Does Purism Plan on Adding 5G as an Option for the Librem 5?

I’m in canada and had lots of problems, ironically after my old modem got replaced with the same firmware.

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Whereas I have no problems in Canada using my modem, so it sounds like a hit and miss.

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It is achievable provided that the chip or chipset still enforces the legal requirements. For example, you should be able to have a PHY chip that enforces the legal requirements but implement the MAC layer and higher layers in free software.

That may not achieve full freedom but it would be an improvement over a completely blackbox modem. For example, some of the reliability or connectivity issues in some countries with some carriers could probably be more readily fixed, without a need to go into the PHY layer.

I believe that’s correct - because it is difficult to guarantee security if you have an M.2 card and PCIe is available on the M.2 socket and used by the M.2 card. It might need some kind of IOMMU.

I didn’t confirm that with the schematics though.

As it stands today, 4G - as a technology - offers more than enough bandwidth for my needs. So I am in no rush to upgrade to a 5G modem were one to become available. (5G is available on my nearest tower and in other nearby areas - I can see that my iPhone does 5G if I switch off WiFi.)

Note that the BM818 modem claims a marketing speed of 150 Mbit/s and even that is well short of what 4G is capable of. So, were a better compatible modem to become available, there is scope to get higher bandwidth while staying with 4G.

(However looking at a different 4G device that I have, I don’t get anywhere anywhere near 150 Mbit/s anyway - so I think I am being limited by my telco, implicitly or explicitly.)

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I appreciate the insight into what might be possible.

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I am more interested in what is practical instead.

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That reminds me, whatever happened to the Gemalto PLS8?


I think that free firmware on 4G and 5G phones is not only possible, but that it should be and is inevitable to happen eventually. Many ham radios on the market allow ham radio operators to easily transmit on police, fire, ambulance, and several government frequencies. Sometimes your new radio will transmit anywhere, right out of the box, new and un-modified. There are probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions of ham radio operators in just the US alone. On top of that, you don’t need to show any license when buying these ham radios. You can walk in to many local retail outlets, buy these radios anonymously, and leave without anyone knowing what you bought. So the controls on the potential abuse of the technology is not found in keeping people out. That doesn’t work and is bad for society in the long run if free software is not allowed by law.

Using ham radios as just one example, you can get yourself in a lot of big trouble very quickly if you cross certain lines. After I modified my two-meter handheld radio several years ago, I grew over time, to be afraid to use that radio at all. With no safetys, it’s too easy to accidentally transmit on police and fire frequencies. I used to also monitor the main fire dispatch channel. I was never stupid enough to set the CTCSS tones to open the fire department repeater input frequency to any transmissions that I might make and to set a frequency offset to allow me to transmit in to that repeater. But a few times I accidentally switched channels on the radio and somehow ended up giving my callsign by mistake over the fire dispatch output frequency (no big deal as without a repeater, you won’t get out very far). Even so, after that I always kept looking to verify the frequency every time before I keyed-up that radio after that. I was a bit relieved to toss that radio in to the landfill a few years later because of several unintended issues that came up after I modified that radio to allow out-of-band transmissions. I couldn’t reverse the modification at the time because the original modification involved using tweezers to scrape a 0402 sized (near microscopic) capacitor off of the circuit board inside of the radio. Without access to a $5K surface-mount solder rework station, I couldn’t replace that capacitor. Most people don’t realize how ignorant they are about their own assumptions. Using that same radio at a hamfest a few years later, a presenter there said to me “key up your radio and unkey it, but don’t say anything”. So I did. Then he gave me my own callsign. He was presenting on radio fingerprinting technology. No two oscillators are exactly the same. The oscillator in my radio had already been catalogged and attached to my callsign in his database at one point as I had previously used the local ham radio repeaters, giving my callsign each time. If I had intended any mischief say, by hasassing the police on their own radio channels (a stupid thing that I have never done), the police could have provided my radio fingerprint pattern to a repeater owner to retrieve my callsign. I didn’t even know about that technology until a few years after getting my license. The point is that most people who are up to some kind of no good will be caught because there are invisible traps. Most people who are smart enough to hack in to bleeding edge technology either know they will be caught, so they don’t do it, or they get caught. When you do get caught, those penalties can be severe.

