This has been a two-week journey to be able to use the SDR as a GSM service. It hasn’t been easy and it hasn’t been pretty, but it definitely has taught me a lot and I have gone deeper into install files of a debian system than I ever thought I would.

After much deliberation I decided to buy the Nuand BladeRF 40 software defined radio to use as the core hardware for my “I see you” project and about three weeks ago I bought it, got it, and set out on a configuring journey that has not yet come to an end. I should tell you more about everything that has to be done to be able to have a working mobile phone service via an SDR, particularly a BladeRF.

If I had been able to get $2300 USD in funding, I could’ve just gone and bought Range Networks’ so called ‘Professional Development Kit’ and save myself a lot of trouble, but in this course we don’t want that! The harder it is, the more worthy. Instead, I managed to get enough money to buy the Nuand solution which boasts OpenBTS support. I ordered it, and arrived within a few days.

So there I was, like a little kid full of joy and excitement about my new radio and eager to start working on my project. Following Nuand’s own tutorial, I managed to get the driver working and set it to autoload every time the radio is turned on, and move on to installing GNU Radio, an essential piece of software that allows you to use your software defined radio as, well, a radio. However, although you can apt-get GNU Radio, it is recommended that you build it from source due to some specific things needed for the radio to properly work with the OpenBTS platform. They do warn you that it will take a while:

 gnuradio_install

But I never expected for it to take around 6 hours for the whole configuration. At some point I had some pretty colours, so it probably wasn’t that bad.

gnuradio_compile

It was just waiting for six hours where I could be prompted at any time for my sudo password. Good fun. I did some reading in the meantime, which wasn’t bad at all, but I did leave uni at around 22:30 which is a bit late, I think. In any case, I got it to work and was super excited about it! I saw a nice GUI with parameters I don’t really understand, but everything was moving and sort of made sense. Nice! – I thought – GUI Radio down, fairly painlessly, and now all that’s left is to install is the OpenBTS.

gsmradio2 gnuradio_install_system2 gnuradio1

So the next day came and with it new hope. I began the configuration following this blog post but after many weeks and attempted builds, as you can see, I realised that there is a compatibility problem with OpenBTS 4.0 with 64-bit processors and also USB 2.0 .

many_builds

I found this other blog post which hints to a nice install of OpenBTS 5.0 with the bladeRF radio, I came across several complications during the process, but in the end I was finally able to build and install the whole system. That was a victory!

Now I’m struggling with the configuration and the long hours invested in this project are taking a toll on me, but hopefully something will come of it and I will be able to finish this before the end of reading week.!!

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