A version of Librem 5 without any modem


It has been mentioned several times that the baseband on the Librem 5 is not going to be libre. OTOH, Micromax is selling phones supporting 4G, VoLTE, dual sim cards and tethering for about $35.

So is there any plan on making a version without any baseband modem? I know that you plan on having a hardware kill switch of some sort but some of us would like to not have to pay for unwanted hardware. You could most probably also release such a version earlier than the Librem 5.

Also in one of your recent blog posts, you were using the Sierra Wireless MC7455 as the modem. Do you plan on letting the baseband control the GPS? Does the baseband have its own RAM, storage etc?

Hi @kjadkajdk,

I have never read that before. Do you have anything backing this? This does not looks like a decision Purism would take without communicating about it.

Thanks :slight_smile:

I quote from the FAQ

Are all hardware components running completely free software, with the source code available?
From testing the CPU, GPU, Bootloader and all software will run free software, we are evaluating the WiFi and Bluetooth chips and firmware, this is an area we have to evaluate, finalize, and test. The mobile baseband will most likely use ROM loaded firmware, but a free software kernel driver. We intend to invest time and money toward freeing any non-free firmware.

So I am not sure if they are guaranteeing fully libre solutions for WiFi and Bluetooth. Also Libre solutions barely exist for 2G, let alone 3G and 4G. I am not aware of any source-available solutions either. Furthermore there is stuff like CarrierIQ which can be built into the modem firmware which can monitor and report all your traffic and you might not even be able to disable it.

What I would really like is a fully libre computer in a 5-6" format. Intel/AMD/ARM CPU, common sensors, GPS, camera and microphone with separate kill switches for each of them, docking capability. The Librem5 aims to accomplish some of these but the baseband is a huge problem. Why bother with all the isolation and stuff when you can purchase a completely separate device to take care of traditional phone calls and mobile data? Moreover such devices are as cheap as a Raspberry Pi and apart from a kill switch for microphone what exactly is Librem5 going to offer with respect to the baseband issue?


Second we want to use a mode chipset which may in some future be freed. There are some already pretty well known and some reverse engineering has been done. Even if we can not provide a free baseband firmware we at least want to create a device which can eventually be turned into a completely freed device by upgrading the modem firmware to a free version.

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Blockquote may in some future be freed

That doesn’t appeal to me and I would rather have something which doesn’t include it at all giving much better security and privacy to the end user. Like I said, baseband solutions are cheap and you can use them separately knowing that you are being tracked.

Moreover the design of the “phone”, hardware and software, would be simpler without the baseband. BOM is definitely lower. So this version could be released earlier and at a lower price.

I second this.

It’s my understanding that there are also a lot of regulatory nonsense that you have to deal with, as well, trying to get your phone certified, where you’re required to follow a bunch of arbitrary rules having to do with emergency calls and such. I think there are lots of intrusive regulations that are either in place or in the works, as well, for things like making the phone incapable of taking a picture without also making a sound, for example.

My fear is that regulatory harassment might cause non-free things to slip into the phone :frowning: I hope this is not the case, but if it is, I’d rather just not have the baseband in it at all. A palmtop computing device with wifi is perfectly sufficient, and also really nice for the security paranoid among us who don’t want any cell towers tracking our movements. We can just buy a feature phone with wifi tethering and only turn it on as needed.

All this talk about basebands and stuff - As someone not big on mobile phones really, what would it all mean for your average Joe just wanted to use his cellphone normally? I’d want the security boost, but I also want a phone number that people like my friends and family can just call normally.

On the regulations issue - wouldn’t this “convergence” model they’re working towards kinda come in handy for subverting such regulations? I mean is the Librem 5 technically a mobile phone, or more like a computer? It’ll be running on a custom Linux and not iOS or Android or anything. I think you could probably get by by claiming it’s not a phone but rather a computer.

However I’m not sure how these regulators operate or what the rules really are, I’m just saying it kinda seems to me that there’s a potential loophole you could find regarding how they define/identify a “mobile phone”. If the regulations are tied to something more broad, like the capability to connect to a cell tower in general, then it’ll be more difficult to skirt regulations, yeah…

Kinda off-topic, but honestly I’m not sure how I feel about the Librem 5. I’m the type that spends loads of time at a proper computer but really doesn’t do anything on his phone other than browse Reddit when I’m bored either waiting on something or tuning-out my family’s political rants, and other than that just take calls and text messages. I use other functions only rarely - GPS, Wikipedia, web-search, camera, and flashlight. I’m still using an iPhone 5S and it took me forever to even upgrade to that… and when I did it was refurbished off eBay.

