Myth Busting FTW

Mike Hodson mystica at
Fri Aug 31 18:48:26 CEST 2007


Hello Dan, author of the RoughlyDrafted blog and to the OpenMoko
community mailinglist as well.

This is in regard to your recent blog post,

As you write rather lengthy blog posts on your site, I feel compelled
to give you an equally long rebuttal to a lot of fear, uncertainty and
doubt regarding the OpenMoko platform, and FIC's Neo1973 phone.  Not
to mention an entirely wrong opinion of how the technology behind
mobile communications works.

First, some questions. The simple ones first, and the more complex and
in-depth ones towards the end.

* Where did you get your totally wrong information about T-Mobile's frequencies?

* Where on any official blogs/websites have you seen the OpenMoko team
or FIC say that they were making an "iPhone killer" or "anti-iPhone?"

* What makes you think that these phones as designed by the OpenMoko
team were initially meant to run windows mobile and that this phone
was already some mass-produced Chinese-government-backed phone created
and mass-produced before Sean Moss-Pultz had an idea, and a team of
approximately 10 people working at FIC decided to create OpenMoko?

* What makes you think a newly established grass-roots effort is able
to -INSTANTLY- be at the same level as companies who have been around
for decades?  What makes you expect the exact same from a
multi-billion dollar corporation and a 10 person strong start-up
division of a company paired with an ad-hoc community effort?  How
skewed is your view on what Apple and other manufacturers are trying
to produce in comparison with what OpenMoko wishes to do?

Now I have a lot of facts.

First and foremost, you are absolutely wrong in your claim that
T-Mobile uses "non-standard frequencies". I am simply amazed how you
would brazenly make this claim.

Please make note of these FCC documents to understand how mobile
frequencies are assigned today: and
; also make note that if you see "GSM850" and "800MHz" these
correspond to the same frequency allocations: 850 is just a better
term because the frequencies used from 800-900mhz are clustered in the
middle of this range.

T-Mobile owns and uses, and has used for the past decade, their
allocation of the 1900MHz frequency band in each market they cover,
nationwide.  AT&T digital service back in the late 1990s, when analog
was the standard technology, also started out in the same 1900MHz
band, along with a slew of new competition from companies who could
previously not get past the duopoly imposed by the 800MHz frequency
band nationwide.  There can be only 2 separate carriers on the 800MHz
band- thats how analog was set up in 1981.

Fact: T-Mobile, today, uses the same frequencies they did in 1997 when
they started as Voicestream, which is in the same 1900MHz band as AT&T
in a lot of markets.

In the markets where AT&T does not own a 1900MHz frequency allocation,
although uncommon, they often do own both of the 800Mhz blocks.  This
is due to companies that formed Cingular, and AT&T themselves each
owning one in that area before they merged.  The Cingular/AT&T merger
makes AT&T advantageous in nearly all markets, as they have often
combined their own frequency allocations of 1 or 2 blocks, and their
competition's of 1 or 2 blocks.

To compare possibilities, AT&T has anywhere between 25MHz of spectrum
(1 cellular block only, rare as most markets have 2+ blocks in use
today) and a theoretical maximum of 110mhz total of spectrum(2
cellular + 2 large 30MHz PCS A/B blocks).  In most markets T-Mobile
has to fit in between 10 to 30MHz of spectrum. Total. This gives them
enough for voice, but not any expandability.  This alone does not make
them unsuited for the OpenMoko, but it is a severe competitive
disadvantage for T-Mobile.

AT&T currently owns a lot more spectrum, and therefore in many markets
is able to provide these 3G/UMTS services where they have more than
adequate space left for normal GSM traffic.  And, as soon as they
completely shut off analog and TDMA the extra GSM/3G space will only
increase from there.

Now, you can clearly see the disparity between AT&T and T-Mobile, and
this is why T-Mobile bid in the 2006 AWS frequency auctions and won
allocations in the 1700MHz band to provide 3G/UMTS services.

Did you somehow get GSM mixed up with 3G when you were writing?

