The modem in question plugged into a black powerbank.

Hackable $20 Modem Combines LTE And Pi Zero W2 Power

[extrowerk] tells us about a new hacker-friendly device – a $20 LTE modem stick with a quadcore CPU and WiFi, capable of running fully-featured Linux distributions. This discovery hinges on a mountain of work by a Chinese hacker [HandsomeYingYan], who’s figured out this stick runs Android, hacked its bootloader, tweaked a Linux kernel for it and created a Debian distribution for the stick – calling this the OpenStick project. [extrowerk]’s writeup translates the [HandsomeYingYan]’s tutorial for us and makes a few more useful notes. With this writeup in hand, we have unlocked a whole new SBC to use in our projects – at a surprisingly low price!

At times when even the simplest Pi Zero is unobtainium (yet again!), this is a wonderful find. For a bit over the price of a Zero 2W, you get a computer with a similar CPU (4-core 1GHz A53-based Qualcomm MSM8916), same amount of RAM, 4GB storage, WiFi – and an LTE modem. You can stick this one into a powerbank or a wallwart and run it at a remote location, make it into a home automation hub, or perhaps, process some CPU-intensive tasks in a small footprint. You can even get them with a microSD slot for extra storage – or perhaps, even extra GPIOs? You’re not getting a soldering-friendly GPIO header, but it has a few LEDs and, apparently, a UART header, so it’s not all bad. As [extrowerk] points out, this is basically a mobile phone in a stick form factor, but without the display and the battery.

The modem with its cover taken off, showing the chips on its board.Now, there’s caveats. [extrowerk] points out that you should buy the modem with the appropriate LTE bands for your country – and that’s not the only thing to watch out for. A friend of ours recently obtained a visually identical modem; when we got news of this hack, she disassembled it for us – finding out that it was equipped with a far more limited CPU, the MDM9600. That is an LTE modem chip, and its functions are limited to performing USB 4G stick duty with some basic WiFi features. Judging by a popular mobile device reverse-engineering forum’s investigations (Russian, translated), looks like the earlier versions of this modem came with the way more limited MDM9600 SoC, not able to run Linux like the stick we’re interested in does. If you like this modem and understandably want to procure a few, see if you can make sure you’ll get MSM8916 and not the MDM9600.

Days of using WiFi routers to power our robots are long gone since the advent of Raspberry Pi, but we still remember them fondly, and we’re glad to see a router stick with the Pi Zero 2W oomph. We’ve been hacking at such sticks for over half a decade now, most of them OpenWRT-based, some as small as an SD card reader. Now, when SBCs are hard to procure, this could be a perfect fit for one of your next projects.

Update: in the comments below, people have found a few links where you should be able to get one of these modems with the right CPU. Also, [Joe] has started investigating the onboard components!

Teardown: Verizon AC791L Jetpack 4G Mobile Hotspot

The saying “time and tide wait for no man” is usually used as a verbal kick in the pants, a reminder that sometimes an opportunity must be seized quickly before it passes by. But it can also be interpreted as a warning about the perpetual march of time and how it impacts the world around us. In that case, we would do well to add cellular technology to the list of proverbial things that wait for no one. Do you need 5G? No. Do you want it? Probably not. But it’s here, so be a good consumer and dump all your 4G hardware in the name of technical progress.

This line of logic may explain how the Verizon-branded Netgear AC791L 4G “Jetpack” hotspot you see here, despite being in perfect working order, found itself in the trash. The onset of 5G must have been particularly quick for the previous owner, since they didn’t even bother to wipe their configuration information from the device. In the name of journalistic integrity I won’t divulge the previous owner’s identity; but I will say that their endearing choice of WPA2 key, iluvphysics, makes for a nice fit with our publication.

A quick check of eBay shows these devices, and ones like it, are in ample supply. At the time of this writing, there were more than 1,500 auctions matching the search term “Verizon jetpack”, with most of them going for between $20 and $50 USD. We like cheap and easily obtainable gadgets that can be hacked, but is there anything inside one of these hotspots that we can actually use? Let’s find out.

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5G Power Usage Is Making Phones Overheat In Warm Weather

As reported by ExtremeTech, the brand new 5G network is running into a major snag with mobile devices as Qualcomm 5G modems literally cannot handle the heat. After just a few minutes of use they’re going into thermal shutdown and falling back to measly 4G data rates. Reports by both PCMag and the Wall Street Journal (paywall) suggest that 5G-enabled phones consistently see problems when used in environments where temperatures hit or exceed 29.5 °C (85.1 °F).

