23 Mar 2017
Back in October 2016 I designed a small open hardware breakout board for WWAN modems in mPCIe form-factor. I was thinking some other people might be interested in this, and indeed, the first manufacturing batch is already sold out by now.
Instead of ordering more of the old (v2) design, I decided to do some improvements in the next version:
- add mounting holes so the PCB can be mounted via M3 screws
- add U.FL and SMA sockets, so the modems are connected via a short U.FL to U.FL cable, and external antennas or other RF components can be attached via SMA. This provides strain relief for the external antenna or cabling and avoids tearing off any of the current loose U.FL to SMA pigtails
- flip the SIM slot to the top side of the PCB, so it can be accessed even after mounting the board to some base plate or enclosure via the mounting holes
- more meaningful labeling of the silk screen, including the purpose of the jumpers and the input voltage.
A software rendering of the resulting v3 PCB design files that I just sent for production looks like this:
Like before, the design of the board (including schematics and PCB layout design files) is available as open hardware under CC-BY-SA license terms. For more information see http://osmocom.org/projects/mpcie-breakout/wiki
It will take some expected three weeks until I'll see the first assembled boards.
23 Mar 2017 11:00pm GMT
21 Mar 2017
As I just wrote in my post about TelcoSecDay, I sometimes worry about the choices I made with Osmocom, particularly when I see all the great stuff people doing in fields that I previously was working in, such as applied IT security as well as Linux Kernel development.
When people like Dieter, Holger and I started to play with what later became OpenBSC, it was just for fun. A challenge to master. A closed world to break open and which to attack with the tools, the mindset and the values that we brought with us.
Later, Holger and I started to do freelance development for commercial users of Osmocom (initially basically only OpenBSC, but then OsmoSGSN, OsmoBSC, OsmoBTS, OsmoPCU and all the other bits on the infrastructure side). This lead to the creation of sysmocom in 2011, and ever since we are trying to use revenue from hardware sales as well as development contracts to subsidize and grow the Osmocom projects. We're investing most of our earnings directly into more staff that in turn works on Osmocom related projects.
It's important to draw the distinction betewen the Osmocom cellular infrastructure projects which are mostly driven by commercial users and sysmocom these days, and all the many other pure juts-for-fun community projects under the Osmocom umbrella, like OsmocomTETRA, OsmocomGMR, rtl-sdr, etc. I'm focussing only on the cellular infrastructure projects, as they are in the center of my life during the past 6+ years.
In order to do this, I basically gave up my previous career[s] in IT security and Linux kernel development (as well as put things like gpl-violations.org on hold). This is a big price to pay for crating more FOSS in the mobile communications world, and sometimes I'm a bit melancholic about the "old days" before.
Financial wealth is clearly not my primary motivation, but let me be honest: I could have easily earned a shitload of money continuing to do freelance Linux kernel development, IT security or related consulting. There's a lot of demand for related skills, particularly with some experience and reputation attached. But I decided against it, and worked several years without a salary (or almost none) on Osmocom related stuff [as did Holger].
But then, even with all the sacrifices made, and the amount of revenue we can direct from sysmocom into Osmocom development: The complexity of cellular infrastructure vs. the amount of funding and resources is always only a fraction of what one would normally want to have to do a proper implementation. So it's constant resource shortage, combined with lots of unpaid work on those areas that are on the immediate short-term feature list of customers, and that nobody else in the community feels like he wants to work on. And that can be a bit frustrating at times.
Is it worth it?
So after 7 years of OpenBSC, OsmocomBB and all the related projects, I'm sometimes asking myself whether it has been worth the effort, and whether it was the right choice.
It was right from the point that cellular technology is still an area that's obscure and unknown to many, and that has very little FOSS (though Improving!). At the same time, cellular networks are becoming more and more essential to many users and applications. So on an abstract level, I think that every step in the direction of FOSS for cellular is as urgently needed as before, and we have had quite some success in implementing many different protocols and network elements. Unfortunately, in most cases incompletely, as the amount of funding and/or resources were always extremely limited.
On the other hand, when it comes to metrics such as personal satisfaction or professional pride, I'm not very happy or satisfied. The community remains small, the commercial interest remains limited, and as opposed to the Linux world, most players have a complete lack of understanding that FOSS is not a one-way road, but that it is important for all stakeholders to contribute to the development in terms of development resources.
