Daily Archives: 01/02/2011

Watching the latest news on the Egyptan revolution, hearing that the regime have shut down all the GSM infrastructure, a memory came to my mind: I read something about a smart thing called OpenBTS, a low cost, open source GSM base station. So i did a little research where the project evolved to, and found some really interesting things:

( Low cost open GSM base station for developing countries
Published: 24 Aug 2009

What did you do during your summer holidays? I was building my own GSM network!

I have been waiting almost 20 years to make this phone call!. Back in the 90’s when I started my engineering studies and discovered GNU/Linux, dreamed with a system that could do what I have right now on my table :). The first attempt was in 2001 when I was completing my PhD at KTH in Sweden. During those years a group of researchers in the Laboratory started to explore the possibility of replacing as much of the GSM architecture (BSC, MSC) for open source software. Although we had a commercial GSM container with plenty of noisy equipment, the project got stuck trying to find documentation for the GSM internal interfaces.

In December 2008, I attended a conference about Mobile Service in Developing Regions. I was very surprised not to see anyone addressing the need of opening the GSM infrastructure (hardware and software). Christmas period was a good time for new projects so I decided to get in touch with the openbts project and try to build their base station. Assembling all the necessary hardware took a bit of time! David Burguess from openbts has been really helpful with hardware purchases!.

Yes! It does work, and that first phone call felt like a different one :D. The base station uses a piece of hardware known as USRP. The USRP is a radio communication system where components that have typically been implemented in hardware are now implemented using software in a PC.

We are looking for sponsors for a deployment in a developing region! Interested? Drop us a line!

Posted by: Alberto Escudero-Pascual


( Open Source GSM Base Station [OpenBTS]

Closed Technologies have had the enough, the future is bound to be open. I can’t think of a stream where Open source has not contributed. In few of the relatively newer streams, like telecom, Open source is still catching up.

I had been into telecom for a long time now, and had often heard a complaint from Telecom startups and sometimes even giants about the cost to go to the market in rural/developing areas. A simple BTS (a.k.a Mobile antenna) could cost anywhere from thousands of dollars to millions (depending upon the capability 2.5G, 3G, 3.5G, 4G).

OpenBTS is one project that can change the game by bringing down costs.

Basically OpenBTS is a Base Transceiver System [BTS] with open source implementation of cellular interface for GSM using software that runs on open source hardware called USRP [Universal Software Radio Peripheral]. Using this, a cellphone interface can be achieved, just like any other GSM phone does.

On the network  back-end, it is an Asterisk server. The system doesn’t have much to do with signalling susbsytems,  at layer 3, GSM call control is very much like ISDN.  What they have implemented is GSM air interface in layer 1, GSM air interface LAPDm in layer 2, and then in layer 3 is very much like ISDN SIP gateway.

The two things they support, right now, are speech: Q.931-type call control, and text messaging, SMS.

All that’s exposed to the BTS is the air interface, because of this all the complexity in the network is pretty much abstract. As the lead developer claims, “It’s not that complicated”. he says “Once you understand the specification, it’s not that complicated.  We have had three people working on this project for about two years, well, for about eighteen months of actual programming.  We started coding this stuff in August of 2007.” and finished in December 2009

The  short-term goal of the project is to  find a sponsor for a pilot deployment in a rural area, in the developing world. They are trying to get one in Africa, in India, and in Central America.  Because it can be deployed and operated at much lower costs, you have the potential to push the cost of service down to $1 a month range.

The plan looks good, all we have to see is how fast the adoption is. The project is willing to learn from your experiences on the platform. Yes, at this time it’s pretty much 2G [with no packet or even circuit switched data] but it ain’t bad for a new idea, new open project.

On the other note, from what we have seen in the past – GSM is very much hackable and having a new Open source project that can replace GSM with a more secured System could make more sense.


(wikipedia) OpenBTS#Field tests

Live tests of OpenBTS have been conducted in the United States in Nevada and northern California. The necessary temporary radio licenses were applied for through Kestrel Signal Processing (KSP)—the original authors’ consulting organisation firm—and granted for a short period of time.

Burning Man

During the Burning Man festival in August 2008, a week-long live field test was run under special temporary authorization (STA) license WD9XKN.[5][6] Although this test had not been intended to be open to Burning Man attendees in general, a number of individuals in the vicinity succeeded in making real out-going calls after a mis-configured Asterisk PBX installation allowed test calls prefixed with an international code through.[7]

The Burning man test successfully connected about 120 phone calls to 95 different numbers in area codes over North America.[7]

A second, larger test was run using a 3-sector system at the 2009 Burning Man festival under the STA license WD9XSP, and a 2-sector 3-carrier system was run in 2010.


