OpenBTS: 3G Cellular Data Goes Open Source

Range Networks (Twitter) is simplifying cellular networks using Open Source hardware and software. OpenBTS software is a Linux application that uses a software-defined radio to present a standard 3GPP air interface to user devices.

OpenBTS (Open Base Transceiver Station) allows standard GSM-compatible mobile phones to be used as SIP endpoints in Voice over IP (VOIP) networks. OpenBTS was developed and is maintained by Range Networks. The public release of OpenBTS is notable for being the first free software implementation of the lower three layers of the industry-standard GSM protocol stack.

The aim of the project is to drastically reduce the cost of GSM service provision in rural areas, the developing world, and hard to reach locations such as oil rigs. It’s also used to provide free cellular-like services for events like Burning Man.

OpenBTS announced last month the public release of OpenBTS-UMTS 1.0, providing data capability for 3G networks. The new code is available to the OpenBTS community immediately as a free download.

Industry leading software-defined radio (SDR) suppliers Ettus Research and Nuand make radio hardware that supports OpenBTS-UMTS.

Nuand has a USB 3-powered Software Defined Radio. Out of the box the bladeRF can tune from 300MHz to 3.8GHz without the need for extra boards.

Since 2006, the folks behind OpenBTS have been running the Papa Legba camp at Burning Man have provided fully licensed independent (free) cellular service with help from Geeks Without Bounds and others.

OpenBTS is now part of the GNU Radio project and administered by the Free Software Foundation. The original founders of this project are David A. Burgess and Harvind S. Samra.

GNU Radio can be used with external RF hardware to create software-defined radios, or without hardware in a simulation-like environment.

Keyless car remotes, home alarm systems, traffic alert systems, toll-collection transponders, TV satellites, airliner communications, medical pagers and even space probes can all be disrupted, thanks to software-defined radio, two Australian researchers demonstrated in separate presentations at the BlackHat security conference this month.

See Dailywireless; Free Cellular at Burning Man 2013, Burning Man: Ten Years of Communications Innovation, Range Networks: Open Source Cellular Networks, Burning Man Goes Live, Interactive Arts Festivals

WarKitten Scans Neighborhood WiFi Networks

Security engineer Gene Bransfield has developed WarKitten, a WiFi collar that scans WiFi networks in the neighborhood. The innocuous-looking accessory hides Spark Arduinoopen source hardware. It maps wireless networks and their vulnerabilities wherever the pet wanders.

WarKitten was developed for fun and was discussed in a panel at the Defcon hacking conference.

During the Cold War, the Acoustic Kitty went under the surgeon’s knife to accommodate transmitting and control devices so it could listen to secret conversations in Moscow. The first cat mission was eavesdropping on two men in a park outside the Soviet compound on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C.. The cat was released nearby, but was hit and killed by a taxi almost immediately.

A bravery medal was awarded to a pigeon which flew vital intelligence out of occupied France in World War II.

For the BBC Horizon programme “The Secret Life of the Cat”, the Wildlife Tracking Collars developed by the Royal Veterinarian College were downsized to fit on domestic cats.

About 50 tracking collars were fitted to house cats in the UK, incorporating the GPS receiver, accelerometers, gyroscopes, CPU, and much of the associated software. The college had already developed software functionality for larger animals and was retained, in particular the ability to change the collar’s operation and power consumption based on the cat’s behaviour, to conserve battery life.

The BBC published maps showing the tracks of ten of the cats over 24 hours. Each of the maps is accompanied by a small film clip of the particular tracked cat in action and a summary about how far each cat roams from its home and the size of its roaming area.

Some of the domestic cat collars also carried a miniature high-definition video camera, which provided excellent video quality but only very limited recording time due to their limited battery life. The collars were programmed to only turn the camera on when the accelerometers indicated that the cat was active and the GPS receiver indicated that the cat was outdoors.

The National Geographic & University of Georgia teamed up on a Kitty Cam Project which reviewed 2,000 hours of video collected from 55 Cat Cams.

See Dailywireless: Spy Squirrels Captured and Pet Tracking

Samsung Delays Tizen Smartphone

Samsung is delaying the rollout of the Samsung Z, the first Tizen smartphone, presumably because there are not yet enough apps on the platform. Samsung said that it was postponing the launch of the phone, citing a need to “further enhance the Tizen ecosystem.”

The Samsung Z series will use Tizen rather than Android, and would be released first in Russia. Samsung did not give an updated launch date for the Z or give any more information on its future plans for Tizen.

Other Tizen supporters include Intel, Huawei, ZTE, Orange and Vodafone, as well as Sprint. Samsung has released smart watches and a camera running Tizen and has also said the software will be used in TVs and other home appliances.

MeeGo was a Linux kernel-based free mobile operating system project resulting from the fusion of Intel’s Moblin and Nokia’s Maemo operating systems. The Linux Foundation canceled MeeGo in September 2011 in favor of Tizen.

Samsung hoped Tizen would compete with Google’s Android platform, especially in lower-end phones. Samsung scrapped its homegrown Bada platform in 2013 and folded those development efforts into Tizen.