I’d still like the security and all, but it’s rather costly and I’d be foresaking a lot of conveniences such as all the apps and what-not - not that I really use them much, but still.

Honestly I’ve considered reverting to a flip-phone even. I kinda miss those old days, and they have some wild styles you can import from Japan and such. I’d honestly like to find a more modern version of my old phone, but I figure there’s not much like it anymore.

Let me just say, a device without a modem is not a phone, but something else. I backed a phone. Please make a phone.


In good ol’ days the “smartphone without a phone” was called PDA.
The idea i guess is not to swing the project into different direction but to offer lighter perk for backing the project.
I… don’t know. I hate phones bigger than 5" and tablets bigger than 8". so 5" pda with pure linux on board is still having a lot of use. Android/iOS/whatever is useless on such device, but remeber the days when there was no baseband chips but WinCE was already all over the PDAs. That’s kind of about it.

Yeah that’s what I was thinking and I was rather confused. Is he essentially talkin about having a handheld device that’s airgapped from all networks?

Sounds like something for Purism to tackle later. I think it’d be cool for Purism to make PDAs later, maybe, as a sort of a side-project.

But yeah, I want a phone. If a device can’t connect to cell towers, send/recieve calls & SMS, or use the internet over said cell networks… it’s not really a phone now is it?

I want a far more secure device that can replace my iPhone. I’m sure it won’t be something 100% secure, but nothing connected to the internet is anyway. Just want to secure myself as much as possible without completely crippling the device’s usefulness.

Sure, if you want to secure your computer, you can just rip out it’s network components and never connect it to the internet! Woo 100% security! But wait… it’s not very useful like that now, is it? Kinda defeats the point of everything - and that point is to be able to use your phone and computer to cell services and the internet without feeling like three-letter agencies and/or hackers are watching your every move.


Fully agree, want my phone as well as I pre-ordered. However not-so-expensive pda option would probably make me consider making another pre-order.

Then i don’t expect PDA to be fully airgapped, just without baseband, still with WiFi/BT. Again - since deblobbed baseband could be an issue, and not many offers of such chip would not allow fair price competition - the option without such chip could make production faster and thus make the device available to the market faster, allowing field-tests of the OS/GUI before full-blown phone is ready.
Don’t mention it. Just dreaming aloud :slight_smile:

  • a second model will not be cheaper. To the contrary. The five bucks you save on the chip are eaten by additional marketing, planning, manufacturing differences etc. We currently have about 3000 preordered units. The price is only high because they have to pay the development. Once they can order 100,000 units, the price will be significantly lower. May be less then half. For now, it is more economic to have one model. Leave the chip turned of, if you want.
  • Who, the heck, would pay about $600 for a handheld? Get a NoodlePi.
  • While the baseband chip might originally ship with closed firmware, they’ll not rest until they have resolved that matter. That’s good enough for me. If they wouldn’t have shipped their laptops before they were completely deblobbed, we would not have the laptops yet and Purism would no longer exist.
  • Regulations may sometimes have loopholes, but it surely doesn’t matter what (perceived) category of device you have. Emits radio waves? Regulations apply.

I agree with @Dwaff. I ordered a phone, that’s what they want to do, that’s what they should do, that’s what they will do. Thanks, Purism :kissing_heart:

Maybe I haven’t expressed myself clearly. I am not only interested in not having to pay for unwanted hardware (which I am sure will spy on me) but also I would like a fully libre solution ASAP. A fully libre computer in a phone format with assorted sensors, GPS, WiFI, BT, IR etc but without the baseband will work for me and possibly many others. A separate device can be purchased for legacy telephony needs and they are as cheap as a Raspberry Pi (have a look at Micromax Bharat 1.).

If the Purism team can’t release such a version without delaying Librem5 I hope they will consider such a version afterwards. So if anyone is interested in such a version kindly express your support here or to the team directly.

If anyone knows of a fully libre SBC, please do share the info. Raspberry Pi is NOT an example. I know there’s Replicant but sensor and graphics support is an issue.

@Caliga, When will Librem5 be released? In another year? And when do you think they will free up the baseband? The best one can hope for is a firmware with open source and open toolchain. But IMHO this will not happen. Manufacturers are most likely not going to release souce code citing IP issues, code under third party NDA’s etc. Also who knows what spying capabilities have been built in under government orders. Regarding reverse engineering, its one thing to NEUTER Intel’s ME. Its entirely another thing to reverse engineer a WORKING baseband. Do you see it in any of their stretch goals? There are working reverse engineered solutions for Nvidia graphics but almost nothing for baseband. Do you think its because there’s no demand for it?

