Most modern smartphones actually run two different operating systems – there’s the one you interact with directly and there’s the firmware running on the modem system-on-a-chip, which is basically like its own little computer.
So even a phone like the PinePhone that’s designed to run free and open source (usually Linux-based) operating systems might ship with closed-source, proprietary firmware installed on the phone’s Quectel E25-G modem.
But a few months ago a small team of independent developers released an open source alternative. It was a bit buggy at the time, but it was mostly free of proprietary “blobs.”
While early builds of the open source modem firmware had a number of known issues, recent builds have:
- Added support for GPS
- Improved power management
- Sped up boot speeds
- Fixed in-call audio bugs for most (maybe all) usage scenarios
That means that the open source firmware can now do just about everything the stock firmware can… although it’s possible there may still be a few bugs to work out. You can find more details in the release notes at GitHub.
There’s also much more information available at Biktorgj’s PinePhone Modem SDK project page at GitHub, and if you want to try flashing the modem firmware on your PinePhone, you can find instructions at GitHub as well.
But before you do that, make sure to read the notes carefully before beginning, and it’s also probably a good idea to understand the process for returning to the stock firmware in case anything goes wrong. Note that if anything goes wrong and/or you have a locked bootloader, then you may have to use a trickier method that involves shorting test points on the modem board.
Also keep in mind that the open source PinePhone modem firmware will most likely always be an unofficial project. There’s little chance that future PinePhones will ship with the firmware installed out of the box due to “various legal constraints.”
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