Older blog entries for LaForge (starting at number 325)

Osmocom Review 2017

As 2017 has just concluded, let's have a look at the major events and improvements in the Osmocom Cellular Infrastructure projects (i.e. those projects dealing with building protocol stacks and network elements for mobile network infrastructure.

I've prepared a detailed year 2017 summary at the osmocom.org website, but let me write a bit about the most note-worthy topics here.

NITB Split

Once upon a time, we implemented everything needed to operate a GSM network inside a single process called OsmoNITB. Those days are now gone, and we have separate OsmoBSC, OsmoMSC, OsmoHLR, OsmoSTP processes, which use interfaces that are interoperable with non-Osmocom implementations (which is what some of our users require).

This change is certainly the most significant change in the close-to-10-year history of the project. However, we have tried to make it as non-intrusive as possible, by using default point codes and IP addresses which will make the individual processes magically talk to each other if installed on a single machine.

We've also released a OsmoNITB Migration Guide, as well as our usual set of user manuals in order to help our users.

We'll continue to improve the user experience, to re-introduce some of the features lost in the split, such as the ability to attach names to the subscribers.

Testing

We have osmo-gsm-tester together with the two physical setups at the sysmocom office, which continuously run the latest Osmocom components and test an entire matrix of different BTSs, software configurations and modems. However, this tests at super low load, and it tests only signalling so far, not user plane yet. Hence, coverage is limited.

We also have unit tests as part of the 'make check' process, Jenkins based build verification before merging any patches, as well as integration tests for some of the network elements in TTCN-3. This is much more than we had until 2016, but still by far not enough, as we had just seen at the fall-out from the sub-optimal 34C3 event network.

OsmoCon

2017 also marks the year where we've for the first time organized a user-oriented event. It was a huge success, and we will for sure have another OsmoCon incarnation in 2018 (most likely in May or June). It will not be back-to-back with the developer conference OsmoDevCon this time.

SIGTRAN stack

We have a new SIGTRAN stakc with SUA, M3UA and SCCP as well as OsmoSTP. This has been lacking a long time.

OsmoGGSN

We have converted OpenGGSN into a true member of the Osmocom family, thereby deprecating OpenGGSN which we had earlier adopted and maintained.

Syndicated 2017-12-31 23:00:00 from LaForge's home page

On the Linux Kernel Enforcement Statement

I'm late with covering this here, but work overload is having its toll on my ability to blog.

On October 16th, key Linux Kernel developers have released and anounced the Linux Kernel Community Enforcement Statemnt.

In its actual text, those key kernel developers cover

  • compliance with the reciprocal sharing obligations of GPLv2 is critical and mandatory
  • acknowledgement to the right to enforce
  • expression of interest to ensure that enforcement actions are conducted in a manner beneficial to the larger community
  • a method to provide reinstatement of rights after ceasing a license violation (see below)
  • that legal action is a last resort
  • that after resolving any non-compliance, the formerly incompliant user is welcome to the community

I wholeheartedly agree with those. This should be no surprise as I've been one of the initiators and signatories of the earlier statement of the netfilter project on GPL enforcement.

On the reinstatement of rights

The enforcement statement then specifically expresses the view of the signatories on the specific aspect of the license termination. Particularly in the US, among legal scholars there is a strong opinion that if the rights under the GPLv2 are terminated due to non-compliance, the infringing entity needs an explicit reinstatement of rights from the copyright holder. The enforcement statement now basically states that the signatories believe the rights should automatically be re-instated if the license violation ceases within 30 days of being notified of the license violation

To people like me living in the European (and particularly German) legal framework, this has very little to no implications. It has been the major legal position that any user, even an infringing user can automatically obtain a new license as soon as he no longer violates. He just (really or imaginary) obtains a new copy of the source code, at which time he again gets a new license from the copyright holders, as long as he fulfills the license conditions.

So my personal opinion as a non-legal person active in GPL compliance on the reinstatement statement is that it changes little to nothing regarding the jurisdiction that I operate in. It merely expresses that other developers express their intent and interest to a similar approach in other jurisdictions.