IMHO, designing without the modem is easier. In the worst case, they can skip soldering the modem but its of course much more simpler. Software design is also simpler since they don’t have to create the telephony stack. So they could release such a version while on their way to releasing Librem5. It could even be like a beta test. Don’t worry. I am not asking them to delay releasing Librem5. And I am not asking them to lose money releasing a version without the baseband either.

There are working reverse engineered solutions for Nvidia graphics but almost nothing for baseband. Do you think its because there’s no demand for it?

I do :wink:
The demand is currently not significantly higher than 3000 devices. Not by orders of magnitude.

Not only is a non-baseband version not cheaper, it is also not more secure. There is no difference between a turned-off baseband and a non-existent baseband. (You can even screw it open, remove the wire between baseband and switch and it can never be on) Also, in which way do you think it could spy on you if you were to turn it on? It does not have access to any of the other components. The only thing it can do is to reveal the position of the device. I’ve written more on that here.

Manufacturers don’t need to release source code, but chip specs. That’s something very different. Now, if you fear that goverments order builtin backdoors, which gov do you fear? US? Each where the chip maker has an office? The one where the chips are actually made?
And why do you fear the capabilities of a chip that a) can be turned off completely b) has no access to the rest of the system?

You should be more worried about backdoors (potentially) implemented in the main CPU. ARM (or the iMX series) is not an open design. But even if it were: How could you establish that the design you have is the one that actually was used to create the chip, without modifications? We are far away from the ideal you are looking for. ASAP could mean a pretty long time.

Software design is not simpler, the telephony stack is already there.

@Alex, note that I claim nowhere that this will be a smartphone in the traditional sense. I am not asking for an airgapped computer either. The small form factor is what interests me. And I would like a full array of sensors, speakers, microhones, WiFi, BT, IR, GPS, removable battery etc. but with as many possible separate kill switches (can never be too sure).

I know there are VOIP apps working over WiFi and they might even give you a “phone number” like what Google Voice and many others do. But I know its not sufficient. What are you going to do if there’s no WiFi and you want to call someone or receive calls from someone? That is why I’ve also been pointing out that separate baseband solutions are available and for low prices.

For me, I have WiFi and landline at both home and work. So a libre “phone”/PDA (note the quotes) without the baseband is good enough for me. For baseband needs I would use a feature phone, de-solder the microphone, disconnect/de-solder the speaker and camera. If an inbuilt GPS is unavoidable more investigation is needed into figuring out what antenna it uses and how to disable it. I would turn it on, use tethering and plug in a headphone only when required.

Also note that just having a libre solution isn’t going to give you privacy. For that you will need a good firewall, encryption, ad blockers, deny first based rules for javascript, cookies, etc. This requires some work but it can be done AFTER you have a libre solution.

Traditional basebands have too many surreptitious tracking capabilities and with stuff like CarrierIQ it might not just be government agencies which are monitoring your activities. That is why I am asking for a baseband free solution. Its good have a separate baseband device. Knowing that you will be tracked when you use baseband will generate some friction and friction is useful to prevent fooling yourself into thinking you have privacy. Why do you think opt-in vs opt-out matters?

I hope the Purism team will release a baseband free version before/after Librem5. Due to easier design process I am hoping they can release it sooner. Of course, I am not asking them to derail the current plan for Librem5. I hope this satisfies concerns of those of you who want Librem5 as advertised. Those who want a baseband free version, please express your support in whatever way you like.

We are talking about two different ways to get a libre baseband. One way is to reverse engineer without any help from the manufacturer and another way is to get the manufacturer to release specs and possibly source code. For the latter, you will need to muster some clout with the manufacturer. That means huge number of chip orders. So yes, 3000 people willing to pay $600 is not going to get us there. I doubt even 100000 will.

Reverse engineering on the other hand will work if you have sufficient number of people with the technical knowledge and skills, have interest in freeing up the baseband and aren’t prohibited from doing so( because they are employed by the manufacturer or other reasons). I would say that the number of people having interest in a libre baseband is larger than the number using Lineage OS. However the other requirements reduces the number drastically. Even now Lineage OS has to include proprietary drivers and libraries. Look also at the hardware support offered by Replicant. So if its this difficult to free up drivers, how is freeing up baseband going to happen?

Nicole Faerber from the Purism team has said

Just for the records, the idea to develop a free baseband firmware is deeply rooted in our development and research. At the moment this goal is not feasible to target since there is too little information out there on existing chips and too little existing software to base on. To do everything from scratch would take way more than the money that we will have at hand for development (please keep in mind that the campaign money also has to pay for the devices, not only the development).
But while choosing the mobile modem chip(s) we will keep this goal in mind and choose a chipset that at least could be, later on, hacked and freed.
What I want to assure to you is that we will do all and everything we can possibly do within the constraints we have to build a device that is as free/open and as transparent as possible. And we also think about its future, i.e. that the parts that might not be free from day one can be freed later on.

