmocom | permanent link ]

OsmoSDR status update

It has been two months since I first was able to play with the OsmoSDR hardware prototypes. Back at that time, there was no FPGA code yet, and some hardware bugs still had to be resolved. Nonetheless, the e4k tuner driver could already be implemented and tuning was confirmed by looking at the analog i/q spectrum.

Meanwhile, the hardware has been re-worked by SR-Systems and FPGA VHDL code written by maintech.de. Ever since that, they dropped the ball again with me as I had been careless enough to volunteer for writing the firmware.

And that's what I did or at least tried to do for quite some time during the last two weeks. The main problem was that I didn't have much time. The second problem was that I never was able to get the SSC (synchronous serial controller) receive DMA working.

This was a really odd experience, as I've worked a lot with that very same SSC peripheral before, while writing firmware for the OpenPICC some 6 years ago. However, this was in an at91sam7s, where the SSC is interfaced with the PDC (Peripheral DMA Controller). In the at91sam3u of OsmoSDR, it interfaces with a more modern DMAC/HDMA controller, capable of scatter-gather DMA and other fancy stuff.

Atmel has provided reference code that uses the SSC DMA in transmit mode (for a USB audio device playing back music via the Wolfson codec on the SAM3U-EK board). After thoroughly studying the DMAC/HDMA documentation I set out to write code for DMA-based SSC receiver. And it never worked.

I actually wrote two independent implementations, one from scratch and the other based on Atmel reference code. Neither of them worked. It seemed to be a problem with the hardware hand-shaking between SSC and DMAC. The SSC was successfully receiving data, and that data could be read out from the CPU using a polling or IRQ based driver. But if you're running at something like 32 Mbps and don't have a FIFO, you desperately want to use DMA. When the DMA handshaking was turned off, the DMA code worked, but of course it read the same received word several thousand times before the next data arrived on the SSC.

In the end, I was actually convinced it must be a silicon bug. Until I thought well, maybe they just connected the flow controller to a different ID in Rx and Tx direction. Since there are only 16 such identifiers, it was relatively easy to brute-force all of them and see if it worked. And voila - using the identifier 4, it worked!

So what had happened? The Atmel-provided reference code contained a

 #define BOARD_SSC_DMA_HW_SRC_REQ_ID      AT91C_HDMA_SRC_PER_3
and that was wrong. 3 is valid for SSC TX but not for SSC RX. Unfortunately I never found any of those magic numbers in the SAM3U manual either. They are not documented in the chapter of the SSC, and they are not documented in the chapter about HDMA/DMAC either. And they are not identical with the Peripheral Identifiers that are used all over the chip for the built-in peripherals.

In case anyone else is interested, a patch can be found at my at91lib git repository.

I filed a ticket with Atmel support, and they pointed out in fact there was a table with those identifiers somewhere in the early introductory chapters where you can see a brief summary of the features of each integrated peripheral. Unfortunately they use slightly different naming in that chapter and in the DMAC, so a full-text search also didn't find them. Neither is that table visible in the PDF index.

So about four man-days later it was finally working. Another day was spent on integrating it with the USB DMA for sending high-speed isochronous transfers over the bus into the PC. And ever since I'm happily receiving something like 500,000 or 1,000,000 samples / second from an alsa device, using snd-usb-audio. Luckily, unlike MacOS or Windows, the Linux audio drivers don't make arbitrary restrictions in the sample rate. According to the USB Audio spec, the sample rate can be any 24bit number. So audio devices with 16.7 Ms/s are very much within the spec. I hope some of the other OS driver writers would take that to their heart.

One of the first captures can be found at this link, containing a bzip2ed wave file in S16LE format Stereo (I/Q). It contains a FM audio signal transmitted using a small pocket-sized FM transmitter.

There is no I/Q DC offset calibration yet, but once that is done we're probably able to finally put the design into production.

[ /electronics | permanent link ]

Thu, 01 Mar 2012
More research into the Motorola Horizon macro and Mo-bis

Once upon a time there was an Americans company called Motorola, and they decided to implement GSM. Unfortunately they decided to deviate significantly from the specification and implement their own proprietary back-haul protocol between BTS and BSC, called Mo-bis. It replaces the standardized A-bis interface.