Fact: The Neo1973 is a Quad-Band, worldwide GSM handset. (850Mhz(usa),
900MHz & 1800MHz(worldwide) and 1900MHz(usa))
Fact: GSM is a worldwide standard, available in nearly every country
on the planet.  The OpenMoko can work just about everywhere. (Japan
and South Korea not withstanding)
Fact: GSM1900 in the USA is the same for both AT&T and T-Mobile, and
will not go away any time soon.
Fact: Both the current iPhone and Neo1973 are still based on GSM technology.

While the iPhone has EDGE already for moderately faster data, this may
come in the near future with the Neo.  Similarly, if Apple really
wants to get their iPhone out worldwide, they will have to think about
3G/UMTS for Europe, and CDMA for South Korea and Japan.  As of now,
because Japanese operators use 3G and CDMA exclusively, no GSM roaming
is possible there- with either the iPhone or the Neo1973.  FIC and the
OpenMoko team are also thinking about this same dilemma, and only the
future will show what will come.

Fact: the iPhone, in its current state, is unable to make use of the
nearly 20-25x faster 3G-HSDPA download speeds AT&T offers in many
markets. (Current HSDPA speeds are 3.6megabit, later up to 7.2mbit;
EDGE maxes out in the upper hundreds of kilobits or about 0.15megabit)
 This makes its promise of "full web browsing" just that much less of
a reality.

Second, "Anti-iPhone" and "iPhone Killer" are MEDIA CONJURED TERMS.

Nowhere have the company (FIC) or the core developers of OpenMoko used
that term.  But, as soon as the media and public at large got wind of
a phone, based on a full face touch screen, and that it was Linux,
their brains started going haywire to find the "killer buzzword" to
sensationalize their stories.  Perhaps you may be mistaking the
COMMUNITY with the actual team behind OpenMoko.  Any member of the
community is able to say what they wish, and to drum up support
whatever way they want.  The First Amendment to the US Constitution
and the openness of communication on the Internet makes this possible.

Fact: The core team and company have NOT used this term.  You only
help propagate this myth.  Please stop.

Third: You claim that the "company is a knockoff hardware cloner
infatuated with Microsoft" and is re-using some mythical Chinese
government backed phone that was pre-made before they even got the


And what about the hardware the phone was designed from?  It isn't
terribly different from the other smartphone hardware, but only
because most phones, contrary to your belief, are based from a common
core: the ARM Processor.  Linux has run on ARM for years.  Almost all
mobile phones currently are ARM based, not just smartphones.  The
architecture is the same, but the peripheral hardware is somewhat
different.  All thats needed then, are device drivers to make it work.

This is FAR from your claim of being "merely a version of Linux
designed to run on a specific vendor's proprietary implementation of
Windows Mobile."  Your misinformation makes it seem like Linux is
being forced to run AT THE SAME TIME as Windows Mobile, which this
phone WAS NOT designed to ever use.  The Windows Mobile reference
platform is simply a hardware spec, akin to "Centrino" for laptops.
The laptop does not care what it runs, although monopolistic licensing
deals give Microsoft more money any time a device is sold preinstalled
with Windows.

And in that sense, the Neo1973 hardware was NEVER based on any
preexisting platform; it rather was assembled from the same parts a
variety of phones are made from currently, all based on off-the-shelf
components.  The design was custom and members from the core OpenMoko
team lead the development.  Surely this was a cost-effective way to
build what has undoubtedly become the first of a long line of OpenMoko
devices, phones among other things.  Apple based their iPhone on some
rather new custom hardware, adding of course to the expense of R&D,
testing, debugging, coding, and everythig else.

While most smartphone devices nowadays are based upon Windows Mobile,
they in fact are not terribly different than those running Palm OS, or
even phones using proprietary RTOS systems running on these ARM cpus.
How do you think that OpenMoko has been hacked to run on to port to
the Palm Tungsten, a Palm 650 phone, and a couple of HTC smartphones?
Because the base hardware nowadays truly is not terribly different.

As for FIC, do you even know who First International Computer is?
Perhaps this may enlighten you.  FIC have historically been a
multi-national-trading OEM/ODM company building computers, consumer
electronics and communications equipment for companies who have
designed them.

(What are these? and .)