I think a collaborative development project (which to me is what FOSS is about) is only then truly successful, if its success is not related to a single individual, a single small group of individuals or a single entity (company). And no matter how much I would like the above to be the case, it is not true for the Osmocom cellular infrastructure projects. Take away Holger and me, or take away sysmocom, and I think it would be pretty much dead. And I don't think I'm exaggerating here. This makes me sad, and after all these years, and after knowing quite a number of commercial players using our software, I would have hoped that the project rests on many more shoulders by now.
This is not to belittle the efforts of all the people contributing to it, whether the team of developers at sysmocom, whether those in the community that still work on it 'just for fun', or whether those commercial users that contract sysmocom for some of the work we do. Also, there are known and unknown donors/funders, like the NLnet foundation for some parts of the work. Thanks to all of you, and clearly we wouldn't be where we are now without all of that!
But I feel it's not sufficient for the overall scope, and it's not [yet] sustainable at this point. We need more support from all sides, particularly those not currently contributing. From vendors of BTSs and related equipment that use Osmocom components. From operators that use it. From individuals. From academia.
Yes, we're making progress. I'm happy about new developments like the Iu and Iuh support, the OsmoHLR/VLR split and 2G/3G authentication that Neels just blogged about. And there's progress on the SIMtrace2 firmware with card emulation and MITM, just as well as there's progress on libosmo-sigtran (with a more complete SUA, M3UA and connection-oriented SCCP stack), etc.
But there are too little people working on this, and those people are mostly coming from one particular corner, while most of the [commercial] users do not contribute the way you would expect them to contribute in collaborative FOSS projects. You can argue that most people in the Linux world also don't contribute, but then the large commercial beneficiaries (like the chipset and hardware makers) mostly do, as are the large commercial users.
All in all, I have the feeling that Osmocom is as important as it ever was, but it's not grown up yet to really walk on its own feet. It may be able to crawl, though ;)
So for now, don't panic. I'm not suffering from burn-out, mid-life crisis and I don't plan on any big changes of where I put my energy: It will continue to be Osmocom. But I also think we have to have a more open discussion with everyone on how to move beyond the current situation. There's no point in staying quiet about it, or to claim that everything is fine the way it is. We need more commitment. Not from the people already actively involved, but from those who are not [yet].
If that doesn't happen in the next let's say 1-2 years, I think it's fair that I might seriously re-consider in which field and in which way I'd like to dedicate my [I would think considerable] productive energy and focus.
21 Mar 2017 6:00pm GMT
I'm just on my way back from the Telecom Security Day 2017 <https://www.troopers.de/troopers17/telco-sec-day/>, which is an invitation-only event about telecom security issues hosted by ERNW back-to-back with their Troopers 2017 <https://www.troopers.de/troopers17/> conference.
I've been presenting at TelcoSecDay in previous years and hence was again invited to join (as attendee). The event has really gained quite some traction. Where early on you could find lots of IT security / hacker crowds, the number of participants from the operator (and to smaller extent also equipment maker) industry has been growing.
The quality of talks was great, and I enjoyed meeting various familiar faces. It's just a pity that it's only a single day - plus I had to head back to Berlin still today so I had to skip the dinner + social event.
When attending events like this, and seeing the interesting hacks that people are working on, it pains me a bit that I haven't really been doing much security work in recent years. netfilter/iptables was at least somewhat security related. My work on OpenPCD / librfid was clearly RFID security oriented, as was the work on airprobe, OsmocomTETRA, or even the EasyCard payment system hack
I have the same feeling when attending Linux kernel development related events. I have very fond memories of working in both fields, and it was a lot of fun. Also, to be honest, I believe that the work in Linux kernel land and the general IT security research was/is appreciated much more than the endless months and years I'm now spending my time with improving and extending the Osmocom cellular infrastructure stack.
Beyond the appreciation, it's also the fact that both the IT security and the Linux kernel communities are much larger. There are more people to learn from and learn with, to engage in discussions and ping-pong ideas. In Osmocom, the community is too small (and I have the feeling, it's actually shrinking), and in many areas it rather seems like I am the "ultimate resource" to ask, whether about 3GPP specs or about Osmocom code structure. What I'm missing is the feeling of being part of a bigger community. So in essence, my current role in the "Open Source Cellular" corner can be a very lonely one.
But hey, I don't want to sound more depressed than I am, this was supposed to be a post about TelcoSecDay. It just happens that attending IT Security and/or Linux Kernel events makes me somewhat gloomy for the above-mentioned reasons.
Meanwhile, if you have some interesting projcets/ideas at the border between cellular protocols/systems and security, I'd of course love to hear if there's some way to get my hands dirty in that area again :)
21 Mar 2017 5:00pm GMT