Recent blog entries for LaForge

Things you find when using SCTP on Linux

Observations on SCTP and Linux

When I was still doing Linux kernel work with netfilter/iptables in the early 2000's, I was somebody who actually regularly had a look at the new RFCs that came out. So I saw the SCTP RFCs, SIGTRAN RFCs, SIP and RTP, etc. all released during those years. I was quite happy to see that for new protocols like SCTP and later DCCP, Linux quickly received a mainline implementation.

Now most people won't have used SCTP so far, but it is a protocol used as transport layer in a lot of telecom protocols for more than a decade now. Virtually all protocols that have traditionally been spoken over time-division multiplex E1/T1 links have been migrated over to SCTP based protocol stackings.

Working on various Open Source telecom related projects, i of course come into contact with SCTP every so often. Particularly some years back when implementing the Erlang SIGTAN code in erlang/osmo_ss7 and most recently now with the introduction of libosmo-sigtran with its OsmoSTP, both part of the libosmo-sccp repository.

I've also hard to work with various proprietary telecom equipment over the years. Whether that's some eNodeB hardware from a large brand telecom supplier, or whether it's a MSC of some other vendor. And they all had one thing in common: Nobody seemed to use the Linux kernel SCTP code. They all used proprietary implementations in userspace, using RAW sockets on the kernel interface.

I always found this quite odd, knowing that this is the route that you have to take on proprietary OSs without native SCTP support, such as Windows. But on Linux? Why? Based on rumors, people find the Linux SCTP implementation not mature enough, but hard evidence is hard to come by.

As much as it pains me to say this, the kind of Linux SCTP bugs I have seen within the scope of our work on Osmocom seem to hint that there is at least some truth to this (see e.g. https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=1308360 or https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=1308362).

Sure, software always has bugs and will have bugs. But we at Osmocom are 10-15 years "late" with our implementations of higher-layer protocols compared to what the mainstream telecom industry does. So if we find something, and we find it even already during R&D of some userspace code, not even under load or in production, then that seems a bit unsettling.

One would have expected, with all their market power and plenty of Linux-based devices in the telecom sphere, why did none of those large telecom suppliers invest in improving the mainline Linux SCTP code? I mean, they all use UDP and TCP of the kernel, so it works for most of the other network protocols in the kernel, but why not for SCTP? I guess it comes back to the fundamental lack of understanding how open source development works. That it is something that the given industry/user base must invest in jointly.

The leatest discovered bug

During the last months, I have been implementing SCCP, SUA, M3UA and OsmoSTP (A Signal Transfer Point). They were required for an effort to add 3GPP compliant A-over-IP to OsmoBSC and OsmoMSC.

For quite some time I was seeing some erratic behavior when at some point the STP would not receive/process a given message sent by one of the clients (ASPs) connected. I tried to ignore the problem initially until the code matured more and more, but the problems remained.

It became even more obvious when using Michael Tuexen's m3ua-testtool, where sometimes even the most basic test cases consisting of sending + receiving a single pair of messages like ASPUP -> ASPUP_ACK was failing. And when the test case was re-tried, the problem often disappeared.

Also, whenever I tried to observe what was happening by meas of strace, the problem would disappear completely and never re-appear until strace was detached.

Of course, given that I've written several thousands of lines of new code, it was clear to me that the bug must be in my code. Yesterday I was finally prepare to accept that it might actually be a Linux SCTP bug. Not being able to reproduce that problem on a FreeBSD VM also pointed clearly into this direction.

Now I could simply have collected some information and filed a bug report (which some kernel hackers at RedHat have thankfully invited me to do!), but I thought my use case was too complex. You would have to compile a dozen of different Osmocom libraries, configure the STP, run the scheme-language m3ua-testtool in guile, etc. - I guess nobody would have bothered to go that far.

So today I tried to implement a test case that reproduced the problem in plain C, without any external dependencies. And for many hours, I couldn't make the bug to show up. I tried to be as close as possible to what was happening in OsmoSTP: I used non-blocking mode on client and server, used the SCTP_NODELAY socket option, used the sctp_rcvmsg() library wrapper to receive events, but the bug was not reproducible.