So as with ham radio equipment, the honor system actually does work. I guess it’s not exactly the honor system in one way. It can also be like there is a gun to your head if you mess-up. But in exchange, there is always a path made available that you can follow if you want to experiment with the technology and build your own stuff, complete with metaphoric street signs, guard rails, and forgiveness of reasonable mistakes. That is what ham radio does. One unofficial rule is to not modify your commercially-made radio hardware. If you do, you’re on your own. But if you build your own radio from scratch, some forgiveness might be in order if you accidentally violate a rule in the learning process. If you’re capable of writing 4G or 5G cell phone opensource firmware and make an honest mistake, you’re more likely to be offered a high paying job than anything else. So the technology should be made public as much as is possible.

The cell phone carriers probably don’t want people experimenting on their networks. So if Verizon wants to share intellectual property with Samsung so that Samsung can build cell phones to work on the Verizon network and they don’t let anyone else in on those secrets, it will be really difficult for any opensource firmware to be written for that hardware. That is the biggest problem. But if you respect licensing requirements, you should be able to write your own firmware. Finding the radio chip provider who will share their datasheets with you without making you keep that information a secret might be the hardest thing to do. By nature, that requirement to keep those secrets would prohibit you from publishing your opensource code. So there is a lot of hoops to jump through. But opensource cell phone firmware should be possible.


Their customers don’t want people experimenting on the carriers’ networks either.

Reportedly, the use of unauthorised mobile network repeaters is a bit of a problem in my country. (It can be a death spiral, with someone having poor mobile signal, buying a cheap dodgy unauthorised repeater from some overseas supplier, using the repeater, making everyone else’s signal worse, … REPEAT. :wink:)

However obviously the rules vary from country to country, and within one country, the rules vary from one frequency band to another. I am talking in the previous paragraph about spectrum that has been licensed to the carrier by the government for the carrier’s (exclusive) use in the mobile network and so naturally both government and carrier are unamused and unforgiving about unauthorised use of that spectrum c.f. licensed for non-exclusive use c.f. available for unlicensed use with a class licence provided that you stick to the power limits and other restrictions (e.g. WiFi).

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Beside of the problems to get to the point where we have an open source firmware … as consumer I don’t care if this is legal or not. Who should control it as long as it does its job?

On the other hand there is a even cheaper Amazon-like company with worse products and all risk to its customers (I think it’s called Temu) that sells a lot of untrustworthy stuff like things that send on military frequencies as I read. It’s so easy to import forbidden devices. In contrary open source firmware is harder to abuse (you need some skills to code and compile or at least to flash your device) and it has important reasons to exist. There is no real reason to not allow open source firmware modems. It even can have regulations like “only licensed people are allowed to apply MRs” etc. The most important part is, that we can verify security. I think it’s possible on common smartphones to get hacked via modem exploits.

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What carrier are you with?

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Freedom Mobile.

I’m not optimistic that we will ever see FOSS firmware under the reigning intellectual property system. 4G has 24,000 patents and 5G has 60,000 patents owned by 131 companies (Huawei, Ericsson, Samsung, Nokia, etc.). One of the reasons why makers of cellular baseband chips restrict so much information about their chips is the fear that they will get sued by their competitors and patent trolls, which is why their chips are designed to be black boxes. For many cellular baseband chips, you can’t even get the data sheet on the chip without signing an NDA, and they will only let you sign the NDA if they think that you are a potential customer who is likely to order the chip. Then, you can only get the info to use the chip if they are pretty sure that you are going to order the chip.

You start to understand the paranoia when you see the recent lawsuit between Ericsson and Apple, which was a fight between the second largest holder of 5G patents and the 12th largest. Apparently, Apple didn’t have enough patents in its portfolio to effectively countersue, so it settled the case by promising to pay $400 million per year to Ericsson. Huawei earns $560 million per year licensing its 5G patents.

There are only a handful of companies in the world that can make a modern cellular baseband chip, and none of those companies are going to share much info with the public about their chips as long as the international system functions. Our only hope is a collapse of the world order or a new cold war war to break the insane intellectual property laws.

