OpenBTS ( Open Base Transceiver Station) is a software-based GSM access point, allowing standard GSM-compatible to be used as SIP endpoints in Voice over IP (VoIP) networks. OpenBTS is open-source software developed and maintained by Range Networks. The public release of OpenBTS is notable for being the first free-software implementation of the lower three layers of the industry-standard GSM protocol stack.
It is written in C++ and released as free software under the terms of version 3 of the GNU Affero General Public License.
Open GSM infrastructure
OpenBTS replaces the conventional GSM operator core network infrastructure from layer 3 upwards. Instead of relying on external base station controllers for radio resource management, OpenBTS units perform this function internally. Instead of forwarding call traffic through to an operator's mobile switching center, OpenBTS delivers calls via SIP to a VOIP soft switch (such as FreeSWITCH
or yate) or PBX (such as Asterisk PBX
). This VOIP switch or PBX software can be installed on the same computer used to run OpenBTS itself, forming a self-contained cellular network in a single computer system. Multiple OpenBTS units can also share a common VOIP switch or PBX to form larger networks
The OpenBTS Um air interface uses a software-defined radio transceiver with no specialized GSM hardware. The original implementation used a USRP from Ettus Research, but has since been expanded to support several digital radios in implementations ranging from full-scale base stations to embedded .
The project was started by Harvind Samra and David A. Burgess
[Bort, Julie. Burning Man's open source cell phone system could help save the world, Network World, August 30, 2010. Retrieved December 6, 2011.]
with the aim of the project to drastically reduce the cost of GSM service provision in rural areas, the developing world, and hard to reach locations such as oil rigs.
[Naone, Erica. Build Your Own Cellular Network, Technology World, May 2010. Retrieved on December 7, 2011.]
The project was initially conducted through Kestrel Signal Processing, the founders' consulting firm.
On September 14, 2010, at the Fall 2010 DEMO conference, the original authors launched Range Networks as a start up company to commercialize OpenBTS-based products.
[Takahash, Dean DEMO: Range Networks rings in cell-phone service for $2 a month VentureBeat, September 14, 2010. Retrieved December 6, 2011.]
In September 2013, Burgess left Range Networks and started a new venture called Legba
[Finley, Klint Out in the Open: This super-cheap cellphone network brings coverage almost anywhere Wired, June 9, 2014.] and started a close collaboration with Null Team SRL, the developers of Yate. In February 2014, Legba and Null announced the release of YateBTS, a fork of the OpenBTS project that uses Yate for its control layers and network interfaces.
A large number of experimental installations have shown that OpenBTS can run on extremely low overhead platforms. These including some CDMA handsets - making a GSM gateway to a CDMA
network. Computer security researcher Chris Paget reported
[Paget, Chris. OpenBTS on Droid, Chris Paget's Blog, February 19, 2010. Retrieved Dec. 6 2011.]
that a handheld device, such as an Android phone, could act as a gateway base station to which handsets can connect; the Android device then connects calls using an on-board Asterisk PBX
server and routes them to the PSTN
via SIP over an existing 3G network.
At the 2010 DEF CON
conference, it was demonstrated with OpenBTS that GSM calls can be intercepted due to the fact that in GSM the handset does not authenticate the base station prior to accessing the network.
[Paget, Chris. Practical Cellphone Spying, DEF CON 18, July 30, 2010. Retrieved Dec. 6 2011.]
OpenBTS has been used by the security research community to mount attacks on cellular phone baseband processors.
[Claburn, Thomas. Google Bets $20,000 You Can't Hack Chrome, Information Week, February 04, 2011. Retrieved December 6, 2011.] Previously, investigating and conducting such attacks was considered impractical due of the high cost of traditional cellular base station equipment.
Large scale live tests of OpenBTS have been conducted in the United States in Nevada and northern California using temporary radio licenses applied for through Kestrel Signal Processing and Range Networks
During the Burning Man
festival in August 2008, a week-long live field test was run under special temporary authorization license.
[Federal Communications Commission, WD9XKN Experimental Special Temporary Authorization, August 24, 2008. Retrieved December 6, 2011.] [Burgess, David. The OpenBTS Project - an open-source GSM base station LWN.net, September 4, 2008. Retrieved December 6, 2011.]
Although this test had not been intended to be open to Burning Man attendees in general, a number of individuals in the vicinity succeeded in making real out-going calls after a mis-configured Asterisk PBX installation allowed test calls prefixed with an international code through.
[ The Unofficial Non-Carrier of Burning Man 2008 OpenBTS website. Retrieved December 6, 2011.]
The Burning man test successfully connected about 120 phone calls to 95 different numbers in area codes over North America.
At the 2009 Burning Man festival, a larger test setup was run using a 3-sector system.
[Burgess, David. OpenBTS Nevada Test Site Astricon 2009, October 13, 2009. Retrieved December 7, 2011.] For the 2010 festival, an even larger 2-sector 3-carrier system was tested.
At the 2011 festival, the OpenBTS project set up a 3-site network with VSAT gateway and worked in conjunction with the Voice over IP services company Voxeo to provide much of the off-site call routing.
[Burgess, David. Burning Man 2011 - Yes we were there The OpenBTS Chronicles, September 6, 2011. Retrieved on December 7, 2011.]
RELIEF is a series of disaster response exercises managed by the Naval Postgraduate School in California
Range Networks operated OpenBTS test networks at the RELIEF exercises in November 2011
and February 2012.
During 2010, an OpenBTS system was installed on the island of Niue
and became the first installation to be connected and tested by a telecommunication company. Niue is a very small island country with a population of about 1,700 - too small to attract mobile telecommunications providers. The cost structure of OpenBTS suited Niue, which required a mobile phone service but did not have the volume of potential customers to justify buying and supporting a conventional GSM basestation system.
[Burgess, David. FAKALOFA LAHI ATU, The OpenBTS Chronicles, March 7, 2010. Retrieved on December 7, 2011.]
The success of this installation and the demonstrated demand for service helped bootstrap later commercial services.
The OpenBTS installation was later decommissioned ~February 2011 by Niue Telecom, a commercial grade GSM 900 network with Edge support was instead launched few months later (3x sites in Kaimiti O2, Sekena S2/2/2 and Avatele S2/2/2) this provided full coverage around the island and around the reef, the installation included a pre-pay system, USSD, Int. SMS and new Int. Gateway.
From July 26 to July 29, 2012, the Ninja Networks team set up a "NinjaTel Van
" in the Vendor
area of Defcon 20 (at the Rio Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas.) It used OpenBTS and served a small network of 650 GSM
phones with custom SIM cards.
Mills, Elinor. Phones at Burning Man: Can you hear me now? CNET News, September 10, 2009. Retrieved December 6, 2011.
Corbet, Jonathan. The trouble with OpenBTS, LWN.net, February 24, 2009. Retrieved December 6, 2011.
Burgess, David. Extending VoIP to the GSM Air Interface, eComm 2009. Retrieved December 6, 2011.
Bort, Julie. Burning Man's open source cell phone system could help save the world, Network World, August 30, 2010. Retrieved December 6, 2011.
McMillan, Robert. Coming Soon: A New Way to Hack Into Your Smartphone, PC World, Jan 17, 2011. Retrieved December 6, 2011.