Some hours later, it became clear that there was one setsockopt() in OsmoSTP (actually, libosmo-netif) which enabled all existing SCTP events. I did this at the time to make sure OsmoSTP has the maximum insight possible into what's happening on the SCTP transport layer, such as address fail-overs and the like.

As it turned out, adding that setsockopt for SCTP_FLAGS to my test code made the problem reproducible. After playing around which of the flags, it seems that enabling the SENDER_DRY_EVENT flag makes the bug appear.

You can find my detailed report about this issue in https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=1442784 and a program to reproduce the issue at http://people.osmocom.org/laforge/sctp-nonblock/sctp-dry-event.c

Inside the Osmocom world, luckily we can live without the SENDER_DRY_EVENT and a corresponding work-around has been submitted and merged as https://gerrit.osmocom.org/#/c/2386/

With that work-around in place, suddenly all the m3ua-testtool and sua-testtool test cases are reliably green (PASSED) and OsmoSTP works more smoothly, too.

What do we learn from this?

Free Software in the Telecom sphere is getting too little attention. This is true even those small portions of telecom relevant protocols that ended up in the kernel like SCTP or more recently the GTP module I co-authored. They are getting too little attention in development, even more lack of attention in maintenance, and people seem to focus more on not using it, rather than fixing and maintaining what is there.

It makes me really sad to see this. Telecoms is such a massive industry, with billions upon billions of revenue for the classic telecom equipment vendors. Surely, they would be able to co-invest in some basic infrastructure like proper and reliable testing / continuous integration for SCTP. More recently, we see millions and more millions of VC cash burned by buzzword-flinging companies doing "NFV" and "SDN". But then rather reimplement network stacks in userspace than to fix, complete and test those little telecom infrastructure components which we have so far, like the SCTP protocol :(

Where are the contributions to open source telecom parts from Ericsson, Nokia (former NSN), Huawei and the like? I'm not even dreaming about the actual applications / network elements, but merely the maintenance of something as basic as SCTP. To be fair, Motorola was involved early on in the Linux SCTP code, and Huawei contributed a long series of fixes in 2013/2014. But that's not the kind of long-term maintenance contribution that one would normally expect from the primary interest group in SCTP.

Finally, let me thank to the Linux SCTP maintainers. I'm not complaining about them! They're doing a great job, given the arcane code base and the fact that they are not working for a company that has SCTP based products as their core business. I'm sure the would love more support and contributions from the Telecom world, too.

Syndicated 2017-04-16 22:00:00 from LaForge's home page

SIGTRAN/SS7 stack in libosmo-sigtran merged to master

As I blogged in my blog post in Fabruary, I was working towards a more fully-featured SIGTRAN stack in the Osmocom (C-language) universe.

The trigger for this is the support of 3GPP compliant AoIP (with a BSSAP/SCCP/M3UA/SCTP protocol stacking), but it is of much more general nature.

The code has finally matured in my development branch(es) and is now ready for mainline inclusion. It's a series of about 77 (!) patches, some of which already are the squashed results of many more incremental development steps.

The result is as follows:

  • General SS7 core functions maintaining links, linksets and routes
  • xUA functionality for the various User Adaptations (currently SUA and M3UA supported)
    • MTP User SAP according to ITU-T Q.701 (using osmo_prim)
    • management of application servers (AS)
    • management of application server processes (ASP)
    • ASP-SM and ASP-TM state machine for ASP, AS-State Machine (using osmo_fsm)
    • server (SG) and client (ASP) side implementation
    • validated against ETSI TS 102 381 (by means of Michael Tuexen's m3ua-testtool)
    • support for dynamic registration via RKM (routing key management)
    • osmo-stp binary that can be used as Signal Transfer Point, with the usual "Cisco-style" command-line interface that all Osmocom telecom software has.
  • SCCP implementation, with strong focus on Connection Oriented SCCP (as that's what the A interface uses).
    • osmo_fsm based state machine for SCCP connection, both incoming and outgoing
    • SCCP User SAP according to ITU-T Q.711 (osmo_prim based)
    • Interfaces with underlying SS7 stack via MTP User SAP (osmo_prim based)
    • Support for SCCP Class 0 (unit data) and Class 2 (connection oriented)
    • All SCCP + SUA Address formats (Global Title, SSN, PC, IPv4 Address)
    • SCCP and SUA share one implementation, where SCCP messages are transcoded into SUA before processing, and re-encoded into SCCP after processing, as needed.