Syndicated 2017-11-06 23:00:00 from LaForge's home page

SFLC sues SFC over trademark infringement

As the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) has publicly disclosed on their website, it appears that Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has filed for a trademark infringement lawsuit against SFC.

SFLC has launched SFC in 2006, and SFLC has helped and endorsed SFC in the past.

This lawsuit is hard to believe. What has this community come to, if its various members - who used all to be respected equally - start filing law suits against each other?

It's of course not known what kind of negotiations might have happened out-of-court before an actual lawsuit has been filed. Nevertheless, one would have hoped that people are able to talk to each other, and that the mutual respect for working at different aspects and with possibly slightly different strategies would have resulted in a less confrontational approach to resolving any dispute.

To me, this story just looks like there can only be losers on all sides, by far not just limited to the two entities in question.

On lwn.net some people, including high-ranking members of the FOSS community have started to spread conspiracy theories as to whether there's any secret scheming behind the scenes, particularly from the Linux Foundation towards SFLC to cause trouble towards the SFC and their possibly-not-overly-enjoyed-by-everyone enforcement activities.

I think this is complete rubbish. Neither have I ever had the impression that the LF is completely opposed to license enforcement to begin with, nor do I have remotely enough phantasy to see them engage in such malicious scheming.

What motivates SFLC and/or Eben to attack their former offspring is however unexplainable to the bystander. One hopes there is no connection to his departure from FSF about one year ago, where he served as general counsel for more than two decades.

Syndicated 2017-11-06 23:00:00 from LaForge's home page

Obtaining the local IP address of an unbound UDP socket

Sometimes one is finding an interesting problem and is surprised that there is not a multitude of blog post, stackoverflow answers or the like about it.

A (I think) not so uncommon problem when working with datagram sockets is that you may want to know the local IP address that the OS/kernel chooses when sending a packet to a given destination.

In an unbound UDP socket, you basically send and receive packets with any number of peers from a single socket. When sending a packet to destination Y, you simply pass the destination address/port into the sendto() socket function, and the OS/kernel will figure out which of its local IP addresses will be used for reaching this particular destination.

If you're a dumb host with a single default router, then the answer to that question is simple. But in any reasonably non-trivial use case, your host will have a variety of physical and/or virtual network devices with any number of addresses on them.

Why would you want to know that address? Because maybe you need to encode that address as part of a packet payload. In the current use case that we have, it is the OsmoMGW, implementing the IETF MGCP Media Gateway Control Protocol.

So what can you do? You can actually create a new "trial" socket, not bind it to any specific local address/port, but connect() it to the destination of your IP packets. Then you do a getsockname(), which will give you the local address/port the kernel has selected for this socket. And that's exactly the answer to your question. You can now close the "trial" socket and have learned which local IP address the kernel would use if you were to send a packet to that destination.

At least on Linux, this works. While getsockname() is standard BSD sockets API, I'm not sure how portable it is to use it on a socket that has not been explicitly bound by a prior call to bind().

Syndicated 2017-10-19 22:00:00 from LaForge's home page

Invited keynote + TTCN-3 talk at netdevconf 2.2 in Seoul

It was a big surprise that I've recently been invited to give a keynote on netfilter history at netdevconf 2.2.

First of all, I wouldn't have expected netfilter to be that relevant next to all the other [core] networking topics at netdevconf. Secondly, I've not been doing any work on netfilter for about a decade now, so my memory is a bit rusty by now ;)

Speaking of Rusty: Timing wise there is apparently a nice coincidence that I'll be able to meet up with him in Berlin later this month, i.e. hopefully we can spend some time reminiscing about old times and see what kind of useful input he has for the keynote.

I'm also asking my former colleagues and successors in the netfilter project to share with me any note-worthy events or anecdotes, particularly also covering the time after my retirement from the core team. So if you have something that you believe shouldn't miss in a keynote on netfilter project history: Please reach out to me by e-mail ASAP and let me know about it.

