Back in December 2014 at 31C3, bunnie and xobs presented about their exciting Fernvale project, how they reverse engineered parts of the MT6260 ARM SoC, which also happens to contain a Mediatek GSM baseband.
Thousands (at least hundreds) of people have seen that talk live. To date, 2506 people (or AIs?) have watched the recordings on youtube, 4859 more people on media.ccc.de.
Given that Fernvale was the closest you could get to having a hackable baseband processor / phone chip, I expected at least as much interest into this project as we received four years earlier with OsmocomBB.
As a result, in early 2015, sysmocom decided to order 50 units of Fernvale DVT2 evaluation kits from bunnie, and to offer them in the sysmocom webshop to ensure the wider community would be able to get the boards they need for research into widely available, inexpensive 2G baseband chips.
This decision was made purely for the perceived benefit of the community: Make an exciting project available for anyone. With that kind of complexity and component density, it's unlikely anyone would ever solder a board themselves. So somebody has to build some and make it available. The mark-up sysmocom put on top of bunnie's manufacturing cost was super minimal, only covering customs/import/shipping fees to Germany, as well as minimal overhead for packing/picking and accounting.
Now it's almost four years after bunnie + xobs' presentation, and of those 50 Fernvale boards, we still have 34 (!) units in stock. That means, only 16 people on this planet ever had an interest in playing with what at the time I thought was one of the most exciting pieces of equipment to play with.
So we lost somewhere on the order of close to 3600 EUR in dead inventory, for something that never was supposed to be a business anyway. That sucks, but I still think it was worth it.
In order to minimize the losses, sysmocom has now discounted the boards and reduced the price from EUR 110 to to EUR 58.82 (excluding VAT). I have very limited hope that this will increase the amount of interest in this project, but well, you got to try :)
In case you're thinking "oh, let's wait some more time, until they hand them out for free", let me tell you: If money is the issue that prevents you from playing with a Fernvale, then please contact me with the details about what you'd want to do with it, and we can see about providing them for free or at substantially reduced cost.
In the worst case, it was ~ 3600 EUR we could have invested in implementing more Osmocom software, which is sad. But would I do it again if I saw a very exciting project? Definitely!
The lesson learned here is probably that even a technically very exciting project backed by world-renowned hackers like bunnie doesn't mean that anyone will actually ever do anything with it, unless they get everything handed on a silver plate, i.e. all the software/reversing work is already done for them by others. And that actually makes me much more sad than the loss of those ~ 3600 EUR in sysmocom's balance sheet.
I also feel even more sorry for bunnie + xobs. They've invested time, money and passion into a project that nobody really seemed to want to get involved and/or take further. ("nobody" is meant figuratively. I know there were/are some enthusiasts who did pick up. I'm talking about the big picture). My condolences to bunnie + xobs!