I have already done experimental OsmoMSC and OsmoHNB-GW over to libosmo-sigtran. They're now all just M3UA clients (ASPs) which connect to osmo-stp to exchange SCCP messages back and for the between them.

What's next on the agenda is to

  • finish my incomplete hacks to introduce IPA/SCCPlite as an alternative to SUA and M3UA (for backwards compatibility)
  • port over OsmoBSC to the SCCP User SAP of libosmo-sigtran
    • validate with SSCPlite lower layer against existing SCCPlite MSCs
  • implement BSSAP / A-interface procedures in OsmoMSC, on top of the SCCP-User SAP.

If those steps are complete, we will have a single OsmoMSC that can talk both IuCS to the HNB-GW (or RNCs) for 3G/3.5G as well as AoIP towards OsmoBSC. We will then have fully SIGTRAN-enabled the full Osmocom stack, and are all on track to bury the OsmoNITB that was devoid of such interfaces.

If any reader is interested in interoperability testing with other implementations, either on M3UA or on SCCP or even on A or Iu interface level, please contact me by e-mail.

Syndicated 2017-04-09 22:00:00 from LaForge's home page

OsmoCon 2017 Updates: Travel Grants and Schedule

/images/osmocon.png

April 21st is approaching fast, so here some updates. I'm particularly happy that we now have travel grants available. So if the travel expenses were preventing you from attending so far: This excuse is no longer valid!

Get your ticket now, before it is too late. There's a limited number of seats available.

OsmoCon 2017 Schedule

The list of talks for OsmoCon 2017 has been available for quite some weeks, but today we finally published the first actual schedule.

As you can see, the day is fully packed with talks about Osmocom cellular infrastructure projects. We had to cut some talk slots short (30min instead of 45min), but I'm confident that it is good to cover a wider range of topics, while at the same time avoiding fragmenting the audience with multiple tracks.

OsmoCon 2017 Travel Grants

We are happy to announce that we have received donations to permit for providing travel grants!

This means that any attendee who is otherwise not able to cover their travel to OsmoCon 2017 (e.g. because their interest in Osmocom is not related to their work, or because their employer doesn't pay the travel expenses) can now apply for such a travel grant.

For more details see OsmoCon 2017 Travel Grants and/or contact osmocon2017@sysmocom.de.

OsmoCon 2017 Social Event

Tech Talks are nice and fine, but what many people enjoy even more at conferences is the informal networking combined with good food. For this, we have the social event at night, which is open to all attendees.

See more details about it at OsmoCon 2017 Social Event.

Syndicated 2017-03-26 22:00:00 from LaForge's home page

Upcoming v3 of Open Hardware miniPCIe WWAN modem USB breakout board

Back in October 2016 I designed a small open hardware breakout board for WWAN modems in mPCIe form-factor. I was thinking some other people might be interested in this, and indeed, the first manufacturing batch is already sold out by now.

Instead of ordering more of the old (v2) design, I decided to do some improvements in the next version:

  • add mounting holes so the PCB can be mounted via M3 screws
  • add U.FL and SMA sockets, so the modems are connected via a short U.FL to U.FL cable, and external antennas or other RF components can be attached via SMA. This provides strain relief for the external antenna or cabling and avoids tearing off any of the current loose U.FL to SMA pigtails
  • flip the SIM slot to the top side of the PCB, so it can be accessed even after mounting the board to some base plate or enclosure via the mounting holes
  • more meaningful labeling of the silk screen, including the purpose of the jumpers and the input voltage.