What I think that we will see is more people figuring out how to replace Linux operating systems that are used in cellular modems, like was done with the Quectel EG25-G modem in the PinePhone, but they haven’t figured out how to reverse engineer the firmware of the Qualcomm modem in the EG25-G. Heck, I can’t even find the model number for the Qualcomm modem in Quectel’s documentation.


Seems like Freedom roams on multiple carriers, so would be hard to tell which one they are using. Freedom doesn’t have their own network, they would be on Bell, Telus or Rogers.

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Freedom Mobile was transferred ownership to Québecor/Vidéotron after the Rogers-Shaw merger.

If all of the standard patent laws are not excepted through legislation for specific patent holders (which could happen), then all of these patents are a very good thing. If I recall correctly, any patent should only last for ten years after which the patent expires. To qualify for a patent, you have to make full disclosure about the invention that you want to protect. Then ten years later, anyone can use the publicly available patent information to design their own cell phone (or other) products. The new patent information from 2014 and earlier should be open season right now. I could go for a FOSS phone using 2014 tech right now. NDA agreements with customers and suppliers do not last forever. A ten-year-old NDA agreements is likely to be unenforcable. At work, I have to renew NDAs with suppliers every two years because by law an NDA becomes unenforcable around that time.

Where the intellectual property owner can, a lot of intellectual property is protected using trade secrets. Trade secrets never expire. Basically, instead of patenting your secrets, you just have your employees all sign NDA agreements. Unlike most NDA agreements, an NDA with an employer used to protect a trade secret never expires, even after the employee leaves the company. As long as the secret never gets out, it can stay a secret forever. But then again, anyone else can re-invent a trade secret because the secret itself is not protected except from employees of the company that owns the trade secret.

So intellectual property rights should only slow FOSS development down by ten years in most cases. When it comes to using cell phone repeaters, using your own hardware, it looks to me like the legal issue revolves more around whether or not you have a contract and a SIM card with the cell phone provider. You might violate your contract and have them turn your SIM card off as a result (a civil issue) of using unauthorized hardware on your account with them. But you’re probably not commiting a crime unless or until you hack in to their systems without having an account and a SIM card as your way in. If your transmitter violates legal/technical requirements, the FCC might care. How they would respond to an uncertified home made cell phone is uncharted territory.

The biggest challenge with developing any FOSS phone is that currently, you would have to sell millions of them to make the endeavor worth while. Purism’s phones will always be limited by their inability to use currently manufactured system-on-chip (SoC) chips unless they find a way to obtain a FOSS compliant SoC. Too much secracy will always exist. A new SoC along with all associated intellectual property has to be released to the public. So basically, the opensource community has to duplicate existing SoC chips as FOSS compliant. It’s always possible. Linux competes with Windows. But right now, new hardware development is currently much too expensive and difficult to accomplish using the Linux model. Eventually though, it’ll be possible. If you build an AI that is smart enough and has access to a sophisticated patent database, the AI could design an SoC for you. I am guessing that’s a way down the road though. By the time AI gets that far, we won’t need Engineers anymore.

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4G is here to stay even if 5G will be adopted by every city in the world. That’s because 5G can’t penetrate walls, and we need 4G as a backup, forever.

5G is controversial, I don’t buy 5G devices. If Purism wants to add it, it better be optional.


Since the cellular modem is on a removable M.2 card in the current design of the Librem 5, there is no question that having no cellular at all v. using 4G v. if a suitable card ever comes into existence, using 5G … is optional and your choice.

This is in stark contrast to mainstream mobile designs where the cellular modem is integrated with the SoC - and so, once the manufacturer decides that 5G is required, you have 5G whether you like it or not.


Sure but if you switch by default to 5G cards and don’t provide an alternative 4G card directly from your store you’ll inconvenience your customers a lot, maybe even lose some (not everyone likes to bother finding a 4g card on the internet that would be compatible).


Well OK but I wouldn’t lose sleep over it as this entire topic is a hypothetical. Today there is no 5G card.


This is not really accurate. The millimeter wave portion of the 5G spec can’t go through walls. The rest of the 5G specification uses the same frequencies as 4G but improves the efficiency of how they’re used, similar to how PCI express Gen 5 uses the same connector as PCI express Gen 4 just more effectively.