Today, There are plenty of phased-out Motorola Horizon / Horizon II macro BTSs that have been phased out. Basically you can get them for scrap value, which makes them an ideal target for GSM enthusiasts willing to run a single-cell network with little investment. So while there are actually people who are interested in operating a power-consuming device roughly the size of a washing machine in their home/office - they are normally not interested in running a 19" rack sized Motorola BSC with it. Also, the BSCs are much less frequently to be found compared to the BTS.

So it would be great to support Mo-bis from within OpenBSC. A couple of brave young men have set out to try the seemingly impossible. There's absolutely zero documentation available on that protocol, and no wireshark support either. However, the University of Brno (Czech) has a functional Motorola BTS + BSC setup, and I was able to obtain protocol traces from them and actually experiment with the equipment in their lab.

The entire Motorola GSM architecture seems to be over-engineered without end. Basically you are looking at a distributed computer from the early 1990ies. Lots of processor cards (m68k, ppc) interconnected by HDLC links on top of synchronous 2Mbps links with 64k timeslots. Those links are available e.g. on the backplane of the BTS as a TDM highway. So basically even inside the BTS, the individual processors talk over E1 to each other. In the BSC, there is a token ring based LAN between some of the cards instead. And the MCUF in the BTS even supports to transport those proprietary inter-cpu links via fiber optic (!).

Each processor has a 16bit identifier by which it can be addressed in form of physical addresses. Individual processes on the processors have fixed process identifiers, and they allocate a variety of mailboxes in which they can receive messages from remote processors. There are routing functions at intermediate notes.

So any process on any processor card can send messages to any mailbox of any other process on any other processor, independent of its physical location (locally at the BTS, or at the remote BSC, or even at remote BTSs).

Besides physical addresses, there are also functional addresses. Thos addresses are used particularly to support fail-over. Every board in a BTS and BSC can be fully redundant, and if you use physical addresses, you would address one of the two redundant boards. Using functional addresses, you address the function they both can perform, and some routing magic will make sure it ends up at the current active node in the pair.

There are multiple processors in every TRX, and a couple of processors for each BTS, processors in the E1 line cards, etc. Now speaking of the actual Mo-bis interface: It seems to be a weird mixture between 08.58 (RSL) and 08.08 (BSSAP/BSSMAP). However, after staring at the messages sufficiently long, I have been able to write a more or less complete wireshark dissector for them. Radio Channel Activation (RACH/IMM.ASS) are for example handled directly inside the BTS, they don't exist as transactions on the Mo-bis like they do in A-bis.

So implementing the actual location update / MO+MT voice call and SMS related transactions is actually not all that hard. What makes things really difficult is the way the BTS is initialized at startup. Basically what resembles the OML part of standardized A-bis.

There is a lot of low-level management and bring-up of the individual processes and boards, and the download of a large 500 kByte-sized BLOB simply called database. This binary database contains literally hundreds of configuration parameters for the BTS and its neighbors. It also contains sophisticated configuration of the message routers, the switching/multiplexing of 64k timeslots on the various links, information on redundant paths within the back-haul network, etc.

Interestingly, using the password combination 3beatles and 4stooges on any of the serial consoles of the BTS or BSC, you can enter into a "god-mode" which permits you to enter the executive monitor (EMON). The executive is the operating system they run on both m68k and ppc processors. It provides access to something like a syslog of messages from the various processes, and you can manually generate messages that are to be sent to mailboxes of processes. You can inspect the object table (application programs an databases), read/write to PCMCIA flash cards, read and write to logical and physical memory, inspect CPU and I/O usage and much more. In fact, the integrated Code Object Manager (COM) even allows the processors to synchronize their code versions and remotely boot other CPUS via HDLC channels.

For a communications system geek like myself, it's extremely fascinating to see such a sophisticated and versatile system. I only wonder why on earth somebody would come up with something as complex, only to connect a couple of BTSs to a BSC. Thus, the only logical explanation is that Motorola has developed this distributed proprietary computing system way before they went into GSM, and they probably just recycled it as it already existed.

If anyone knows more about the history of this, I would be excited to hear about it. It literally feels like being an archaeologist. Analyzing ancient technology from our forefathers. But then, it only is 20 odd years old. The only time I had a similar feeling was when I briefly came in touch with IBM mainframes in 2001 and looking at IBMs SNA protocol stack.

[ /gsm | permanent link ]