[FOSDEM] GSM BTS at Fosdem 2011?

Philip Paeps philip at fosdem.org
Tue Jan 11 12:14:07 CET 2011

On 2011-01-11 11:37:40 (+0100), Sylvain Munaut <246tnt at gmail.com> wrote:
> Benjamin Henrion wrote:
> > If money is a problem, I could try to find sponsors for that.


> I'm not that interested in just providing a 'small' demo at a stand or
> something.

Given the fact that FOSDEM is only two days and takes place in a relatively
confined venue with a disproportionally hostile wireless environment, I do
have some concerns about the added value of more than a "small" demo.

It is unlikely that all of FOSDEM can be covered properly with easily
available equipment at reasonable cost and within the constraints of a
low-output-power test licence.

> OTOH, Running a live, usable network all over the FOSDEM ground, that's
> interesting.

I won't dispute that it's interesting.  I just wonder if it's worth the
bother.  I understand the "Mount Everest because it's there" argument, but
it's a bit weak as only argument.

Providing GSM communications for everyone at FOSDEM is unlikely to ever be
possible without significant investments which are totally unjustifiable for
a two-day event with everyone bumping into everyone at least ten times daily.

> Now it's not _totally_ without hope for the future:
>  - People are working on BTS side of A-Bis so plugging openbts in
> openbsc might become possible
>  - Support for cheaper GSM microBTS is in the works (still 1kEUR ...)
>  - Support for 3G femtocell is in the works (albeit more far off ...)
> (theses are much cheaper ~ 100-200 eur)
>  - Converting phone to BTS (very far off as well, but we're hoping :)

I feel that for a GSM network to happen at FOSDEM, a number of things would
need to happen (I'm sure I've written these things before, I am getting a
strong sense of déja vu here):

  o A proper site-survey would need to be done to determine exactly how
    hostile the wireless environment is.  We have some data about this
    from years of experience rolling out 802.11, but GSM really is not
    the same thing.

  o Commercially available equipment would need to either become a lot
    cheaper or a lot more reliable than it currently is.  It makes no
    sense to invest a fortune in hardware that is still under active
    development and not proven to actually work.

  o Alternatively, and maybe preferably, a cisco-scale company in the
    GSM business would need to be willing to lend us the necessary
    equipment and the capable hands to manage it for the duration of
    the event.

  o Someone with appropriate skills and sufficient time would have
    to drive all this from the FOSDEM-side.  At present, none of the
    FOSDEM team have any significant experience with GSM much beyond
    making phone calls.  Nor do we have the time, the patience or the
    background to deal with the regulatory authority to get a useful
    licence to deploy this kind of technology.

Also keep in mind that FOSDEM is an open source software developer conference
and not a hacker conference.  Organizing a developer room to colaborate on the
development of an open source GSM stack or submitting presentations to the
main program about such software would probably be a much more valuable use of
the resources of FOSDEM than trying to deploy a full-scale GSM network just to
poke around at it and "because we can".

Having said all that: of course no one would object to a GSM network at
FOSDEM.  Realistically though, I don't think it's likely for the next couple
of years to get anything more than a small-scale demo setup going.

If anyone did show up to the FOSDEM team months in advance with a realistic,
workable plan to deploy GSM at the conference (complete with costs to the
FOSDEM organization in terms of insurance and manpower), we'd obviously be
very enthusiastic about it.

 - Philip

Philip Paeps                                    Please don't Cc me, I am
philip at fosdem.org                                subscribed to the list.

  "If you put butter and salt on it, it tastes like salty butter."
          -- Popcorn comes to the Discworld
             (Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures)

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