A software rendering of the resulting v3 PCB design files that I just sent for production looks like this:

/images/mpcie-breakout-v3-pcb-rendering.png

Like before, the design of the board (including schematics and PCB layout design files) is available as open hardware under CC-BY-SA license terms. For more information see http://osmocom.org/projects/mpcie-breakout/wiki

It will take some expected three weeks until I'll see the first assembled boards.

Syndicated 2017-03-23 23:00:00 from LaForge's home page

Osmocom - personal thoughts

As I just wrote in my post about TelcoSecDay, I sometimes worry about the choices I made with Osmocom, particularly when I see all the great stuff people doing in fields that I previously was working in, such as applied IT security as well as Linux Kernel development.

History

When people like Dieter, Holger and I started to play with what later became OpenBSC, it was just for fun. A challenge to master. A closed world to break open and which to attack with the tools, the mindset and the values that we brought with us.

Later, Holger and I started to do freelance development for commercial users of Osmocom (initially basically only OpenBSC, but then OsmoSGSN, OsmoBSC, OsmoBTS, OsmoPCU and all the other bits on the infrastructure side). This lead to the creation of sysmocom in 2011, and ever since we are trying to use revenue from hardware sales as well as development contracts to subsidize and grow the Osmocom projects. We're investing most of our earnings directly into more staff that in turn works on Osmocom related projects.

NOTE

It's important to draw the distinction betewen the Osmocom cellular infrastructure projects which are mostly driven by commercial users and sysmocom these days, and all the many other pure juts-for-fun community projects under the Osmocom umbrella, like OsmocomTETRA, OsmocomGMR, rtl-sdr, etc. I'm focussing only on the cellular infrastructure projects, as they are in the center of my life during the past 6+ years.

In order to do this, I basically gave up my previous career[s] in IT security and Linux kernel development (as well as put things like gpl-violations.org on hold). This is a big price to pay for crating more FOSS in the mobile communications world, and sometimes I'm a bit melancholic about the "old days" before.

Financial wealth is clearly not my primary motivation, but let me be honest: I could have easily earned a shitload of money continuing to do freelance Linux kernel development, IT security or related consulting. There's a lot of demand for related skills, particularly with some experience and reputation attached. But I decided against it, and worked several years without a salary (or almost none) on Osmocom related stuff [as did Holger].

But then, even with all the sacrifices made, and the amount of revenue we can direct from sysmocom into Osmocom development: The complexity of cellular infrastructure vs. the amount of funding and resources is always only a fraction of what one would normally want to have to do a proper implementation. So it's constant resource shortage, combined with lots of unpaid work on those areas that are on the immediate short-term feature list of customers, and that nobody else in the community feels like he wants to work on. And that can be a bit frustrating at times.

Is it worth it?

So after 7 years of OpenBSC, OsmocomBB and all the related projects, I'm sometimes asking myself whether it has been worth the effort, and whether it was the right choice.

It was right from the point that cellular technology is still an area that's obscure and unknown to many, and that has very little FOSS (though Improving!). At the same time, cellular networks are becoming more and more essential to many users and applications. So on an abstract level, I think that every step in the direction of FOSS for cellular is as urgently needed as before, and we have had quite some success in implementing many different protocols and network elements. Unfortunately, in most cases incompletely, as the amount of funding and/or resources were always extremely limited.

Satisfaction/Happiness

On the other hand, when it comes to metrics such as personal satisfaction or professional pride, I'm not very happy or satisfied. The community remains small, the commercial interest remains limited, and as opposed to the Linux world, most players have a complete lack of understanding that FOSS is not a one-way road, but that it is important for all stakeholders to contribute to the development in terms of development resources.

Project success?

I think a collaborative development project (which to me is what FOSS is about) is only then truly successful, if its success is not related to a single individual, a single small group of individuals or a single entity (company). And no matter how much I would like the above to be the case, it is not true for the Osmocom cellular infrastructure projects. Take away Holger and me, or take away sysmocom, and I think it would be pretty much dead. And I don't think I'm exaggerating here. This makes me sad, and after all these years, and after knowing quite a number of commercial players using our software, I would have hoped that the project rests on many more shoulders by now.

