05 February 2009

Surprise Purge of OpenBTS from SourceForge

[The SF site was restored a week later.  I'd delete this, but there's a long comment thread.]

Back in December, when an injunction was issued against OpenBTS, I had put in a request to SourceForge to purge the project.  Then I removed the non-compliant material myself.  Then I forgot about the purge request.  Now SourceForge finally got around to purging the project.

For anyone who was on the OpenBTS mailing list at SourceForge, I apologize.  I'm seeing what can be done about restoring the mailing list and web pages.

Until then, I'll try to find another place to host the web pages.


  1. Why would you try to get GSM network running via GPL3? Let us develop a completely "free" (libre) cellular telephony technology... I think GSM compatibility is the latest think africans need... Those USD 6/month guys as you say wont use their phones in NYC or Paris for compatibility.

  2. Dave's Top 5 Reasons to Use GSM (with apologies to Mr. Letterman):

    (1) A lot of the enabling patents will start expiring in a couple of years. When that happens, GSM will start to become completely free.

    (2) Developing your own new cellular protocol is very hard work and will probably take longer than (1).

    (3) Even if you could do (2) quickly, the result would probably infringe on some of the GSM patents.

    (4) The spec may be hard to read but phase 2 GSM is actually simple once you understand it. (OpenBTS is only about 10k lines.) You might come up with something more secure, but you are unlikely to come up with anything simpler than can provide a similar level of functionality.

    (5) Even if you could come up with something simpler in (4), GSM handsets still have the price advantage of over ten years of design optimization, huge economies of scale and commoditized refurbished handsets.

    There are other reasons, but those are my top 5.

  3. What you say seems to make sence, I have little background about big GSM carriers... I am very interested in the project, I come from the Czech Republic, where wireless homebrew sollutions go commercial and vice versa.

    We've got some different technologies and business models in CZ:
    - usual GSM (900/1800 MHz) carriers with GPRS, EDGE and very little HSDPA and UMTS (2100)
    - 800+ Wi-Fi commercial WISPs deploying RouterBoards and MikroTik RouterOS heavily for about 1/3 country's Internet users (which is a HUGE proportial number here) - they really fairly good compete with still a kind of monopolisticaly-priced, formerly state owned dominant telecom player who owns ADSL lines
    - commercial UTMS-TDD (870/1900) and CDMA 2000 EV-DO (410-430) ISP networks and one CDMA 2000 EV-DO (450) carrier (voice+data)

    Pitty you got withdrawn from SourceForge, hopefully you have got the new site set up soon. What do you think the project could actually bring to developed world? Current GSM carriers lowering operating costs?

  4. Interesting mix of stuff in CZ. Here in the US cable modems are huge in the ISP market, followed by DSL. WISPs only operate in places where those two are not available. (I got my own ISP through an 802.11 WISP until very recently, but changed over to DSL after AT&T upgraded our neighborhood's trunk.) In the US, CDMA2000 is used for mobile service, but I realize that in most of the rest of the world it is used for WLL and fixed-station WISP.

    Anyway, what we want to bring to the developing world is a new kind of carrier operating a very low-cost WLL system based on a GSM air interface and a VoIP core network.

  5. Sure I understand your mission for the developING world... but what about developED world? As a "disruptive technology" it must cause a market reaction even in developed world.

  6. In the short term, there are probably good markets for this technology in places like oil rigs, cruise ships, and disaster-relief operations.

    Eventually, though all core networks will be VoIP-oriented and something like OpenBTS will be normal for big carriers. For example, British Telecom is converting its entire wired network to VoIP and it will eventually make sense for cellular networks to follow. That will probably take another decode.

  7. One more comment on your first reply:

    (3) This is a general problem of intelectual property. However, you can "bypass" a patent by implementing the same thing somehow else (isnt the whole open source software about this?). So where is a problem here?

    (4) While "open GSM" might be a good thing, it is actually already "obsolete" technology nowadays. As already said, much more sence would make to me developing completely new "open wireless" stack - I think as an open source project it could get attention enough so the development would be quite fast.

    (5) This might be an issue - however, if I look at the commercial electronics sector and see the constantly falling prices, I dont think something with a potentilally billion market could not get through to a reasonably priced headset in a reasonable amount of time.

    In my opinion the whole wireless market is in crisis for some time:

    (1) UMTS was/is hyped and was predicted to come some 8 years ago. What happened instead? UMTS is a shitload expensive technology with poor results.