To try to fend off the elder[ly] statesmen image that goes along with being invited to give keynotes about the history of projects you were working on a long time ago, I also submitted an actual technical talk: TTCN-3 and Eclipse Titan for testing protocol stacks, in which I'll cover my recent journey into TTCN-3 and TITAN land, and how I think those tools can help us in the Linux [kernel] networking community to productively produce tests for the various protocols.

As usual for netdevconf, there are plenty of other exciting talks in the schedule

I'm very much looking forward to both visiting Seoul again, as well as meeting lots of the excellent people involved in the Linux networking subsystems. See ya!

Syndicated 2017-10-09 22:00:00 from LaForge's home page

Ten years Openmoko Neo1973 release anniversary dinner

As I noted earlier this year, 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of shipping the first Openmoko phone, the Neo1973.

On this occasion, a number of the key people managed to gather for an anniversary dinner in Taipei. Thanks for everyone who could make it, it was very good to see them together again. Sadly, by far not everyone could attend. You have been missed!

The award for the most crazy attendee of the meeting goes out to my friend Milosch, who has actually flown from his home in the UK to Taiwan, only to meet up with old friends and attend the anniversary dinner.

You can some pictures in Milosch's related tweet.

Syndicated 2017-10-08 22:00:00 from LaForge's home page

On Vacation

In case you're wondering about the lack of activity not only on this blog but also in git repositories, mailing lists and the like: I've been on vacation since September 13. It's my usual "one month in Taiwan" routine, during which I spend some time in Taipei, but also take several long motorbike tours around mostly rural Taiwan.

You can find the occasional snapshot in my twitter feed, such as the, pictures, here and there.

Syndicated 2017-10-04 22:00:00 from LaForge's home page

Purism Librem 5 campaign

There's a new project currently undergoing crowd funding that might be of interest to the former Openmoko community: The Purism Librem 5 campaign.

Similar to Openmoko a decade ago, they are aiming to build a FOSS based smartphone built on GNU/Linux without any proprietary drivers/blobs on the application processor, from bootloader to userspace.

Furthermore (just like Openmoko) the baseband processor is fully isolated, with no shared memory and with the Linux-running application processor being in full control.

They go beyond what we wanted to do at Openmoko in offering hardware kill switches for camera/phone/baseband/bluetooth. During Openmoko days we assumed it is sufficient to simply control all those bits from the trusted Linux domain, but of course once that might be compromised, a physical kill switch provides a completely different level of security.

I wish them all the best, and hope they can leave a better track record than Openmoko. Sure, we sold some thousands of phones, but the company quickly died, and the state of software was far from end-user-ready. I think the primary obstacles/complexities are verification of the hardware design as well as the software stack all the way up to the UI.

The budget of ~ 1.5 million seems extremely tight from my point of view, but then I have no information about how much Puri.sm is able to invest from other sources outside of the campaign.

If you're a FOSS developer with a strong interest in a Free/Open privacy-first smartphone, please note that they have several job openings, from Kernel Developer to OS Developer to UI Developer. I'd love to see some talents at work in that area.

It's a bit of a pity that almost all of the actual technical details are unspecified at this point (except RAM/flash/main-cpu). No details on the cellular modem/chipset used, no details on the camera, neither on the bluetooth chipset, wifi chipset, etc. This might be an indication of the early stage of their plannings. I would have expected that one has ironed out those questions before looking for funding - but then, it's their campaign and they can run it as they see it fit!

I for my part have just put in a pledge for one phone. Let's see what will come of it. In case you feel motivated by this post to join in: Please keep in mind that any crowdfunding campaign bears significant financial risks. So please make sure you made up your mind and don't blame my blog post for luring you into spending money :)

Syndicated 2017-09-02 22:00:00 from LaForge's home page

The sad state of voice support in cellular modems

Cellular modems have existed for decades and come in many shapes and kinds. They contain the cellular baseband processor, RF frontend, protocol stack software and anything else required to communicate with a cellular network. Basically a phone without display or input.