FIC has been building the physical components and equipment that
companies in other countries have incorporated into said companies own
brands for 27 years now.  Look at RCA, Sony, HP/Compaq, Nintendo,
Apple even.  Very few things they actually sell are made in-house.
The majority if not virtually all of it nowadays is outsourced.  FIC
may actually have built the laptop or desktop you are using right now,
even though the name on its label is different.  Do you think Apple
builds the iPhone in-house?  No, they contract to OEM builders.

Instead of selling their hardware design solely to carriers to brand
with the carrier's name, with software designated by the carrier for
the carrier's services and theirs alone, has decided to make something
entirely different with their own brand on it.

Fact: Just about every "brand" out there uses OEMs to manufacture
their consumer electronic products. The few that don't outsource
manufacturing are multinational consumer commodity conglomerates much
larger than Apple, along with other technology companies which are
based entirely on intellectual property.

While you criticize FIC for mentioning "i-pod feature" on a product
information page, I believe this is acceptable because they are trying
to make it understandable to the widest range of companies who may
want to have "something like an ipod" in their product.  Who can
disagree that Apple is a media powerhouse? Their marketing is some of
the best in the world.

What you are not considering, is that this company has not made
"direct to consumer" devices but rather sells to companies
exclusively.  They are trying to promote their ability to make an MP3
capable phone, but some executive making a decision at a foreign
company may have no idea what "MP3" means.  The company they build the
custom handset for, perhaps some wireless carrier, might at that point
decide to license the term "iPod" from Apple, as Cingular did when
they and Motorola created the iTunes-capable ROKR.  Then everyone is
happy, even the copyright people.

Fact: Everyone and their mothers know of iPods.

Fourth: You seem to be confused about the concept of Linux, and how it
fits in relationship with Windows Mobile, Symbian and the customized
iPhone version of OS X.  Additionally you seem to think that yet
another Linux distribution for mobiles will create redundancy in the
market.  Not true, as the current implementations are almost
completely closed architectures, using security features to disable
any user ability to expand the platform.

You are trying to compare a paradigm of free thinkers who have new
ideas and wish to share them with everyone for the greater good, with
well-established monopoly software that only got where it is because
it had billions of dollars in corporate funding keeping a group of
programmers working for years.

Yes, Linux users/coders can be a bit disorganized and sometimes they
have petty wars between hardheaded individuals.  What you seem to
forget, is that in corporations the petty bickering takes place behind
closed doors.  Companies don't want to project a bad "public image."
If someone were to make one comment outside of company walls, they
would probably be terminated due to violating a non-disclosure
agreement.  The entire Linux community and in turn the OpenMoko
development process, thrive on communication.  While the benefit is
that everyone can make use of the group effort, it also exposes the
less tasteful side of some people when they make the decision to vent
in public forums.

Give the community effort some credit.  They have been working on the
device user software for 6 months, alongside whatever else they do
with their lives normally.  Whatever job they work, the effort they
are putting towards OpenMoko is a secondary effort: they are doing
this in their spare time because they are dissatisfied with the
current crop of mobile phones and carrier imposed limitations on
software, and they want to be part of a change in perspective.

These are people who have a cellphone with a music player, but are
unable to play a simple internet shoutcast with the unlimited data
plan offered by their carrier; people who have Bluetooth but can't
even send a background wallpaper or custom ringtone song to their
phone via Bluetooth, and instead must buy a $1 or more wallpaper, a $2
or more ringer, that they probably don't even really like.
Conversely, I own a MacBook, and while I love having Bluetooth to use
my headset with Skype,  I am dismayed that I am unable to utilize my
stereo Bluetooth headphones I purchased to listen to music wire-free
from my cellphone.  I am literally confined by a 3 foot cable between
the laptop in my lap and my head.  The inability for me to add this
feature and having to wait for Leopard to get it, further reinforces
the "closed model = lack of consumer choice" paradigm.  Wait...Wasn't
Leopard delayed...for the iPhone? HEY APPLE, WHERES MY A2DP?!

