Since there is not much information on how to get mobile broadband up and running on FreeBSD, I decided to share the knowledge. This article will focus on miniPCIe 3G and 4G wireless modules but should provide enough information for USB 3G and 4G wireless sticks (aircards) since the concept is the same. I will start with a quick overview, some requirements, then I will go into FreeBSD support and setting up the connection.
Wireless Module Info
What is 2G, 3G, or 4G?
These are generations of technical standards that define how data is transmitted over cellular networks. 2G (2nd Generation) was the first set of standards that introduced data transfers over cellular networks. These standards “transformed” from generation to generation, allowing for higher speeds and efficiency without being backwards compatible.
What is LTE?
LTE (or 4G LTE) is a 4G standard which allows for theoretical speeds of up to 100 Mbps download and 50 Mbps upload. Keep in mind that 4G does not automatically imply LTE, since LTE is a standard of 4G. In some countries some Wireless Providers (cellular carriers) already deployed LTE networks in certain areas, so please check with your local cellular service providers for coverage and availability.
Let’s start with the Hardware requirements.
First we’re going to need a miniPCIe 3G or 4G wireless module, preferably made by HUAWEI, Novatel, Option or Sierra. These are also known as Broadband Embedded Modules or WWAN cards. Some versions of these modules rebranded by DELL, HP or Toshiba should also work. These modules require antennas to be attached via U.FL connectors to function properly. Make sure that the antennas are designed to work under the same frequency range as the module, or the specific frequency you are trying to connect at the very minimum.
Some laptops have an integrated SIM slot and mobile broadband support, but generally speaking any motherboard that has a miniPCIe slot and a SIM slot should work if the miniPCIe slot has USB interface support. On most motherboards the miniPCIe slot supports both interface types (PCIe and USB), but it’s best to check with the manufacturer first. Most miniPCIe 3G or 4G wireless modules need USB interface support to function, so this is important.
You will also need an active SIM card with a data plan from one of your local wireless providers. The best way to check if this part is covered is by being able to browse the Internet on your Smartphone using the same SIM card.
Another important factor is the compatibility of standards and frequencies between your wireless provider and your miniPCIe 3G or 4G wireless module.
A way to check this is to compare the supported standards and frequencies of your miniPCIe wireless module with the ones of your smartphone where you successfully used the SIM card to connect to the Internet. This information should be widely available on the Internet, sites such as http://www.gsmarena.com provide a large database of smartphones with their standards and frequencies support.
Last but not least, we’re going to need FreeBSD Operating System installed. I chose FreeBSD STABLE which is version 8.3 at the time of writing this article, but I’m sure other branches or versions will also work. Make sure you install the source code for the kernel because we will potentially need to make some modifications to it to add support for your miniPCIe module and recompile. For more information about FreeBSD including a place to download it from, please visit http://www.freebsd.org.
And now, on with the fun part.
Insert your miniPCIe wireless module into an available port, and boot up FreeBSD. First check to see if your module is supported out of the box so you can skip all the way to the ppp.conf section. Look for any cuaU* devices under /dev by running the following command:
FreeBSD# ls /dev/cuaU*
ls: No match.
“No match” means that we cannot communicate with the modem yet because it is not recognized. We need to make some modifications to the kernel source code and recompile it in order to have the modem recognized. If your module has a USB control interface, it should be picked up by the generic USB driver like shown below:
FreeBSD# dmesg | grep ugen
ugen0.1: <Intel> at usbus0
ugen1.1: <Intel> at usbus1
ugen2.1: <Intel> at usbus2
ugen3.1: <Intel> at usbus3
ugen4.1: <Intel> at usbus4
ugen5.1: <Intel> at usbus5
ugen6.1: <Intel> at usbus6
ugen2.2: <Novatel Wireless, Inc.> at usbus2
ugen5.2: <DIALOGUE INC> at usbus5
ugen3.2: <HP> at usbus3
In this particular case, a Novatel Wireless module has been discovered on USB bus 2 at address 2. Your numbers will most likely be different, but keep in mind that the number after “ugen” and before the “.” is the USB bus number, and the number after the “.” is the address. We now need to get more information about this device so we can modify FreeBSD’s u3g driver to add support for it and be able to control it. Getting the information we’re after can be done with the following “usbconfig” command:
FreeBSD# usbconfig -u 2 -a 2 dump_device_desc
ugen2.2: at usbus2, cfg=0 md=HOST spd=HIGH (480Mbps) pwr=ON
bLength = 0x0012
bDescriptorType = 0x0001
bcdUSB = 0x0200
bDeviceClass = 0x00ef
bDeviceSubClass = 0x0002
bDeviceProtocol = 0x0001
bMaxPacketSize0 = 0x0040
idVendor = 0x03f0
idProduct = 0x3b1d
bcdDevice = 0x0000
iManufacturer = 0x0004
iProduct = 0x0003
iSerialNumber = 0x0005
bNumConfigurations = 0x0001
We’re only interested in the values for idVendor and idProduct. In our case idVendor equals 0x03f0 and idProduct equals 0x3b1d, but depending on what Make/Model wireless module you have, your values will most likely be different. Take note of these values, they are important.
Navigate to FreeBSD’s kernel source directory “/usr/src/sys/dev/usb/” and open the “usbdevs” file with vi or your favourite editor. Perform a search function for the value of idVendor, in our particular case for 0x03f0, and take note of the whole line:
vendor HP 0x03f0 Hewlett Packard
Looks like it is an HP branded Novatel Wireless module, found in some HP laptops.