Now, who is going to do the hacking and freeing? What is the timeline for this? The team obtained approx $2.3Mil from their crowdfunding. The stretch goals for the funding go to $32Mil but don’t target freeing baseband.

IMHO, its not going to happen, at least in the next few years. So then one can ask whether one wants the modem at all, especially if it means getting a device now and for a lower cost. We can keep arguing about simplicity of design and cost of Librem5 with or without a modem but its pointless unless someone from team answers. They are the ones doing the work. Are you a member of the team?

Now you can ask why anyone would be interested in a modem free version after the Librem5 is released. That would depend entirely on how much isolation they manage to get between the modem and the rest of the phone. For example the modem would need access to speakers and microphones for phone calls, camera for video calls, maybe GPS for emergency calls. But will it have direct access or will it get data packets from the i.MX? Will it share RAM and storage with the i.MX? On the software side, will it be possible to require explicit permission every time the modem wants access to the mic,camera,GPS etc? The exact details of isolation will tell me if Librem5 without baseband is same as Librem5 with baseband turned off. Its a topic to be revisited after the release and its not as obvious as you point out to be.

Regarding, govt backdoors, mass surveillance is what I can hope to avoid. If a govt wants to target you specifically, there’s lot many things they can do other than tracking your phone.

What is also concerning is stuff like CarrierIQ. The latest report shows them using Sierra Wireless MC7455. Another chip from the same manufacturer, EM7345 is reported to have the CarrierIQ spyware.

Regarding backdoors, I hope you mean hardware backdoors since all software is supposed to be available right from the boot loader stage. Other than analyzing all network traffic, what else can be done? Hopefully there will be enough users do so and they’ll get caught.

If you want to talk about ideals, I will personally need to do all of these:audit the source code, audit the hardware design, manufacture the hardware, compile and load the software. A single person doesn’t have the resources (knowledge, skills, money) for this. So lets not go there. At present, getting all the source code is a goal that can be possibly achieved (except for the baseband).

Regarding software design, I can make phone calls using an “Arduino phone”. Doesn’t mean that its great software. If everything is already there, why are they yet to implement phone calls?

No wait this is insane, baseband just provides exactly that - baseband (RF channel). How much will it eat from host’s CPU/MEM depends exactly on the goal of this project - deblob. Functionally baseband does not need to have access to any periphery, it just provides the connectivity. All the higher complexity functions are done by the host.

All in all we’re speculating. I see reasoning behind ‘another model just adds time, not reduces it’ but this is a questoin to initial hw design approach. I have personal experience with development speed up by putting a stub instead of functional black box. After all why would i have non-soldered pads on each and every devic I bought. Yes, i never buy top specs gears, don’t see a reason, but that’s not about memory, more like DSP or RF chips. Or even basebands.

@ruff non-soldered pads: I think your proving my point: They use the same board for different versions or potential future enhancements. But that means that the board layout already has to account for those potential enhancements.

@kjadkajdk: I think you have some of your technical assumptions wrong. As @ruff pointed out, the baseband chip is only a baseband chip. Else, it would be a integrated multi-function chip with builtin baseband support. The whole point of using a separate chip is for it to not have access to anything. And if you don’t take my word for it, take the word of Todd Weaver.
Also, I’m not sure if you imply you can be located via the GPS chip. You can’t. GPS is a passive technology. And the baseband chip will not have access to it, so it can’t send your GPS position (which also would be of limited use, as your phone provider can calculate your position based on the towers around you if turned on)

So, the only way you can be located with the baseband disabed would be via WiFi (unless you know for a fact that the WiFi Hotspot does not track you by your MAC address), and mybe BT in a similar fashion.

Now, Todd Weaver has always thought of the Librem 5 as a phone that can be used without baseband - calling it a no-carrier-phone, dreaming of a future where “phone provider” is no longer a thing, doing calls via Matrix or thelike. But still, they didn’t plan a stripped down version yet. Why?

