[svlug] 3G for smartphones has "monstrous patent issues"

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Mon Apr 6 12:26:05 PDT 2009

News from the Embedded Systems Conference held recently in San Jose.


This explains why there's no 3G[1] in the Neo FreeRunner, and no prospects
for those for (just guessing) the next ten years in any fully open
source 'phone.  OTOH, Openmoko, Inc. CEO Sean Moss-Pulz says it'd be
possible for 3G Openmoko 'phones to be developed with the 3G features
accessible via a binary blob with a stable, defined interface.  (I'm
unclear on why using a binary blob helps address a _patent_ problem.
My guess is that it's a measure to prevent patent owners from
_determining_ whether an implementation infringes their patents.)

The Openmoko company assessed these and other problems and decided to 
defer indefinitely development of a 3G model GTA03, and concentrate on
finishing, to production consumer levels, the current GTA02 aka FreeRunner 
model that I have:


By the way, Openmoko's firmware isn't available in source form either 
(although it's actively developed and the 'phone has reflashable ROMs),
because Openmoko, Inc. has interpreted FCC regulations as requiring that
end-users be denied access to that source code.  

There's reason to doubt whether that interpretation is correct; it's
merely something repeated frequently by hardware manufacturers.  E.g.,
the Atheros people swore up and down that it was illegal to open source
the blob for their 802.11g chipset, on grounds of those exact same
vaguely worded FCC regs.  And yet, the reverse-engineered replacement
for that blob has been extremely public for about two years, and FCC has
taken no action whatsoever.

[1] 3G = third-generation standards for wireless 'phones, involving among
other things faster data rates for GSM using spectrum-spreading "EDGE" 
(Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) network-access techniques.

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