During 2010, an OpenBTS system was permanently installed on the island of Niue and became the first installation to be connected and tested with by telecommunication company. Niue is a very small (in terms of population) country with a population of about 1,700, too small to attract mobile telecommunications providers. The cost structure of OpenBTS suited Niue, which urgently required a mobile phone service but did not have the volume of potential customers to justify buying and supporting a conventional GSM basestation system.


August 2009, an OpenBTS network was built for the usage of the participants of this congress. The Staff of HAR2009 obtained a license from the Dutch regulatory authority. A few basestations were deployed and used by visitors and participants to call between eachother on the large terrain. [8]


Related links:

OpenBTS on Sourceforge, developers official hompage:

is a project aiming to create a Free Software, (A)GPL-licensed software implementations for the GSM/3GPP protocol stacks and elements.

Phones at Burning Man: Can you hear me now?


Operation Italy (Press Release)

Rowing Back On Totalitarianism?

Today, you may have noticed your government’s main citizen portal ( has been attacked and rendered offline. The hacker group known as “Anonymous” is responsible for this attack.

Why you may ask? As a loosely knit group we fight for the fundamental rights of freedom of speech, of information and the human rights of ALL individuals, not a narrow selection of fortunate souls as deemed appropriate by the Catholic Church.

Here are issues all Italians should care about:

1. Servio Berlusconi currently enjoys almost complete control over mainstream information. Important facts are hidden from the public, such as the deplorable 25% rate of youth unemployment, or the 70% rise in LGBT hate crimes recorded since Berlusconi’s term in office.

2. “Italy earthquake victims should view experience as camping weekend”

These are the words of Servio Berlusconi, unfortunately most of the media output from the earthquake ravaged area of L’Aquila has been consored. L’Aquila should be recieving the maximum amount of coverage and public help, instead they have recieved little support or assistance.

3. Net Neutrality

In a country where almost 60% of citizens still only recieve a dial-up service, a country where laws could eventually censor vast swathes of content found to be “sensitive” and a country where almost totalitarian resistance to freedom of expression appears to exist. The internet is the last bastion and possibly the coup de grâce of Berlusconi’s attack against liberty.

Is this what you want?

We are Anonymous.
You are Anonymous.
We do not forgive injustice.
We do not forget freedom.


(Global Voices) As protesters continue to mill into Tahrir Square, Cairo, for the beginning of the Million Egyptian March, this morning, the world is holding its breath, as it watches how the rising voices for the ousting of Egypt’s strongman Hosni Mubarak will fare.

Protesters are planning to gather at Tahrir, and march all the way to Mubarak’s presidential palace, in Heliopolis, to demand that he leaves power.

Meanwhile, support continues to overflow, from around the world, particularly, after the regime’s attempts to muzzle the voices of people, and stop the world from hearing their cries, to ensure that such voices are heard.

As the first gatherings are sighted in the square, Egypt has virtually cut off all Internet access, and continued to bully international media on the ground, to block them from reporting. Going back to basics, and with the support of the international community, activists are working around the clock to ensure that such citizen voices continue to be heard, and that Egyptians have their say. Giants Google and Twitter have joined forces, and launched SpeaktoTweet, a service that allows Egyptians to call an international number and record a voice message that would then be tweeted from the Twitter account @speak2tweet.

And a team of translators and supporters have already rolled up their sleeves, to transcribe those messages and post them for the world to read.

Following is the buzz on Twitter, as Egypt readies itself, for the day “it has been waiting 30 years for.” Read more…

by Amira Al Hussaini


( Voice-to-tweet software allows citizens to get news out despite internet blackout inside Egypt

Google and Twitter have launched a service to allow people in Egypt to send Twitter messages by leaving a voicemail on a specific number after the last internet service provider in the country saw its access cut off late on Monday.

The new service, which has been created by co-ordination between the two internet companies, uses Google’s speech-to-text recognition service to automatically translate a message left on the number, which will be sent out on Twitter with the “#egypt” hashtag.

Ujwal Singh, cofounder of SayNow and Abdel Karim Mardini, Google’s product manager for the Middle East and north Africa, said in a blog post that “over the weekend we came up with the idea of a speak-to-tweet service – the ability for anyone to tweet using just a voice connection … We hope that this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time.”

Google listed three phone numbers for people to call to use the service. They are: +16504194196; +390662207294; and +97316199855.

No internet connection is required. That will be important for users there after Noor Group, which had been the last internet service provider connecting to the outside world, went dark late on Monday. It had remained online after the country’s four main internet providers – Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt and Etisalat Misr – abruptly stopped shuttling internet traffic into and out of the country last Friday.