The standards and ability are there, but the carriers or device
manufacturers are forcibly limiting their availability and scope to
produce more profit by limiting your choice to expensive
carrier-provided applications.  Talk is cheap in this industry, with
unlimited off-peak calling, My Faves/My Circle, and mobile-to-mobile
minutes.  Carriers are looking for -any- way possible to make more
money, and by doing so provide less services to their customer base.
Then, they lock you in with a nearly unbreakable contract unless you
are truly dedicated to get out and move on.

Fact: Every CDMA cellphone since 2003 has come with internal GPS
capability mandated so 911 operators can can find you if you are
injured and cannot speak or simply don't know where you are in an

(GSM phones are now also coming with GPS chips, however, prior to this
it was still possible to get a rough location by estimating the
distance from multiple towers due to the way the protocol works.  More
info at:; this timing
advance combined with triangulation gives approximately 350-500 meter
resolution for positioning in urban environments)

Verizon, Sprint and Alltel (among other smaller regional CDMA
carriers) have been selling GPS capable phones, with ample CPU
capability to run a simple GPS mapping application for 2-3 years, or
simply a coordinate output for the life of the gpsOne platform. (The
initial phones with this capability did not have enough CPU or
graphics horsepower to run mapping applications effectively.)

Fact: Verizon makes you buy a whole new phone, and often re-sign your
contract, if you want to get 1 extra feature your 2 year old perfectly
working handset does not have, like GPS powered mapping.

Even though the V3M RAZR touted with "VZ Navigator" was the first
phone to offer GPS mapping on their network, the V3C RAZR they had a
year prior is fully capable of running this software.  But, due to the
way its marketed, you are forced to buy an entirely new handset they
have preprogrammed with GPS mapping software if you want that
capability.  They will not offer it simply as a downloadable update.

Sprint at least has finally made the software available for a lot of
current handsets and some even a few years old.  Verizon forced a
hardware upgrade for something that SOFTWARE could have provided
utilizing existing hardware.

        "You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to
give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want
something new."  - Steve Jobs

You may argue that extensibility has been provided in the past, but
J2ME and, in a few cases, BREW in comparison, are extremely limited in
scope and ability. They are protected from accessing the real "meat"
of the hardware and operating system.  Symbian provides a bit more
access to low-level hardware, but still not everything.  Operators
have claimed that this was so that nobody then would be able to break
the network or phone, but in reality its because these operators want
control over what you can do with your phone and often opt for
features that make them money, at the expense of user freedom.

As it stands now, due to the security policies imposed by carriers on
their devices, internal GPS receiver interfaces, cameras, high quality
stereo audio from the headphone jack, 3d graphics, bluetooth and
possibly many other features are simply DENIED to any J2ME application
that the carrier itself not approve and thereby sign with their
security certificate.
And for BREW?  Good luck even installing your custom app on a handset,
because every BREW app must be carrier approved, signed, and installed
through a carrier provided downloading software, that only talks to
said carrier's server.

(Verizon and Alltel are among those who use BREW extensively, as well
as Telus in Canada and KDDI's "au" service in Japan.  The rest of the
industry, CDMA and GSM alike are using Java or in some cases (Nokia,
Sony-Ericsson) Symbian.)

Fact: Harsh controls stifle innovation and limit choices.

One of the key concepts behind OpenMoko: the software is completely
user-upgradeable and if you so dare, customizable.  New concepts for
using the hardware are no longer limited to waiting for carriers to
give you them, or force you to buy new hardware with marginal
differences (the V3M for Verizon also added an audio player. This has
no bearing on its GPS ability) nor do you have to wait months or years
or maybe never for your phone manufacturer or operator to fix a bug
you are having.

Fact: AT&T does not provide firmware updates for phones they sell.  If
you have a bug, go to the phone's manufacturer and hope they have a
fix or update for you.

Some people have taken this intrinsic GPS ability even further and ask
"if my phone knows where it is, why can't it automatically turn itself
to silent mode when I arrive at work, loud when I am at the gym?"
"Why, when my phone is lost, can't it reply to a text message with its
current location?"  Hell, if it can do this, it could even email me a
Google Earth link to its exact coordinates.  "Why, if I know I need
milk at the store and tell a shopping list app this, can my phone not
remind to pick up the milk as I drive by in my car on the way home
from work that evening?"

