Saturday, June 29, 2013

Doing traffic with the Carambola 2..

Now that the port is working, I've started doing some traffic with the carambola 2 board on FreeBSD.

So far, so good:

# athstats
546236       data frames received
509242       data frames transmit
155          tx frames with an alternate rate
14818        short on-chip tx retries
13617        long on-chip tx retries
645          tx failed 'cuz too many retries
MCS7         current transmit rate
2            recv eol interrupts
9            tx frames with no ack marked
506786       tx frames with short preamble
1414         rx failed 'cuz of bad CRC
1543         rx failed 'cuz of PHY err
    12           OFDM restart
    1531         CCK restart
20610        beacons transmitted
71           periodic calibrations
-0/+0        TDMA slot adjust (usecs, smoothed)
24           rssi of last ack
25           avg recv rssi
-96          rx noise floor
2447         tx frames through raw api
39730        A-MPDU sub-frames received
494045       Half-GI frames received
5967         40MHz frames received
8037         CRC errors for non-last A-MPDU subframes
2            CRC errors for last subframe in an A-MPDU
498972       Frames transmitted with HT Protection
3            TX Timeout
177          Number of frames retransmitted in software
15717        A-MPDU sub-frame TX attempt success
177          A-MPDU sub-frame TX attempt failures
1            spur immunity level
4            first step level
128          OFDM weak signal detect
9            CCK weak signal threshold
108          ANI increased spur immunity
105          ANI decrease spur immunity
108          ANI increased first step level
105          ANI decreased first step level
943666       cumulative OFDM phy error count
108574       cumulative CCK phy error count
2            ANI parameters zero'd for non-STA operation
44           ANI forced listen time to zero
44           ANI calculated listen time < 0
13603        missing ACK's
14996        RTS without CTS
504970       successful RTS
34928        bad FCS
Antenna profile:
[0] tx   496835 rx        0
[2] tx        0 rx   546236

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Making the AR9330 SoC wifi, or "how it feels doing things right.."

Well, "doing it right" is subjective. Sure. I'll grant you that.

I brought up the AR9330/AR9331 SoC support a couple of months ago. Unfortunately the Atheros reference board (AP121) comes with 16MB of RAM and 4MB of flash - which is just painful to do FreeBSD-HEAD development in.

Yes, I know. 16MB of RAM is tons of space... for FreeBSD-4. Anyway. That is a rant for another day.

So I managed to bring up the basic SoC support (which took longer than I thought - I had to learn how to write a FreeBSD uart driver!) but I decided to put wifi on hold until I found a board with more RAM and flash.

Along comes the Carabola 2 from ( . It's an AR9330, but with 64MB RAM, 16MB flash and a full-featured uboot. This is perfect for .. well, anything. And it's 30 Euros in quantities of one. Wait, it's cheap, it's fully-featured and it's available online? No way. What's the catch?

The catch - it wasn't running FreeBSD.

So I finally decided to bring up wifi support on FreeBSD.

The AR9300 HAL from Qualcomm Atheros includes the AR9330/AR9331 SoC wifi support. So I had to make it compile and make it work. How hard could it be?

Firstly - I wasn't compiling it in by default as it's only really useful for the SoC and not for normal PCIe NIC support. So, I needed to add that in. Luckily, I had to set AH_SUPPORT_HORNET into the source. Cool.

Next - the bus glue. The SoC internal bus isn't PCIe, it's what they call AHB, or "Atheros Host Bus." It's a derivative of a standard on-chip peripheral interconnect bus. The FreeBSD ath_ahb driver only supported AR9130, so I had to extend it to support non-AR9130 devices. That got it probing and attaching, but it wasn't finding the calibration / configuration space.

Next - gluing in the calibration data. It's on-board in the system flash, rather than on-chip (OTP) or an external EEPROM. The EEPROM space is 16KiB in size, rather than the 4KiB space used by the AR9xxx series SoCs. Also, the AR9300 HAL already seeks into the EEPROM space to grab the data at offset 0x1000, so I don't have to do that like I do with the AR9130 and related chips.

Finally - I had to teach ar9300_attach() that it needed to copy the EEPROM data I was giving it from ath_ahb into the copy it uses when setting things up.

And... that was it. After that, it booted and came up correctly. I was shocked.

You can find the boot log and dmesg at .

I haven't yet tested 802.11s (mesh) on this stuff, nor have I made TDMA work with this series of chips. But it's my eventual goal to make this board one of the "gold standard" boards for people wishing to enable their projects with wifi mesh. I bet it'll work out of the box as it stands, so if you're up for a bit of tinkering, buy a handful and set it up!