At about 11pm local time Monday, the Noor Group became unreachable, said James Cowie, chief technology officer of Renesys, a security firm based in Manchester, New Hampshire which monitors huge directories of “routes”, or set paths that define how web traffic moves from one place to another.

The Noor Group’s routes have disappeared, he said.

Cowie said engineers at the Noor Group and other service providers could quickly shut down the internet by logging on to certain computers and changing a configuration file. The original blackout on Friday took just 20 minutes to fully go into effect, he said. However it is not clear whether the Noor Group’s disconnection was planned or accidental.

Mobile phone service was restored in Egypt on Saturday, but text messaging services have been disrupted during the continuing protests.

Tuesday 1 February 2011 08.01 GMT

by Charles Arthur



( “There is not a single uniformed police officer in the entire city.”

January 31, 2011

The city squares where protesters battled riot police for four consecutive days were unexpectedly quiet late Sunday night, as Egyptians fighting to topple the Mubarak regime returned home to defend their neighbourhoods from looters and thugs.

Central security forces fled the Egyptian capital earlier in the day after fierce clashes with anti-government protesters left their vehicles in flames and their personnel weary and injured. Police abandoned their posts after being attacked by angry mobs. Others just disappeared.

“There is not a single uniformed police officer in the entire city,” says George Iskander, an art dealer. “Nobody knows where they went.”

The security vacuum created a new sense of urgency for the popular movement to topple Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country since 1981. Amid reports of looting, arson and prison breaks, Egyptians put their families’ security ahead of democracy and prayed for a speedy resolution to the crisis.

“We just want this to end quickly,” says Iskander.

Army units loyal to Mubarak have taken up positions on bridges, in major squares, and in front of strategic buildings. But the thinly distributed troops, which have not engaged protesters, appeared reluctant to step into the role of policing the streets.

During previous nights, looters and arsonists targeted malls, supermarkets, banks and jewellery shops throughout the capital. Arkadia Mall, a six-storey complex, burnt to the ground. Hypermarket Carrefour and department store Omar Effendi had their shelves stripped bare of goods. Even a children’s cancer hospital was ransacked.

“It makes me furious,” says one activist. “While we are fighting police to topple Mubarak, they are out robbing the stores.”

Looters also broke into the Egyptian antiquities museum in downtown Cairo, smashing glass cases and making off with priceless cultural treasures. Army commanders sent to secure the building found the floor littered with glass shards and broken artifacts.

Many Egyptians suspect police and central security forces are behind the looting, or at least have a part to play in it. Identifying the culprits became increasingly difficult after some looters reportedly hijacked police vehicles and cruised around neighbourhoods with shotguns.

An army spokesman announced on state television that his soldiers would apprehend any suspected looters, but the army only had enough manpower to protect high-profile commercial targets. He appealed to all able-bodied men to arm themselves and organize groups to guard their neighbourhoods.

In Zemalek, an upscale Cairo residential and embassy district, soldiers in camouflage fatigues rallied the local merchants and residents ahead of the 4pm curfew.

“The police have fled, so we need to mobilise all the men and gather any sticks and weapons you can find to protect the streets,” said one officer, a reservist who runs the Armed Forces Club.

Vigilantes armed with iron rods, machetes and pistols erected makeshift roadblocks at intersections and stood guard throughout the night. Watchmen challenged any approaching silhouette. Gunshots rang out through the cold night air.

State television continuously broadcast images of gangs of suspected looters that the army said they had apprehended. Handcuffed youth cried as the camera panned past them, then zoomed in on the knives, guns and home- made weapons on them.

“How do we know these weren’t the boys protecting the neighbourhood?” one caller asked on the air.

The imagery aimed at ensuring the public that the army was restoring order. But it was little comfort for an elderly woman in working class Abdassiyk district, who phoned a live news talk show to report an armed gang of thugs at her door.

“They already robbed the banks below my building, and now they are coming towards the door,” she said before the line went dead.

The deteriorating security situation in Cairo and throughout the country has shown Mubarak’s weakening grip on the country. But it may also be his boldest gambit.

Some analysts believe the 83-year-old dictator, with his back against the wall, ordered all police forces out of the main cities to undermine the momentum of anti-regime demonstrations. With no police opposition, the euphoric protesters soon dispersed as a shocking rise in crime made security their foremost concern.

“The security vacuum serves Mubarak’s interest as people want to see a quick end to the situation and want law and order restored,” explains Moustafa Kamel El-Sayed, professor of political science at Cairo University.

The crisis could buy time for Mubarak to consolidate political power, but El- Sayed says the regime’s end – now or in the September elections – appears inevitable.

“Even if the demonstrators leave, the uprising will continue,” he says.

By Cam McGrath

Original title : Egypt: “Planned Anarchy” (sic.) Playing Into Mubarak’s Hands