        "The opportunity is to go from simple systems to creating
complex systems, what I'm calling neo-forms," "Simple devices is: us
learning them. Neo-forms are: them learning us." - Sean Moss-Pultz

These are a few things I know my OpenMoko based phone will do for me,
even if I have to make custom scripts to accomplish the tasks.  I then
will share said scripts with everyone else, where they can be
prepackaged into easily installable add-on
packages.  The same way you now are able to click on an album at
iTunes to download and sync into your iPod, you will be able to
download a new feature for your OpenMoko phone.

The sort of "what do I want this to do, that it can't now" questions
spawn the development of open platforms; finding new ways to use the
same boring hardware so that it may make our lives a slight bit
simpler and more productive.

With the exception of the Nokia Maemo project, there have been rather
few companies who have wanted to dedicate a large amount of money
towards this sort of effort.  What effort you ask?  The effort of
re-thinking and expanding upon the devices Microsoft's Windows Mobile
and Symbian have made commonplace.  While Maemo and its hardware
platforms- the Internet Tablets- are not phones, lots of the software
developed for Maemo has been a stepping stone for OpenMoko.  Nokia's
Maemo was a major contributor to the GNOME Mobile & Embedded
Initiative, which in turn is a major building block for the OpenMoko

You seem to criticize Sun for taking the OpenMoko base and expanding
it to suit their needs because "its easy to make something if the
community is writing it for you"  This could not be further from the
case.  And yes, I read your full Sun JPhone blog post too.  They are
taking the base of OpenMoko, which gives an open standardized base,
hardware control, and a framework to start from, combining it with
their -now opensourced- (or did you miss this?) Java, and some
application portfolio from a company they acquired.

Fact: Open Source fosters this sort of environment where multiple
companies and groups are able to derive a common benefit from open
sharing of code.

In essence, OpenMoko is not just Linux, not just custom code, not just
people writing whatever they want, but has been helped immensely by
Nokia- a veteran in mobile design.

You claim, that Sun is piece-mealing a "pickle" when the iPhone is a
"sandwich"- a fully developed software/hardware/product.  I say that
Sun, FIC/OpenMoko, LG (with their Prada) and god knows who else,
coming out new and exiting phones are going to make the marketplace
very compelling and competitive.

And why shouldn't it be?  The more competition in the marketplace, the
more the marketplace thrives!  Look at low-fare airlines beating the
old, established carriers at their own game.  The larger carriers went
on about "look, we give you comforts, our competition is so bare-bones
you're lucky to get some pretzels and a soda."  Then come the low-fare
competition, who while still giving you pretzels and soda along with
somewhat more cramped seating, are more and more beginning to offer
new and exciting services never envisioned by the mainstream
mega-carriers.  Live satellite TV in every seatback on Frontier and
JetBlue, some of the highest ranked low-fare airlines.  Virgin
America, the newest competitor in this huge market has come up with a
TV, Videogame, Music and Movie-on-demand seatback terminal based
entirely upon the multi-user abilities and customizable nature of
Linux.  You can multi-player games/chat with your cabinmates!

        "Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?" - Steve Jobs

Sure, there are a few people who want luxurious first class
accommodation and service, but the vast majority of people love to
save money and experience cool new things.

Fact: Fierce competition in a market = more choices for all
persuasions of people = everyone wins.

Will the JPhone or OpenMoko "kill" or completely blow the iPhone out
of the water? NO!  But what they will do, is finally give those of us
who are rather annoyed at artificial limitations and the "one way of
doing things" something new and exciting, and allow us to explore, to
pick what best suits us as an individual.  Granted, many people love
the iPhone.  But just about as many wish something else were out
there.  OpenMoko and the Jphone will give these people that choice.

As for the iPhone, Apple has been planning, programming, refining and
tweaking this device far longer than the time the OpenMoko community
has been around, certainly long before Sean Moss-Pultz made his
breakthrough presentation in November 2006.   As an indication of how
long they may have been developing it, take for example their patent
for the multitouch screen:  As you can see once
you scroll down a bit, this patent was applied for on April 26, 2005.
This is almost 2 full years MORE to work on the user software than the
OpenMoko community has had.