This is not to belittle the efforts of all the people contributing to it, whether the team of developers at sysmocom, whether those in the community that still work on it 'just for fun', or whether those commercial users that contract sysmocom for some of the work we do. Also, there are known and unknown donors/funders, like the NLnet foundation for some parts of the work. Thanks to all of you, and clearly we wouldn't be where we are now without all of that!

But I feel it's not sufficient for the overall scope, and it's not [yet] sustainable at this point. We need more support from all sides, particularly those not currently contributing. From vendors of BTSs and related equipment that use Osmocom components. From operators that use it. From individuals. From academia.

Yes, we're making progress. I'm happy about new developments like the Iu and Iuh support, the OsmoHLR/VLR split and 2G/3G authentication that Neels just blogged about. And there's progress on the SIMtrace2 firmware with card emulation and MITM, just as well as there's progress on libosmo-sigtran (with a more complete SUA, M3UA and connection-oriented SCCP stack), etc.

But there are too little people working on this, and those people are mostly coming from one particular corner, while most of the [commercial] users do not contribute the way you would expect them to contribute in collaborative FOSS projects. You can argue that most people in the Linux world also don't contribute, but then the large commercial beneficiaries (like the chipset and hardware makers) mostly do, as are the large commercial users.

All in all, I have the feeling that Osmocom is as important as it ever was, but it's not grown up yet to really walk on its own feet. It may be able to crawl, though ;)

So for now, don't panic. I'm not suffering from burn-out, mid-life crisis and I don't plan on any big changes of where I put my energy: It will continue to be Osmocom. But I also think we have to have a more open discussion with everyone on how to move beyond the current situation. There's no point in staying quiet about it, or to claim that everything is fine the way it is. We need more commitment. Not from the people already actively involved, but from those who are not [yet].

If that doesn't happen in the next let's say 1-2 years, I think it's fair that I might seriously re-consider in which field and in which way I'd like to dedicate my [I would think considerable] productive energy and focus.

Syndicated 2017-03-21 18:00:00 from LaForge's home page

Returning from TelcoSecDay 2017 / General Musings

I'm just on my way back from the Telecom Security Day 2017 <https://www.troopers.de/troopers17/telco-sec-day/>, which is an invitation-only event about telecom security issues hosted by ERNW back-to-back with their Troopers 2017 <https://www.troopers.de/troopers17/> conference.

I've been presenting at TelcoSecDay in previous years and hence was again invited to join (as attendee). The event has really gained quite some traction. Where early on you could find lots of IT security / hacker crowds, the number of participants from the operator (and to smaller extent also equipment maker) industry has been growing.

The quality of talks was great, and I enjoyed meeting various familiar faces. It's just a pity that it's only a single day - plus I had to head back to Berlin still today so I had to skip the dinner + social event.

When attending events like this, and seeing the interesting hacks that people are working on, it pains me a bit that I haven't really been doing much security work in recent years. netfilter/iptables was at least somewhat security related. My work on OpenPCD / librfid was clearly RFID security oriented, as was the work on airprobe, OsmocomTETRA, or even the EasyCard payment system hack

I have the same feeling when attending Linux kernel development related events. I have very fond memories of working in both fields, and it was a lot of fun. Also, to be honest, I believe that the work in Linux kernel land and the general IT security research was/is appreciated much more than the endless months and years I'm now spending my time with improving and extending the Osmocom cellular infrastructure stack.

Beyond the appreciation, it's also the fact that both the IT security and the Linux kernel communities are much larger. There are more people to learn from and learn with, to engage in discussions and ping-pong ideas. In Osmocom, the community is too small (and I have the feeling, it's actually shrinking), and in many areas it rather seems like I am the "ultimate resource" to ask, whether about 3GPP specs or about Osmocom code structure. What I'm missing is the feeling of being part of a bigger community. So in essence, my current role in the "Open Source Cellular" corner can be a very lonely one.