Enjoy! It's the best 30 euro you'll spend!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Working on Bluetooth Coexistence

I decided to bite the bullet and start hacking on bluetooth coexistence on these Atheros NICs. It's a bit of a rabbit hole.

I'll write up a bit more documentation on this when I'm not overly tired, but the general overview is pretty simple: "It's all done in software."

The bluetooth and wifi stacks need to speak to each other to know when is an appropriate time to prefer wifi traffic or bluetooth traffic. When pairing, bluetooth should be preferred. When scanning, associating, authenticating and rekeying, wifi should be preferred. When different profiles are active (eg A2DP audio), the bluetooth traffic should be periodically given preference so the A2DP frames can go out reliably. This has to be controlled in software.

So to make this work well on FreeBSD, I'll have to teach the wifi and bluetooth stacks to interface with each other somehow so this can be synchronised.

I have basic (static) coexistence working with the AR9285+AR3011 combo NIC. That's now in -HEAD.

I'm working on basic (static) coexistence on the AR9485+AR3012 combo NIC, however my NIC has an older BT part which requires quite a bit of dancing to make work. I'll have to teach ath3kfw how to load the config and firmware image for the required NIC. It's going to take some time but it'll be worth it.

I was hoping that FreeBSD would have basic A2DP support but it currently doesn't. I'd love to see that happen as it'd simplify a lot of my development/testing - as I can then do audio stream testing both playing and recording audio, then stream that over wifi.

Oh well. Another day of hacking!

Monday, June 10, 2013

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

After 18 months at Qualcomm Atheros, I decided I needed a bit of a change.

This is what I sent out to the open source community:

Hi all,

This Friday will be my last day at Qualcomm Atheros. I've enjoyed working with the extremely bright and driven engineers and designers that make the wireless chips and SoCs that people everywhere take for granted. I've achieved a bunch of goals both with their internal product development and open source. But now it's time to move onto different things.

I'd especially like to thank Luis Rodriguez for introducing me to the QCA folk and helping me get access to the Atheros open source project, as well as the follow-up discussions that led to me being hired. The open source wireless community has been driving innovation in a lot of areas for a number of years. I'd like to hope that I've had a small, positive effect on that. I wish you all the best of luck in pushing forward and continuing to innovate.

Now, I'm still NDA-enabled and I quite like hacking on this wireless stuff so I won't be quitting hacking on things. I will just have other things on my mind.

Good luck to you all!

Now, this generated a flurry of private emails asking me what happened and where I'm going to.

So, the summary - I accepted a job at Netflix, as part of their OpenConnect CDN team.

They've built a world-wide CDN using FreeBSD and they're looking to continue growing and improving it. They've committed to improving FreeBSD's network, storage and VM layer to facilitate moving tens of gigabits of Netflix video traffic per server. And, they're going to open source the bulk of it. They realise that the best benefit from open source comes from working with open source - and that's exactly what they've done. They've contributed back their improvements and fixes.

I've enjoyed my time at Qualcomm Atheros. The people are brilliant, the hardware is excellent and it was a great learning experience. I got to experience what it was like working at a silicon company during chip design, validation and bring-up - both the good and the bad bits. But when it came down to it, I couldn't contribute to and improve the process in any meaningful way. I was one engineer in a very large, diverse organisation - and like large organisations, things move slowly.

So, I hope to continue to maintain close ties with the hardware and software people at Qualcomm Atheros. I hope to continue hacking on the FreeBSD wireless stack in my spare time, as I have been to date. I wish I could've contributed more positively to their evolving hardware and software strategy. But there's only so much an engineer in an established company can do, and that engineer wasn't going to be me.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The fitbit, or "making me aware of all the exercise I'm not doing"

A friend of mine (hi Sabrina!) uses a Fitbit to track her daily activities. It's a little device that tracks your movement and gives you a simple overview of how active you are (or aren't.)

Now, I don't really believe that its calorie counting, stair counting and step counting is entirely accurate. It's just doing it based on an accelerometer and I've seen it occasionally double count walks. That's fine.

But what it does do is pretty nifty: it's reminding me of exactly how freaking inactive I am being a salaried computer programmer. I'm not spending an hour or two a day walking. I'm not really doing any kind of strenuous activity outside of occasionally going to the gym.

This thing reminds me with one simple number (or flower, if you like that kind of thing) exactly how inactive you are. And that to me is worth more than millions of lines of cute looking websites to track your daily progress.

So, now I have no excuse.