While it is possible that Apple may have originally developed this
multi-touch technology and patent for their computers, they beyond any
doubt were at that point wanting to expand into portable devices other
than just the iPod.  I would make the conjecture that they had been
planning an iPod phone for a few years before that as well. (Something
they designed, not the horrible 99 song limited iTunes feature inside
some Motorola handsets Cingular sold.)

OpenMoko opened their notes, bugtracking system, software code, and
hardware specs to developers on February 14 2007.  In a little more
than 6 months, I am honestly amazed at just how much HAS been done by
the community.

On the other hand, the actual OpenMoko group in charge of this project
is rather small.  Its a group of dedicated people, all believing in
Sean Moss-Pultz' idea, of a truly open mobile platform. They are
slaving their time to try and make one man's dream a reality.  These
are the people that has been working on the Neo1973, designing the
custom circuit boards, researching the best hardware for the job,
writing the GSM chipset firmware and other core bits of the phone
firmware, and traveling worldwide to present the concept phone at
multiple trade shows and conferences.

        "I want to put a ding in the universe." - Steve Jobs

This group is about 10 actual people.  This group has never claimed
they will overtake the iPhone.  This group has not promised a fully
working device for a good while now- they made it very clear upon
inception that the first ones will be for developers to write whatever
software they think will help and contribute to a fully working phone.
  After the software base has been written, it will be usable by
consumers, but only with time will the true potential be realized, as
software can continually be updated.

Yet you wish to compare compare a 10 person core-team and a large yet
mostly spare-time community of coders with much larger divisions of a
multi-national multi-billion dollar company that spends millions on
the -design- of their products alone. I can't even guess how much they
spend on the people that work at Apple on these projects full-time,
and in cases like the iPhone, undoubtedly OVER-time...

This huge backing is a lot more than a grass-roots effort will see, at
least at the beginning.  People at Apple write software, or design
products because Apple pays them to do it exactly one way.  Then they
contract companies in China, Taiwan, and other places to build the
phones for them.  Had the sands shifted a bit differently, FIC may
very well have been the OEM manufacturing the iPhone for Apple!

God knows 10 people cannot make magic happen overnight, and I dare say
that neither did Apple.   Apple's flagship Leopard release of OSX had
to be sidelined for HALF A YEAR just to get the iPhone out the door
meeting schedules.  What does that tell us?  Apple has a buffer for
unforeseen problems yet is still is unable to make everyone happy on
schedule.  This also means that Apple -was- behind schedule.
Honestly, when have you ever seen a "schedule" that did not have
sacrifices or take longer than expected?

FIC, a business-to-business company, deals with much different
business methods and daily circumstances than a business-to-consumer
company like Apple.  Apple is in business to market to consumers, and
promote products through their well established distribution channels.
 FIC is coming from a supplier standpoint, trying to enter the market
on their own with a device based upon similar concepts yet different

The very small software R&D team, the core OpenMoko development team,
are now an individual entity working with FIC to produce the Neo1973
and related devices.  They are trying to get their idea off the
drawing board and into peoples hands, just as fast as is feasible for
such a small group.

I will leave you now, with what I feel is the most importang quote of
the entire essay:
"I challenge you to think of a single [mobile phone] innovation except
viruses in the last 10 years," "The phone is maladaptive. Don't follow
the phone. Leapfrog it." - Sean Moss-Pultz, OpenMoko Program Manager,
OpenMoko Inc.

Every company has baby steps, and stumbles along the way.

FACT: Apple was started by 2 people, in Steve Jobs' garage.

"'s all just a little bit of history repeating..." - Propellerheads


Mike Hodson

Linux Enthusiast, MacBook User and Cellular phone Geek
(I was a lead salesman at RadioShack for 4 years. I have an inside
view of how wireless has evolved in that time.)

(All Steve Jobs quotes from
(Sean Moss-Pultz quotes from
(Propellerheads quote from

(C)2007 Mike Hodson under the Creative Commons Attribution v3.0
License. (

More information about the community mailing list