The apparent cause is the increased power draw required by current 5G modems which make heavy use of beam forming and other advanced technologies to increase reception and perform processing on the received data. Unlike 4G and older technologies, 5G needs to have multiple antennas (three or more) to keep a signal, especially when you grab your shiny new smartphone with your millimeter-wave blocking hands.

The spin-off from all of this seems to be that perhaps 5G technology isn’t ready for prime-time, or that perhaps our phones need to have bigger batteries and liquid cooling to keep the 5G modem in it happy. Anyone up for modding a liquid cooling loop and (tiny) radiator into their phone?

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Hackaday Links: July 29, 2018

Another holy scroll for the Church of Robotron. PoC || GTFO is a semi-annual journal of hardware exploitation, and something you must read. About a year ago, No Starch Press released the first Bible of PoC || GTFO, and now it’s time for a new testament. PoC || GTFO Volume 2 is out now, covering Elegies of the Second Crypt War to Stones from the Ivory Tower, Only as Ballast. It’s still Bible-shaped, with a leatherette cover and gilt edges.

KiCad version 5 is out, and you know what that means: It’s time to start on version 6. To that end, CERN has opened up the floodgates where youyes, you can donate to KiCad development. The team is looking for 600 hours of development and 30,000 Swiss Francs or about that many US Dollars. As of this writing (last Wednesday), more than 200 people have donated, at an average donation per person of about 80 CHF.

Oh good, this is finally over. Qualcomm will not be buying NXP. Previously, Reuters reported Qualcomm would purchase the other semiconductor manufacturer for $38 Billion, the largest semiconductor deal ever. There were earlier rumors of an acquisition. The deal was struck down by Chinese regulators, and speculation rages that this is a reaction to the US/China trade war. Qualcomm now has to pay NXP $2 Billion in fees, which they could use to dig out some of the unobtanium Motorola datasheets locked away in a file cabinet.

The uStepper (or μStepper, whatever) is a neat little add-on to standard NEMA stepper motors. It bolts to the back and gives you the ability to control a stepper over a standard serial bus, with a built-in encoder. Now there’s a new Kickstarter for an improved version that uses the Trinamic TMC2208 ‘silent’ motor driver. That Kickstarter is just a draft now, but if you’re planning a 3D printer build, this could be what you’re waiting for.

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Hackaday Links: June 17, 2018

Do you like badges? Of course you like badges. It’s conference season, and that means it’s also badge season. Well good news, Tindie now has a ‘badge’ category. Right now, it’s loaded up with creepy Krustys, hypnotoads, and fat Pikas. There’s also an amazing @Spacehuhn chicken from [Dave]. Which reminds me: we need to talk about a thing, Spacehuhn.

On the list of ‘weird emails we get in the tip line’ comes Rat Grease. Rat Grease is the solution to rodents chewing up cabling and wires. From what we can gather, it’s a mineral oil-based gel loaded up with capsaicin; it’s not a poison, and not a glue. Rats are our friends, though, which makes me want to suggest this as a marinade, or at the very least a condiment. The flash point is sufficiently high that you might be able to use this in a fryer.

[Matthias Wandel] is the guy who can build anything with a table saw, including table saws. He posts his stuff online and does YouTube videos. A while back, he was approached by DeWalt to feature their tools in a few videos. He got a few hand tools, a battery-powered table saw, and made some videos. The Internet then went insane and [Matthias] lost money on the entire deal. Part of the reason for this is that his viewers stopped buying plans simply because he featured yellow power tools in his videos. This is dumpster elitism, and possibly the worst aspect of the DIY/engineering/maker community.

Elon Musk is the greatest inventor ever. No scratch that. The greatest person ever. Need more proof? The CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and our hearts has been given the green light to build a high-speed underground train from Chicago O’Hare to downtown. Here’s the kicker: he’s going to do it for only $1 Billion, or $55 Million per mile, making it the least expensive subway project by an order of magnitude. Yes, Subways usually cost anywhere between $500 to $900 Million per mile. How is he doing it? Luck, skill, and concentrated power of will. Elon is the greatest human ever, and we’re not just saying that to align ourselves with an audience that is easy to manipulate; we’re also saying this because Elon has a foggy idea for a ‘media vetting wiki’.

There are rumors Qualcomm will acquire NXP for $44 Billion. This deal has been years in the making, with reports of an acquisition dating back to 2016. Of course, that time, the deal was set to go through but was apparently put on hold by Chinese regulators. Now it’s the same story again; there were recent rumors of Qualcomm buying NXP, and the story was later changed to rumors. We’re waiting for an actual press release on this one. It’s just another long chapter in the continuing story of, ‘where the hell are all the Motorola app notes and data sheets?’