    (2) Existing GSM/GPRS is underestimated and has to be reinvented therefore. There is super excellent worldwide coverage of GSM networks, yet other applications than voice telephony did not break through. What about some automation use? What about emergency use in automotive sector? There can still money be made of existing data-enabled 2G networks...

    By creating an "Open Mobile Telecommunications System" (could be named "Open Mobile Telecommunications Standard" too) you completely open up the industry for sustainable innovation for the future. There will no longer be UMTS spectrum auction rip-offs that hurt the industry, because the technology will be open and therefore much more predictable. I think OMTS movement would help industry very much...

    Not suprisingly, IEEE alone is looking for an open technology for 4G, because anything else just wont be sustainable... it is little late now and this should have happened 10 years ago, but I still very much appreciate such an approach... (http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/iel5/7742/28815/01295731.pdf?arnumber=1295731)

  8. Kozuch -

    I actually agree with a lot of what you're saying, but not completely.

    (3) GSM was an early digital telephone system and some of its patented techniques (like the paging mechanism) are very desirable in ANY digital telephone system. GSM, despite its security faults, is a very good design and some of its very good elements are patented. (The design goals of a cellular protocol are very different from those of a WLAN. GSM takes this into account in every part of the design.)

    (4) I disagree here. Development of a full cellular standard, down to the physical layer, requires a broader range of skills than one normally finds in the open source community. I say this from my own experience with OpenBTS. As for being obsolete, I'll get to that point a little further down.

    (5) Maybe, but GSM is already there.

    (1) Absolutely true. Big carriers thought people wanted to pay $1/min to do video conferencing on their cellphones, or some such nonsense. In reality, all most people want is for their current service to be more reliable, affordable and widespread. I think the failure of UMTS to market exotic high-bandwidth applications is evidence that GSM is not obsolete at all, because GSM already gives the services that most people really want.

    (2) I agree, but this is more evidence that GSM is not obsolete at all. Most carriers are still not using existing GSM/GPRS to its fullest potential, in terms of available services or network capacities.

    As for OMTS, I don't think carriers want it. To insure QoS carriers need controlled spectrum, so commercial wireless networks will always be licensed. Avoiding spectrum rip-offs is a regulatory issue, not a technical one.

    Here's another little story about 3G/4G in the US. AT&T and Cingular started deploying UMTS in 2004 and were disappointed with the performance. Then they started rolling out HSDPA, which worked better, but hardly anyone actually used it. Then the iPhone came out and people suddenly started using high-speed data services, not because the iPhone was the first phone to offer them but because the iPhone bypassed a lot of AT&T's content control and presented web-based applications in a useable manner. What AT&T discovered, though, was that they forgot to install enough BACKHAUL bandwidth to support the air interface. Now, data rates to iPhones are often limited not by the air interface but by the cruddy little T1 lines that tie the network together. AT&T is scrambling to upgrade, probably looking to WiMax as a way out of this. I'm not sure exactly what my point is here, but it's an interesting story that relates to several topics we've discussed.

  9. Thanx for exhausting post. I did not mean GSM was completely obsolete, I meant rather it was the least you want to do in cell today (even for Africa).

    Regarding OTMS - my idea was open technology in licenced spectrum. In my opinion the spectrum rip-offs happened because the technology was closed and therefore could be easily hyped.

    The AT&T story is interesting. What is your opinion on WiMax actually?

  10. Exhausting? I'm just talking about a subject I like.

    OTMS: GSM is covered by patents, but it is not "closed". Anyone can download and read the spec. Trouble is, nobody does.

    But GSM will be with us always, "Even unto the end of the Earth." For example, back in 2000-2004 took down a lot a of GSM gear to make room for UMTS. That gear ended up in places like central Asia where it replaced even older IS-136 (D-AMPS) systems and where it will continue to be used well into the next decade.

    WiMax? It's probably good for WLL, WISP and cellular backhaul. Beyond that, there has been a lot unjustified optimism. The WiMax frequencies do not penetrate structures. This will cause problems in urban areas. Early big WiMax tests in US cities ended badly. I tried it. At 3 km distance we needed an antenna the size and shape of a 0.5 L beer can held at least 2 m above the ground to get any service at all -- and that was in a licensed network.

    I like the idea of making every interconnect in the world compatible with 802.3 at L2. Every radio would just be an ethernet bridge. However, I believe L1 will always be application-specific: WLL/WISP v. cellular v. broadcasting v. satellite etc. It's just physics.

  11. Very Interesting Indeed.

    Glen Scott Mcdonald.