But hey, I don't want to sound more depressed than I am, this was supposed to be a post about TelcoSecDay. It just happens that attending IT Security and/or Linux Kernel events makes me somewhat gloomy for the above-mentioned reasons.

Meanwhile, if you have some interesting projcets/ideas at the border between cellular protocols/systems and security, I'd of course love to hear if there's some way to get my hands dirty in that area again :)

Syndicated 2017-03-21 17:00:00 from LaForge's home page

Gory details of USIM authentication sequence numbers

I always though I understood UMTS AKA (authentication and key agreement), including the re-synchronization procedure. It's been years since I wrote tools like osmo-sim-auth which you can use to perform UMTS AKA with a SIM card inserted into a PC reader, i.e. simulate what happens between the AUC (authentication center) in a network and the USIM card.

However, it is only now as the sysmocom team works on 3G support of the dedicated OsmoHLR (outside of OsmoNITB!), that I seem to understand all the nasty little details.

I always thought for re-synchronization it is sufficient to simply increment the SQN (sequence number). It turns out, it isn't as there is a MSB-portion called SEQ and a lower-bit portion called IND, used for some fancy array indexing scheme of buckets of highest-used-SEQ within that IND bucket.

If you're interested in all the dirty details and associated spec references (the always hide the important parts in some Annex) see the discussion between Neels and me in Osmocom redmine issue 1965.

Syndicated 2017-03-07 23:00:00 from LaForge's home page

GTA04 project halts GTA04A5 due to OMAP3 PoP soldering issues

For those of you who don't know what the tinkerphones/OpenPhoenux GTA04 is: It is a 100% community-backed open hardware project creating updated mainboards that can be used to upgrade Openmoko phones. They fit into the same enclosure and can use the same display/speaker/microphone.

What the GTA04 guys have been doing for many years is close to a miracle anyway: Trying to build a modern-day smartphone in low quantities, using off-the-shelf components available in those low quantities, and without a large company with its associated financial backing.

Smartphones are complex because they are highly integrated devices. A seemingly unlimited amount of components is squeezed in the tiniest form-factors. This leads to complex circuit boards with many layers that take a lot of effort to design, and are expensive to build in low quantities. The fine-pitch components mandated by the integration density is another issue.

Building the original GTA01 (Neo1937) and GTA02 (FreeRunner) devices at Openmoko, Inc. must seem like a piece of cake compared to what the GTA04 guys are up to. We had a team of engineers that were familiar at last with feature phone design before, and we had the backing of a consumer electronics company with all its manufacturing resources and expertise.

Nevertheless, a small group of people around Dr. Nikolaus Schaller has been pushing the limits of what you can do in a pure community project, and the have my utmost respect. Well done!

Unfortunately, there are bad news. Manufacturing of their latest generation of phones (GTA04A5) has been stopped due to massive soldering problems with the TI OMAP3 package-on-package (PoP). Those PoPs are basically "RAM chip soldered onto the CPU, and the stack of both soldered to the PCB". This is used to save PCB footprint and to avoid having to route tons of extra (sensitive, matched) traces between the SDRAM and the CPU.

According to the mailing list posts, it seems to be incredibly difficult to solder the PoP stack due to the way TI has designed the packaging of the DM3730. If you want more gory details, see this post and yet another post.

It is very sad to see that what appears to be bad design choices at TI are going to bring the GTA04 project to a halt. The financial hit by having only 33% yield is already more than the small community can take, let alone unused parts that are now in stock or even thinking about further experiments related to the manufacturability of those chips.

If there's anyone with hands-on manufacturing experience on the DM3730 (or similar) TI PoP reading this: Please reach out to the GTA04 guys and see if there's anything that can be done to help them.

Syndicated 2017-03-05 23:00:00 from LaForge's home page

Manual testing of Linux Kernel GTP module

In May 2016 we got the GTP-U tunnel encapsulation/decapsulation module developed by Pablo Neira, Andreas Schultz and myself merged into the 4.8.0 mainline kernel.