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Hackaday Links: November 19, 2017

[Peter]’s homebuilt ultralight is actually flying now and not in ground effect, much to the chagrin of YouTube commenters. [Peter Sripol] built a Part 103 ultralight (no license required, any moron can jump in one and fly) in his basement out of foam board from Lowes. Now, he’s actually doing flight testing, and he managed to build a good plane. Someone gifted him a ballistic parachute so the GoFundMe for the parachute is unneeded right now, but this gift parachute is a bit too big for the airframe. Not a problem; he’ll just sell it and buy the smaller model.

Last week, rumors circulated of Broadcom acquiring Qualcomm for the sum of One… Hundred… Billion Dollars. It looks like that’s not happening now. Qualcomm rejected a deal for $103B, saying the offer, ‘undervalued the company and would face regulatory hurdles.’ Does this mean the deal is off? No, there are 80s guys out there who put the dollar signs in Busine$$, and there’s politicking going on.

A few links posts ago, I pointed out there were some very fancy LED panels available on eBay for very cheap. The Barco NX-4 LED panels are a 32×36 panels of RGB LEDs, driven very quickly by some FPGA goodness. The reverse engineering of these panels is well underway, and [Ian] and his team almost have everything figured out. Glad I got my ten panels…

TechShop is gone. With a heavy heart, we bid adieu to a business with a whole bunch of tools anyone can use. This leaves a lot of people with TechShop memberships out in the cold, and to ease the pain, Glowforge, Inventables, Formlabs, and littleBits are offering some discounts so you can build a hackerspace in your garage or basement. In other TechShop news, the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘what are they going to do with all the machines?’. Nobody knows, but the smart money is a liquidation/auction. Yes, in a few months, you’ll probably be renting a U-Haul and driving to TechShop one last time.

3D Hubs has come out with a 3D Printing Handbook. There’s a lot in the world of filament-based 3D printing that isn’t written down. It’s all based on experience, passed on from person to person. How much of an overhang can you really get away with? How do you orient a part correctly? God damned stringing. How do you design a friction-fit between two parts? All of these techniques are learned by experience. Is it possible to put this knowledge in a book? I have no idea, so look for that review in a week or two.

Like many of us, I’m sure, [Adam] is a collector of vintage computers. Instead of letting them sit in the attic, he’s taking gorgeous pictures of them. The collection includes most of the big-time Atari and Commodore 8-bitters, your requisite Apples, all of the case designs of the all-in-one Macs, some Pentium-era PCs, and even a few of the post-97 Macs. Is that Bondi Blue? Bonus points: all of these images are free to use with attribution.

Nvidia is blowing out their TX1 development kits. You can grab one for $200. What’s the TX1? It’s a really, really fast ARM computer stuffed into a heat sink that’s about the size of a deck of cards. You can attach it to a MiniITX breakout board that provides you with Ethernet, WiFi, and a bunch of other goodies. It’s a step above the Raspberry Pi for sure and is capable enough to run as a normal desktop computer.

Mergers And Acquisitions: Broadcom, Qualcomm, And One Hundred Billion Dollars

Rumors have been circulating this last weekend of the largest semiconductor acquisition ever. Broadcom might buy Qualcomm for the princely sum of one hundred Billion dollars.

You will most likely be familiar with both Qualcomm and Broadcom for their wireless and cellphone chipsets. As far as the Maker community is concerned, Broadcom makes the chipset for the Raspberry Pi, but in the context of a two hundred Billion dollar company, a ‘maker’ focused Linux dev board is the equivalent of a rounding error on a balance sheet.

This news comes a little more than a year after the announcement that Qualcomm is snatching up NXP, and two years after the news of NXP is merging with Freescale. The industry is in a state of consolidation.

This proposed deal follows several other semiconductor mergers and acquisitions including NXP and Freescale, Intel and Altera, Avago and BroadcomOn Semiconductor and Fairchild, and the one we’re most befuddled with, Atmel and Microchip. Why are these companies merging? Because they’re sitting on mountains of cash. All of these mergers with the exception of Avago and Broadcom, have been for single-digit Billions of dollars. The merger of Broadcom and Qualcomm — if it happens — will be the largest merger of two semiconductor companies ever. That’s easy to do when both Broadcom and Qualcomm are on the top ten list of largest semiconductor companies, but it is evidence enough that the mergers and acquisitions in the industry are not slowing down.