  • Because it’s not really simpler. To get synergy effects, both should use the same board and the variant just doesn’t have the chip soldered. But the chip is probably $5 at the most, therefore the variant costs more if you only produce few units. It only gets cheaper (by those $5) if you come up with several hundred new (like in not-yet-backers) customers. I don’t see that potential.
    Variants take a lot of extra effort and customers. That’s why all the laptops only have two keyboard layouts yet. Offering more variants is complicated, because for each variant they have to estimate the market potential and order a significant amount of that variant (MOQ).
    If the boards were different OTOH, Purism would have to pay for two different, custom-tailored boards, two times for tooling / Entry-Fee. Todd talked about it here.
  • Because it’s not sooner. They don’t have a manufacturer yet, the hardware design is far from being final and they just begun to port the PureOS packages. As the dev board is planned to be shipped in June, the specs + layout will surely not be final before summer. If they would have all that by July, you might get results in September, but that seems rather optimistic. Purism experienced that with the small quantities they order, production is often delayed a lot because other orders are more important to the manufacturer.

But if it works out as Todd thinks, you might see baseband-less version down the timeline - if marketshare grows and a significant amount of users actually begins to communicate without baseband.

The exact details of isolation will tell me if Librem5 without baseband is same as Librem5 with baseband turned off. Its a topic to be revisited after the release and its not as obvious as you point out to be.

To me, it’s 100% clear after what Todd has said. Otherwise it would not make any sense to have a separate chip for that.
Now, about stretch goals: Deblobbing is not mainly about how much money you get. It takes time! It’s about idealism. You have quoted Nicole, so do you doubt what she said? Even if they had a 100 million dollar budget, it would be unrealistic to have free firmware for the baseband by next January - which, again, is the reason why Purism will treat that chip like a leper. :wink:

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I didn’t read the latest answer, but here is my opinion :

Based on my experience in the industry (Quality Management), I can tell that to change a process (even a “small” step such as screwing machine or labeling) cost a lot of money and can delay the project planning. You have to design the new process (process flow, machine setup, end of line tests, etc.), to be sure that there won’t be no mix between Librem 5 with/without baseband, to manage production stock with/without baseband, to manage warehouse with/without baseband, etc.

So it is not as easy as people think, and I am not sure Purism is ready to take this risk for their first phone. My feeling is that they would keep their original plan to be sure to manage everything.

But there is a hope for you : I am not an expert, but if the baseband hardware is a module (so not soldered on the main PCB), then you can order a developer kit and assemble the Librem 5 without the baseband. One thing Purism can do is a movie, a kind of DIY step-by-step assembly tutorial, then people who just want a Librem 5 without baseband can assemble it by themselves.

On my side, I also want a Librem 5 (so with call function indeed). But for people like you, the developer kit can be a good compromise, I hope.

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I agree that the Librem 5 should definitely come with a modem and be a phone.

However, I wonder if it’s feasible to have the modem module mounted in a slot, such as a mini PCIe or m.2 form factor one.

Reasons to mount the modem in a slot include:

  • Feasible to completely remove the modem if you do not want it, either permanently or temporarily
  • Feasible to replace it with a different, compatible one if such a thing becomes available in the future

Reasons not to mount the modem in a slot might include:

  • Increased thickness, width and length compared to a soldered-on IC; impacts on case design and space for large battery
  • Cost of slot (BOM cost and potentially more difficult to solder)
  • Cost of module installation (extra assembly step to plug in and fasten the module)
  • Unavailability of suitable modems in the form-factor (modules designed for phones will likely be solder-down)

It’s been quite clearly marketed as a phone, so I think it would be difficult to claim it isn’t a phone without changing the way it’s marketed. On the other hand, the whole point of the device is that it runs whatever software the user wants, so arguably it is in fact not a phone appliance but a general purpose computer that just happens to have a phone form-factor and phone capabilities, so you might have a point.

But worries about phone-related regulatory compliance all hinge on the assumption that compliance would be difficult or impossible to achieve; that allowing the user to control what software they run on their phone is in some sense forbidden by logical extension of the regulations. However, I’d imagine it’s enough simply to develop the required emergency calling and other features. Then, if users remove those features, it’s their problem. The phone is still capable of supporting those features if the users install suitable software.

If I replace the (user-replaceable by design) physical keypad on my old Nokia with one that lacks ‘9’ and ‘1’ keys, preventing me from making emergency calls to any of the usual numbers (and dialling the number is the only way to make such a call on that phone) could Nokia be held liable? I would not think so.

Similarly, if I replace the (user-replaceable by design) software dialler and lock screen software on the Librem 5 with software that lacks emergency calling functionality, could Purism be held liable? If I apply the same logic, then I would think the answer is no.

Having said all that, IANAL and this is absolutely not legal advice!

I don’t think that’s the case. There are devices on the market that can connect to a cell tower but which cannot make calls and don’t seem to be regarded as mobile phones for the purposes of regulations. For example, you can purchase a laptop with a built-in LTE modem for internet access.