[Community] Next generation OpenPhoenux devices

Dr. H. Nikolaus Schaller hns at goldelico.com
Mon Mar 18 14:12:48 CET 2013

Am 18.03.2013 um 12:56 schrieb Sven Dyroff:

> Hello Nikolaus, 
> > GSM/UMTS has an open driver ("HSO") and otherwise uses AT commands, i.e. everything free and open. 
> What about the closed firmware within the modem? 

Yes, it is closed. But why do you expect that it can be open(ed)?. Yes, it would be nice for the curious, but let's remain realistic.

Even FSF does not require firmware that is sitting fixed in some peripheral to be open source to call the device free. RMS did write me in a discussion of these topics the term "can be considered hardware". They see only a problem if there is some closed BLOB that is injected into the device during boot and required to operate it. There is no problem with "firmware built into an I/O device" [1].

If I get it right, their reasoning is: freedom is the freedom of the user to compile the whole operating system and applications from source so that it still runs on a given hardware. I.e. this does not include the hardware itself nor peripheral devices that communicate through some protocol.

> > GPS does not need any firmware and provides NMEA on a /dev/tty. 
> IIRC the modem contains an own GPS module. Are you quite sure that the modem's firmware is not able to send GPS data to anywhere in the world over GSM without asking you? 


> Please spend some thoughts about the iPhone befiore you answer. 

I do not get what the allusion to the iPhone helps, because it is compiled by a single company and they have not only iOS but their own firmware in the modems and can do everything they want. They can even upgrade the firmware on the fly.

But let's discuss this scenario. What are the requirements that it works?

* there must be an antenna connected to the GPS receiver (it isn't).
* if the GPS receiver shares the UMTS antenna, the antenna must have a very good sensitivity at 1575 MHz (which it doesn't).
* the antenna should be directed towards the sky. But our GSM/UMTS-Antenna is at the bottom of the device.
* the GPS receiver needs some power, so it must be ensured that the battery does not drain recognizably faster than in normal operation which is quite difficult.
* the UMTS transmitter must start transmitting without user interaction and this can be detected easily.

* the secret agent must know that you own a GTA04 and not some other device with a different modem. And if he knows that he can even invade your GNU/Linux system (unless you compile it from sources on every boot - but do you understand all details of all updates of the source packages?)
* OPTION must have taken over a very high risk to implement such a feature and to try to hide it from the public (what do you think would happen to their reputation if such a feature would exist and become public?)
* it is much easier to triangulate the position of some IMEI from the base stations - this works with any device, does not need additional power and can't be detected by the user.

So I don't believe that it is a relevant scenario to think about, because locating someone by IMEI is much easier and better to hide.


[1] http://www.fsf.org/resources/hw/endorsement/criteria
"However, there is an exception for secondary embedded processors. The exception applies to software delivered inside auxiliary and low-level processors and FPGAs, within which software installation is not intended after the user obtains the product. This can include, for instance, microcode inside a processor, firmware built into an I/O device, or the gate pattern of an FPGA. The software in such secondary processors does not count as product software."
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