You can not select more than 25 topics Topics must start with a letter or number, can include dashes ('-') and can be up to 35 characters long.

5.5 KiB

The gr-gsm project

The gr-gsm project is based on the gsm-receiver written by Piotr Krysik (also the main author of gr-gsm) for the Airprobe project.

The aim is to provide set of tools for receiving information transmitted by GSM equipment/devices.


The project is based on GNU Radio signal processing framework and takes advantage of its great features like stream tagging and message passing. Presence of GNU Radio is therefore a basic requirement for compilation and installation of gr-gsm.

The easiest way to install gr-gsm it to use pybombs installer (GNU Radio install management system). Installation with this tool was tested on Ubuntu 14.04 and 14.10 (on 14.10 installation will be much faster as compilation of GNU Radio is not necessary). For installation of pybombs you will need git. On Debian based distributions you can get it with:

sudo apt-get install git

Then download pybombs sources using git:

git clone

Go into pybombs directory and configure it:

cd pybombs
./pybombs config

As a install prefix enter /usr/local/. The rest of the options can be left as defaul.

On distributions that have GNU Radio version 3.7.3 and above in standard repository, GNU Radio can be installed from packages without compilation. To avoid this quite lenghty process use:

./pybombs config forcebuild ' '

To check GNU Radio version use:

apt-cache policy gnuradio-dev

Then build and install gr-gsm with following command:

sudo ./pybombs install gr-gsm

Pybombs will take care of downloading all of required libraries and for installation of GNU Radio and building gr-gsm.

At the end create the ~/.gnuradio/config.conf config file so gnuradio-companion can find custom blocks of gr-gsm:



There are many possible applications of gr-gsm. At this moment there is one application that is ready out of the box. It is improved replacement of the old Airprobe - the program that lets you receive and decode GSM control messages from timeslot 0 on the broadcasting channel of a BTS. After installation of gr-gsm there are two python executables that will be installed:,

Airprobe with RTL-SDR input

This program uses cheap RTL-SDR receivers as a source of the signal. It can be started by running from a terminal:

The window of the program contains amplitude spectrum of the signal drawn in real-time. The central frequency of the signal can be changed by moving fc slider. The GSM signal has bandwidth of around 200kHz. By looking for constant hills on the spectrum of such width you can find a GSM broadcasting channel. After setting the fc slider to a carrier frequency of a broadcasting channel the program should immediately print content of subsequent messages on the standard output.

If it doesn't happen, set ppm slider into different positions. The slider is responsible for setting devices clock offset correction. If the clock offset is too large the clock offset correction algorithm that is implemented in the program won't work. There is intentionally added upper of allowable clock offset - it was done in order to avoid adaptation of the algorithm to neighbour channels that would inevitably lead to instability. You can use the value set later by passing it as argument of the program: -p <correction>

Airprobe with file input

This program processes files containing complex data - interleaved float IQ samples. Example of the usage: --samp-rate=1M --fc=940M -i input_file 


--samp-rate - sampling frequency of the data stored in the file,
--fc - central frequency of the recorded data - it is needed for frequency offset correction,
-i - the file containing the complex data.

Analyzing GSM messages in the Wireshark

The Airprobe (file, rtlsdr) application sends GSM messages in GSMTAP format that was created by Harald Welte to the UDP port number 4729. Wireshark interprets packets coming on this port as GSM data with GSMTAP header and it is able to dissect messages.

On Debian like systems *Wireshark can be installed with:

sudo apt-get install wireshark

To start Wireshark straight to analysis of the GSMTAP packets obtained from gr-gsm's airprobe use following command:

sudo wireshark -k -Y '!icmp && gsmtap' -i lo

If you want to avoid the risks caused by running Wireshark with root privileges follow this short howto:


Short presentation of Airprobe'like application of gr-gsm:


Piotr Krysik <pkrysik (at)> - main author and project maintainer

Steve <steve (at)> - functions for decoding channel codes


This work is built upon the efforts made by many people to gather knowledge of GSM.

The most important ancestor of gr-gsm (and gsm-receiver of Airprobe project) was gsm-tvoid written by Tvoid.

Gr-gsm wouldn't be also possible without help and inspiration by Harald Welte, Dieter Spaar and Sylvain Munaut.

Special thanks to Pawel Koszut who generously lent his USRP1 to the author of gr-gsm (Piotr Krysik) in 2007-2010.