During the last decade or so, the vast majority of cellular modems come as LGA modules, i.e. a small PCB with all components on the top side (and a shielding can), which has contact pads on the bottom so you can solder it onto your mainboard. You can obtain them from vendors such as Sierra Wireless, u-blox, Quectel, ZTE, Huawei, Telit, Gemalto, and many others.

In most cases, the vendors now also solder those modules to small adapter boards to offer the same product in mPCIe form-factor. Other modems are directly manufactured in mPCIe or NGFF aka m.2 form-factor.

As long as those modems were still 2G / 2.5G / 2.75G, the main interconnection with the host (often some embedded system) was a serial UART. The Audio input/output for voice calls was made available as analog signals, ready to connect a microphone and spekaer, as that's what the cellular chipsets were designed for in the smartphones. In the Openmoko phones we also interfaced the audio of the cellular modem in analog, exactly for that reason.

From 3G onwards, the primary interface towards the host is now USB, with the modem running as a USB device. If your laptop contains a cellular modem, you will see it show up in the lsusb output.

From that point onwards, it would have made a lot of sense to simply expose the audio also via USB. Simply offer a multi-function USB device that has both whatever virutal serial ports for AT commands and network device for IP, and add a USB Audio device to it. It would simply show up as a "USB sound card" to the host, with all standard drivers working as expected. Sadly, nobody seems to have implemented this, at least not in a supported production version of their product

Instead, what some modem vendors have implemented as an ugly hack is the transport of 8kHz 16bit PCM samples over one of the UARTs. See for example the Quectel UC-20 or the Simcom SIM7100 which implement such a method.

All the others ignore any acess to the audio stream from software to a large part. One wonders why that is. From a software and systems architecture perspective it would be super easy. Instead, what most vendors do, is to expose a digital PCM interface. This is suboptimal in many ways:

  • there is no mPCIe standard on which pins PCM should be exposed
  • no standard product (like laptop, router, ...) with mPCIe slot will have anything connected to those PCM pins

Furthermore, each manufacturer / modem seems to support a different subset of dialect of the PCM interface in terms of

  • voltage (almost all of them are 1.8V, while mPCIe signals normally are 3.3V logic level)
  • master/slave (almost all of them insist on being a clock master)
  • sample format (alaw/ulaw/linear)
  • clock/bit rate (mostly 2.048 MHz, but can be as low as 128kHz)
  • frame sync (mostly short frame sync that ends before the first bit of the sample)
  • endianness (mostly MSB first)
  • clock phase (mostly change signals at rising edge; sample at falling edge)

It's a real nightmare, when it could be so simple. If they implemented USB-Audio, you could plug a cellular modem into any board with a mPCIe slot and it would simply work. As they don't, you need a specially designed mainboard that implements exactly the specific dialect/version of PCM of the given modem.

By the way, the most "amazing" vendor seems to be u-blox. Their Modems support PCM audio, but only the solder-type version. They simply didn't route those signals to the mPCIe slot, making audio impossible to use when using a connectorized modem. How inconvenient.

Summary

If you want to access the audio signals of a cellular modem from software, then you either

  • have standard hardware and pick one very specific modem model and hope this is available sufficiently long during your application, or
  • build your own hardware implementing a PCM slave interface and then pick + choose your cellular modem

On the Osmocom mpcie-breakout board and the sysmocom QMOD board we have exposed the PCM related pins on 2.54mm headers to allow for some separate board to pick up that PCM and offer it to the host system. However, such separate board hasn't been developed so far.

Syndicated 2017-09-01 22:00:00 from LaForge's home page

First actual XMOS / XCORE project

For many years I've been fascinated by the XMOS XCore architecture. It offers a surprisingly refreshing alternative virtually any other classic microcontroller architectures out there. However, despite reading a lot about it years ago, being fascinated by it, and even giving a short informal presentation about it once, I've so far never used it. Too much "real" work imposes a high barrier to spending time learning about new architectures, languages, toolchains and the like.

