Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Build your own phone, any way you want it!

As an antidote to all the grumbling about the lack of an open developers approach to the Apple iPhone I'm going to talk about some projects that are building open phone platforms.

I'm a member of the Silicon Valley Homebrew Mobile Phone Club, and there are several projects in existence to create a free, open source, software stack and applications for mobile phones. The hardware parts are available off the shelf, so you can buy a complete open phone or use whatever parts you like. All you need is an enclosure, and you are on your way to whatever spec you wanted, with whatever applications you wanted.

Actually, if someone out there knows Autocad and wants to help design some enclosures, the assistance would be appreciated. The SVHMPC often meets at Techshop, where they have a 3D printer that can make anything that can be described by a CAD file in ABS plastic.

The phones use off the shelf GSM modems, that take a SIM card and deal with the network. They operate like any unlocked phone would work, and the GSM modem module prevents anything bad from happening to the network. The command set looks a lot like the old hayes modem AT codes, and Linux device drivers exist to manage some of the common ones. Some of the GSM modems include GPS location services as well, most of them are based on the relatively slow GPRS/EDGE standards for Internet connections.

My own ideal phone starts with a 3.7" VGA resolution touch screen and includes WiFi, bluetooth GPS and a 3G network, but I may have to put up with GPRS for now. The CPU is based on 400MHz ARM chips from Gumstix, and the parts list from the OpenCell project gives you some idea of what's available.

Its going to cost more than an iPhone, won't be as thin, and as cute, but I will be able to make it do whatever I want, and it will be runing as much of the standard Linux 2.6 distribution as I feel like.

I built my first three home computers up from bare PCBs, I still have my soldering iron, and I'm not afraid to use it :-)


  1. You mention the greenphone, an expensive not-intended-for-consumer-use phone, and skip over openmoko, an affordable open phone that should perform well under realistic use? ;) openmoko.com. It even has a VGA touchscreen! You should check it out (but something tells me you already have)

  2. Hi Adrian, I've stumbled upon your blog after a reference to you in the 'performance analysis' section of the 'UNIX System Administration Handbook'.

    Even though I'm currently building my own PVR (WinXP & GBPVR) I've never heard of building your own mobile phone before! Sounds like a great idea but I think I'll stick to my PVR as that's hard enough for me :)

    Great blog BTW :)

  3. I'm looking for someone who can design and make a custom mobile phone for a project we're working on. The phone would be the cheapest most basic phone possible - it wouldn't even have a screen or keyboard (crazy as it sounds we do have a viable application for such a device). Does anyone know anybody who would undertake this project on a paid freelance basis?


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