During the second half of 2016, the code basically stayed untouched. In early 2017, several patch series of (at least) three authors have been published on the netdev mailing list for review and merge.

This poses the very valid question on how do we test those (sometimes quite intrusive) changes. Setting up a complete cellular network with either GPRS/EGPRS or even UMTS/HSPA is possible using OsmoSGSN and related Osmocom components. But it's of course a luxury that not many Linux kernel networking hackers have, as it involves the availability of a supported GSM BTS or UMTS hNodeB. And even if that is available, there's still the issue of having a spectrum license, or a wired setup with coaxial cable.

So as part of the recent discussions on netdev, I tested and described a minimal test setup using libgtpnl, OpenGGSN and sgsnemu.

This setup will start a mobile station + SGSN emulator inside a Linux network namespace, which talks GTP-C to OpenGGSN on the host, as well as GTP-U to the Linux kernel GTP-U implementation.

In case you're interested, feel free to check the following wiki page: https://osmocom.org/projects/linux-kernel-gtp-u/wiki/Basic_Testing

This is of course just for manual testing, and for functional (not performance) testing only. It would be great if somebody would pick up on my recent mail containing some suggestions about an automatic regression testing setup for the kernel GTP-U code. I have way too many spare-time projects in desperate need of some attention to work on this myself. And unfortunately, none of the telecom operators (who are the ones benefiting most from a Free Software accelerated GTP-U implementation) seems to be interested in at least co-funding or otherwise contributing to this effort :/

Syndicated 2017-02-23 23:00:00 from LaForge's home page

Cellular re-broadcast over satellite

I've recently attended a seminar that (among other topics) also covered RF interference hunting. The speaker was talking about various real-world cases of RF interference and illustrating them in detail.

Of course everyone who has any interest in RF or cellular will know about fundamental issues of radio frequency interference. To the biggest part, you have

  • cells of the same operator interfering with each other due to too frequent frequency re-use, adjacent channel interference, etc.
  • cells of different operators interfering with each other due to intermodulation products and the like
  • cells interfering with cable TV, terrestrial TV
  • DECT interfering with cells
  • cells or microwave links interfering with SAT-TV reception
  • all types of general EMC problems

But what the speaker of this seminar covered was actually a cellular base-station being re-broadcast all over Europe via a commercial satellite (!).

It is a well-known fact that most satellites in the sky are basically just "bent pipes", i.e. they consist of a RF receiver on one frequency, a mixer to shift the frequency, and a power amplifier. So basically whatever is sent up on one frequency to the satellite gets re-transmitted back down to earth on another frequency. This is abused by "satellite hijacking" or "transponder hijacking" and has been covered for decades in various publications.

Ok, but how does cellular relate to this? Well, apparently some people are running VSAT terminals (bi-directional satellite terminals) with improperly shielded or broken cables/connectors. In that case, the RF emitted from a nearby cellular base station leaks into that cable, and will get amplified + up-converted by the block up-converter of that VSAT terminal.

The bent-pipe satellite subsequently picks this signal up and re-transmits it all over its coverage area!

I've tried to find some public documents about this, an there's surprisingly little public information about this phenomenon.

However, I could find a slide set from SES, presented at a Satellite Interference Reduction Group: Identifying Rebroadcast (GSM)

It describes a surprisingly manual and low-tech approach at hunting down the source of the interference by using an old nokia net-monitor phone to display the MCC/MNC/LAC/CID of the cell. Even in 2011 there were already open source projects such as airprobe that could have done the job based on sampled IF data. And I'm not even starting to consider proprietary tools.

It should be relatively simple to have a SDR that you can tune to a given satellite transponder, and which then would look for any GSM/UMTS/LTE carrier within its spectrum and dump their identities in a fully automatic way.

But then, maybe it really doesn't happen all that often after all to rectify such a development...

Syndicated 2017-02-15 23:00:00 from LaForge's home page

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