Introduction into XCore

Rather than having lots of fixed-purpose built-in "hard core" peripherals for interfaces such as SPI, I2C, I2S, etc. the XCore controllers have a combination of

  • I/O ports for 1/4/8/16/32 bit wide signals, with SERDES, FIFO, hardware strobe generation, etc
  • Clock blocks for using/dividing internal or external clocks
  • hardware multi-threading that presents 8 logical threads on each core
  • xCONNECT links that can be used to connect multiple processors over 2 or 5 wires per direction
  • channels as a means of communication (similar to sockets) between threads, whether on the same xCORE or a remote core via xCONNECT
  • an extended C (xC) programming language to make use of parallelism, channels and the I/O ports

In spirit, it is like a 21st century implementation of some of the concepts established first with Transputers.

My main interest in xMOS has been the flexibility that you get in implementing not-so-standard electronics interfaces. For regular I2C, UART, SPI, etc. there is of course no such need. But every so often one encounters some interface that's very rately found (like the output of an E1/T1 Line Interface Unit).

Also, quite often I run into use cases where it's simply impossible to find a microcontroller with a sufficient number of the related peripherals built-in. Try finding a microcontroller with 8 UARTs, for example. Or one with four different PCM/I2S interfaces, which all can run in different clock domains.

The existing options of solving such problems basically boil down to either implementing it in hard-wired logic (unrealistic, complex, expensive) or going to programmable logic with CPLD or FPGAs. While the latter is certainly also quite interesting, the learning curve is steep, the tools anything but easy to use and the synthesising time (and thus development cycles) long. Furthermore, your board design will be more complex as you have that FPGA/CPLD and a microcontroller, need to interface the two, etc (yes, in high-end use cases there's the Zynq, but I'm thinking of several orders of magnitude less complex designs).

Of course one can also take a "pure software" approach and go for high-speed bit-banging. There are some ARM SoCs that can toggle their pins. People have reported rates like 14 MHz being possible on a Raspberry Pi. However, when running a general-purpose OS in parallel, this kind of speed is hard to do reliably over long term, and the related software implementations are going to be anything but nice to write.

So the XCore is looking like a nice alternative for a lot of those use cases. Where you want a microcontroller with more programmability in terms of its I/O capabilities, but not go as far as to go full-on with FPGA/CPLD development in Verilog or VHDL.

My current use case

My current use case is to implement a board that can accept four independent PCM inputs (all in slave mode, i.e. clock provided by external master) and present them via USB to a host PC. The final goal is to have a board that can be combined with the sysmoQMOD and which can interface the PCM audio of four cellular modems concurrently.

While XMOS is quite strong in the Audio field and you can find existing examples and app notes for I2S and S/PDIF, I couldn't find any existing code for a PCM slave of the given requirements (short frame sync, 8kHz sample rate, 16bit samples, 2.048 MHz bit clock, MSB first).

I wanted to get a feeling how well one can implement the related PCM slave. In order to test the slave, I decided to develop the matching PCM master and run the two against each other. Despite having never written any code for XMOS before, nor having used any of the toolchain, I was able to implement the PCM master and PCM slave within something like ~6 hours, including simulation and verification. Sure, one can certainly do that in much less time, but only once you're familiar with the tools, programming environment, language, etc. I think it's not bad.

The biggest problem was that the clock phase for a clocked output port cannot be configured, i.e. the XCore insists on always clocking out a new bit at the falling edge, while my use case of course required the opposite: Clocking oout new signals at the rising edge. I had to use a second clock block to generate the inverted clock in order to achieve that goal.

Beyond that 4xPCM use case, I also have other ideas like finally putting the osmo-e1-xcvr to use by combining it with an XMOS device to build a portable E1-to-USB adapter. I have no clue if and when I'll find time for that, but if somebody wants to join in: Let me know!

The good parts

Documentation excellent

I found the various pieces of documentation extremely useful and very well written.

Fast progress

I was able to make fast progress in solving the first task using the XMOS / Xcore approach.

Soft Cores developed in public, with commit log

You can find plenty of soft cores that XMOS has been developing on github at https://github.com/xcore, including the full commit history.