Samsung is the largest smartphone maker in the world largely thanks to Android, but Google controls much of the direction of Android, its look and feel, and makes money from its Google Play store, which sells apps, music, movies and ebooks.

Internet of Things: Divided or United?

Intel, Broadcom, Samsung, Dell, Atmel and others have joined forces to launch the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC), an organization that will set standards for connecting billions of household gadgets and appliances. OIC intends to initially target the smart home and office.

The Internet of Things (IoT), aka Machine to Machine (M2M) or the Internet of Everything (IoE) adds internet connectivity to the billions of devices that are now ubiquitous in our environment. Some M2M applications will deliver and process information in real time, or near-real-time, while other nodes will have to be extremely low-power or self-powered.

The intention of the OIC is to create specifications for interoperability. It will encapsulate various wireless standards to enable secure device discovery and connectivity across different devices.

“Our goal in founding this new consortium is to solve the challenge of interoperable connectivity for the Internet of Things without tying the ecosystem to one company’s solution,” said Intel corporate vice president and general manager of Software and Services Group Doug Fisher.

But the OIC is not the only consortium to focus on the Internet of Things, notes Forbes.

Microsoft, Haier, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Sharp, and others announced the AllSeen Alliance in December, which now has a total of 51 members. The organizations involved in AllSeen will work off of Qualcomm’s AllJoyn open source project initially.

OIC said it will share specifications and code with other groups to establish a common Internet of Things interface. The OIC added that its platform will emphasize security and authentication.

Apple and Google, two of the biggest players in the Internet of Things market, may go their own way.

This year, Google acquired smart thermostat company Nest for $3.2 billion and WiFi-enabled camera company Dropcam for $555 million. Last week, Google announced it partnered with Mercedes-Benz, Whirlpool and light bulb maker LIFX to integrate their products with Google’s Nest. The Nest thermostat will turn your heat up and LIFX will turn your lights on when your Jawbone wristband detects that you’re awake.

Last month at WWDC, Apple announced a new smart home framework called HomeKit, which can be used for controlling connected devices inside of a user’s home. Apple’s connected car infotainment system is called CarPlay.

Today, Ubiquiti Networks is launching electrical outlets with remote switching (over Wi-Fi) and energy monitoring. The in-wall design allows users to replace existing wall outlets and light switches/dimmers. Unlike traditional switches, the light switches come with touch panels which can be controlled via Wi-Fi for energy monitoring.

IDC expects the installed base of the Internet of Things will be approximately 212 billion “things” globally by 2020. This is expected to include 30.1 billion installed “connected (autonomous) things” in 2020.

USAID Funds Community-based Digital Communications

The NY Times reports the State Department has provided $2.8 million to a team of American hackers, community activists and software geeks to a mesh network, as a way for dissidents abroad to communicate more freely and securely.

The United States Agency for International Development has pledged $4.3 million to create mesh networks in Cuba, a target that is sure to start debate.

Radio Free Asia, a United States government-financed nonprofit, has given $1 million to explore multiple overseas deployments. A mesh network can blanket main areas of town, and users have access to a local server containing Wikipedia in French and Arabic, town street maps, 2,500 free books in French, and an app for secure chatting and file sharing.

The mesh network does not need to be linked to the wider Internet.

Sascha Meinrath, founder of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group in Washington that has been developing the mesh system.

The Red Hook Network in Brooklyn is a community-led effort to close the digital divide and facilitate access to essential services using OIT’s Mesh system.

It was created by a group of Digital Stewards, local young adults ages 19-24, as part of a year-long job training program. It partners with local businesses and residents to host nodes.

The big advantage of mesh networks is availability. You can set up nodes wherever you can, and they’ll find other nearby nodes and self-organize to route data. It’s particularly valuable in emergency networks.

Commotion’s own site says that it can not hide your identity”, “does not prevent monitoring of internet traffic”, and “does not provide strong security against monitoring over the mesh”.

OTI has partnered with groups around the world to develop the concept of Digital Stewardship, and hopes to refine it as more communities adopt and adjust it for local needs.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that USAID engineered the creation of a Twitter-like communications network called ZunZuneo aimed at giving a platform to political dissent to spark reform.

The “Cuban Twitter”, reached at least 40,000 Cuban subscribers but was retired in 2012 without notice.

The Obama administration said the program was not covert and that it served an important purpose by helping information flow more freely to Cubans. Parts of the program “were done discreetly,” Rajiv Shah, USAID’s top official, said on MSNBC, in order to protect the people involved.

NASA Opens Software Portal

NASA writes a lot of software, and now NASA wants to share more than 1,000 applications available for free to the public.

Available on NASA’s Technology Transfer Portal, the software is organized into 15 categories that encompass applications such as project management, design tools, data handling, and image processing.

Software makes up about a third of reported NASA inventions each year, and by publishing a software catalogue the agency hopes to increase the ability of others to make use of its software.

The transfer of technology for commercialization and public use, is part of the agency’s Office of the Chief Technologist.

“Traditionally our [apps] were distributed at different offices and labs around the country. So we needed to gather everything in one place,” said Lockney in an interview with InformationWeek Government.

“We’re more excited about the potential of this catalogue because of how valuable it can be. It’s our best solution to the problems we’ve encountered.”