Let’s make sure there is no support for it first by searching for the value of idProduct in the same “usbdevs” file. If there isn’t, locate the corresponding group (“HP products” in our case) and add it. In my case I know it’s an E362 but if you don’t know the model, choose something unique using numbers, letters or both. Here’s how I added it:
/* HP products */
product HP E362 0x3b1d Novatel E362
product HP 895C 0x0004 DeskJet 895C
product HP 4100C 0x0101 Scanjet 4100C
product HP S20 0x0102 Photosmart S20
product HP 880C 0x0104 DeskJet 880C
product HP 4200C 0x0105 ScanJet 4200C
product HP CDWRITERPLUS 0x0107 CD-Writer Plus
product HP KBDHUB 0x010c Multimedia Keyboard Hub
product HP G55XI 0x0111 OfficeJet G55xi
product HP HN210W 0x011c HN210W 802.11b WLAN
Now navigate to “/usr/src/sys/dev/usb/serial” and open the “u3g.c” file with vi or your favourite editor. Search the file for vendor and add it with the other HP products
Add a line that references to the model we want to add support for:
U3G_DEV(HP, E362, 0),
U3G_DEV(HP, EV2200, 0),
U3G_DEV(HP, HS2300, 0),
U3G_DEV(HUAWEI, E1401, U3GINIT_HUAWEI),
U3G_DEV(HUAWEI, E1402, U3GINIT_HUAWEI),
U3G_DEV(HUAWEI, E1403, U3GINIT_HUAWEI),
U3G_DEV(HUAWEI, E1404, U3GINIT_HUAWEI),
U3G_DEV(HUAWEI, E1405, U3GINIT_HUAWEI),
U3G_DEV(HUAWEI, E1406, U3GINIT_HUAWEI),
Next you need to recompile the kernel. For detailed information on how to accomplish this please visit http://www.freebsd.org/handbook/kernelconfig.html.
After booting your newly compiled kernel, the u3g driver should now detect your wireless module as shown below:
FreeBSD# dmesg | grep u3g
u3g0: <Novatel Wireless, Inc. Novatel Wireless 4G, class 239/2, rev 2.00/0.00, addr 2> on usbus2
u3g0: Found 4 ports.
If all goes well we should now have the cuaU* devices listed under /dev:
FreeBSD# ls /dev/cuaU*
/dev/cuaU0.0 /dev/cuaU0.1.init /dev/cuaU0.2.lock
/dev/cuaU0.0.init /dev/cuaU0.1.lock /dev/cuaU0.3
/dev/cuaU0.0.lock /dev/cuaU0.2 /dev/cuaU0.3.init
/dev/cuaU0.1 /dev/cuaU0.2.init /dev/cuaU0.3.lock
At this point we can move on and configure the ppp (Point-to-point Protocol) application to control the modem, but before we do that it’s good to know more about these wireless modems.
Embedded Modules tested and working with FreeBSD 8.x:
Sierra AirPrime MC7700
DELL DW5800 (Novatel Expedite E362)
HP LT2510 (Novatel Expedite E362)
Wireless Module Info
In order to have a better idea on how to control these wireless modules, some basic knowledge on what they are and how they operate is required.
Essentially, these wireless modules are smart modems with Data, GPS and SMS capabilities. The core functionality is usually provided by a Qualcomm chipset which has 2 modes of operation: DirectIP and QMI (Gobi).
In DirectIP mode the wireless module can be controlled through AT commands (aka Hayes command set) just like any modem, by any application that can open a serial connection to the modem’s command control port. Here’s where the ppp application comes into play, and in this article we will focus on this mode.
QMI (Gobi) mode is Qualcomm specific, and it is a mode of operation where the modem is controlled through an API that sits on top of the wireless module driver. QMI mode is more flexible, and it is usually used on customized firmware by wireless providers to control the way the modem connects to the wireless network.
Changing from DirectIP to QMI mode is done through an AT command.
Please contact your manufacturer for API documentation and details on supported AT commands. They usually provide both a basic (standard) and advanced (extended) AT command set.
ppp.conf is the configuration file for the ppp (Point-to-point Protocol) application.
I will go over and explain the mobile broadband specific parameters. For general information how to configure user-ppp please visit http://www.freebsd.org/handbook/userppp.html.
Wireless provider information (APN, authentication credentials and dial number) is different from carrier to carrier and you can acquire it by either contacting them directly or by searching the web.
set log Phase Chat LCP IPCP CCP tun command
set device /dev/cuaU0.0
set timeout 180
set speed 921600
set timeout 0
set authname wapuser1
set authkey wap
set dial "ABORT BUSY TIMEOUT 3 \
AT OK-AT-OK \
AT+CFUN=1 OK-AT-OK \
AT+CMEE=2 OK-AT-OK \
AT+CSQ OK \
AT+CGDCONT=1,\\\"IP\\\",\\\"lteinternet.apn\\\" OK \
set ifaddr 10.0.0.1/0 10.0.0.2/0 255.255.255.255 0.0.0.0
add default HISADDR
Most of the commands start with AT. The first AT command lets the modem know that a sequence of commands will follow.
AT+CFUN=1 enables full functionality. Depending on the manufacturer, different values represent different functionality levels such as low power mode or transmit/receive only.
AT+CMEE=2 enables verbose error codes in human readable form.
AT+CSQ returns the signal strength, and 7 or greater is usually needed for a successful connection (valuable in troubleshooting).
AT+CGDCONT=1,\\\”IP\\\”,\\\”lteinternet.apn\\\” configures the modem’s profile number 1 with the protocol to use (IP) and the wireless provider’s APN (lteinternet.apn).
ATD*99# is the command to dial *99#
(to be continued)