This type of development is a big improvement over what most vendors of smaller microcontrollers like Atmel are doing (infrequent tar-ball code-drops without commit history). And in the case of the classic uC vendors, we're talking about drivers only. In the XMOS case it's about the entire logic of the peripheral!

You can for example see that for their I2C core, the very active commit history goes back to January 2011.

xSIM simulation extremely helpful

The xTIMEcomposer IDE (based on Eclipse) contains extensive tracing support and an extensible near cycle accurate simulator (xSIM). I've implemented a PCM mater and PCM slave in xC and was able to simulate the program while looking at the waveforms of the logic signals between those two.

The bad parts

Unfortunately, my extremely enthusiastic reception of XMOS has suffered quite a bit over time. Let me explain why:

Hard to get XCore chips

While the product portfolio on on the xMOS website looks extremely comprehensive, the vast majority of the parts is not available from stock at distributors. You won't even get samples, and lead times are 12 weeks (!). If you check at digikey, they have listed a total of 302 different XMOS controllers, but only 35 of them are in stock. USB capable are 15. With other distributors like Farnell it's even worse.

I've seen this with other semiconductor vendors before, but never to such a large extent. Sure, some packages/configurations are not standard products, but having only 11% of the portfolio actually available is pretty bad.

In such situations, where it's difficult to convince distributors to stock parts, it would be a good idea for XMOS to stock parts themselves and provide samples / low quantities directly. Not everyone is able to order large trays and/or capable to wait 12 weeks, especially during the R&D phase of a board.

Extremely limited number of single-bit ports

In the smaller / lower pin-count parts, like the XU[F]-208 series in QFN/LQFP-64, the number of usable, exposed single-bit ports is ridiculously low. Out of the total 33 I/O lines available, only 7 can be used as single-bit I/O ports. All other lines can only be used for 4-, 8-, or 16-bit ports. If you're dealing primarily with serial interfaces like I2C, SPI, I2S, UART/USART and the like, those parallel ports are of no use, and you have to go for a mechanically much larger part (like XU[F]-216 in TQFP-128) in order to have a decent number of single-bit ports exposed. Those parts also come with twice the number of cores, memory, etc- which you don't need for slow-speed serial interfaces...

Insufficient number of exposed xLINKs

The smaller parts like XU[F]-208 only have one xLINK exposed. Of what use is that? If you don't have at least two links available, you cannot daisy-chain them to each other, let alone build more complex structures like cubes (at least 3 xLINKs).

So once again you have to go to much larger packages, where you will not use 80% of the pins or resources, just to get the required number of xLINKs for interconnection.

Change to a non-FOSS License

XMOS deserved a lot of praise for releasing all their soft IP cores as Free / Open Source Software on github at https://github.com/xcore. The License has basically been a 3-clause BSD license. This was a good move, as it meant that anyone could create derivative versions, whether proprietary or FOSS, and there would be virtually no license incompatibilities with whatever code people wanted to write.

However, to my very big disappointment, more recently XMOS seems to have changed their policy on this. New soft cores (released at https://github.com/xmos as opposed to the old https://github.com/xcore) are made available under a non-free license. This license is nothing like BSD 3-clause license or any other Free Software or Open Source license. It restricts the license to use the code together with an XMOS product, requires the user to contribute fixes back to XMOS and contains references to importand export control. This license is incopatible with probably any FOSS license in existance, making it impossible to write FOSS code on XMOS while using any of the new soft cores released by XMOS.

But even beyond that license change, not even all code is provided in source code format anymore. The new USB library (lib_usb) is provided as binary-only library, for example.

If you know anyone at XMOS management or XMOS legal with whom I could raise this topic of license change when transitioning from older sc_* software to later lib_* code, I would appreciate this a lot.

Proprietary Compiler

While a lot of the toolchain and IDE is based on open source (Eclipse, LLVM, ...), the actual xC compiler is proprietary.

Syndicated 2017-09-01 22:00:00 from LaForge's home page

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