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ModemManager-powered location indicator for gnome-shell

TL;DR: Show location information retrieved directly from ModemManager in a gnome-shell indicator.

Location Indicator in gnome-shell

I’ve been wanting to try to write a gnome-shell extension from some time, and I ended up finding enough free time during the past weeks. So I ended up writing a gnome-shell extension which would show information about your current location as provided by your modem. Note that this information is not coming from GeoClue; the new ModemManager1 interface is not integrated yet there.

ModemManager exposes these types of information in the Location interface:

  • 3GPP location, which is given as a set of 4 parameters, and specifies which is the current network cell which is giving mobile coverage to the modem:
    • MCC/MNC: Identifies the ‘mobile country code’ and the ‘mobile network code’; i.e. country and operator.
    • LAC and Cell ID: Identifies the ‘location area code’ and ‘cell id’ pair.

    Once all these items are known, a query to an open database of cell IDs can give us the exact location of the tower giving us coverage, and therefore a good approximation of where we are located.

  • GPS location, given if the modem has a built-in GPS. Currently Option/HSO modems are supported, as well as QMI-powered modems with the ‘PDS’ service implemented.
  • CDMA Base Station location, given as Latitude/Longitude coordinates, and available in QMI-powered modems prepared for CDMA networks. As with the 3GPP one, this location information specifies where the station giving coverage to your modem is located, which is a good approximation of where you are located.

Beware! You’ll need ModemManager >= 0.7 (i.e. git master) in order for this extension to work.

You can download and install the extension in the following link:

The sources are kept in a git repository in

If you find the extension itself mostly useless, you may still want to take a look at the source code to see yet another example of how to talk to DBus interfaces from within gnome-shell, including the use of the new standard ObjectManager interface with a Gio.DBusObjectManagerClient.


Integrating the new ModemManager in GNOME3

(C) allenran917@ Flickr – CC by-nc-nd

It was something like September 2011, shortly after the last Desktop Summit in Berlin, when I started the work improving ModemManager with the new DBus API, GDBus-based DBus support, port-type-agnostic implementations, dynamic DBus interfaces, built-in org.freedesktop.DBus.ObjectManager interface support, built-in org.freedesktop.DBus.Properties.PropertiesChanged signal support, the new libmm-glib client library, the new mmcli command line tool… Took me around half a year to port most of the core stuff, and some more months to port all the plugins we had. And then, suddenly, git master wasn’t that unfinished thing any more, and we were even implementing lots of new features like GPS support in the Location interface, improved SMS Messaging capabilities, ability to switch Firmware on supported modems, and last but definitely not least, support for new QMI-enabled modems through the just officially released libqmi

And when I thought it was all done already, I woke up from my dream and realized that not even me was really using the new ModemManager as it wasn’t integrated in the desktop… not even in NetworkManager. So there I was again, with a whole new set of things to fix…

NetworkManager integration

There is already a set of patches available to include integration of the new ModemManager interface in NetworkManager; pending for review in the NM mailing list. This is the second iteration already, after having some of the patches from the first iteration already merged in git master.

This integration is probably the most complex one in the list, as it really has to deal with quite different DBus interfaces, but the overall look of it seems to be quite good from my point of view. With the patches on, NetworkManager exposes a new –with-modem-manager-1 configure switch which defaults to ‘auto’ (compile the MM1 support if libmm-glib found). Note that both the old and new ModemManager would be supported in this case, to easier fallback to the old version if the user experiences problems with the new ModemManager.

All in all, the required changes to NetworkManager are quite well defined, implemented mainly as a new ‘NMModemBroadband’ object and some additional bits to monitor added/removed modems through the org.freedesktop.DBus.ObjectManager interface.

gnome-shell integration

A proper integration in my desktop of choice (gnome-shell based GNOME 3) required to integrate the new interface in the Network indicator of the shell. As in every good day, I first had to deal with several issues I found, but I ended up submitting a patch that properly talks to the new ModemManager1 interface when needed. As with NetworkManager, this patch would support both the old and the new interfaces at the same time.

Not that this was a big change, anyway. The Network indicator only uses the ModemManager interface to grab Operator Name, MCCMNC and/or SID, and signal strength. Something that could even be included directly in the NMDevice exposed by NetworkManager actually…

Right now the only big issue pending here is to properly unlock the modem when it gets enabled, something that I still need to check how to do it or where to do it.

Truth be told, hacking the shell has ended up being quite nice, even with my total lack of knowledge in JavaScript. My only suggestion here would be: get a new enough distribution with a recent enough GNOME3 (e.g. the unreleased Fedora 18) and jhbuild buildone from there. I think I’ve never seen a clean jhbuild from scratch succeed… maybe it’s just bad luck.

And then came the applet…

network-manager-applet integration

Why the hell would Bluetooth DUN not work with my implementation, I was thinking, until I found that even if GNOME3 doesn’t rely on nm-applet, it still uses some of its functionality through libnm-gtk/libnma, like the code to decide which kind of modem we’re dealing with and launch the appropriate mobile connection wizard. Ended up also submitting patches to include the missing functionality in network-manager-applet.

For those not using GNOME3 and gnome-shell; note that I didn’t implement the support for the new ModemManager1 interface in the nm-applet itself; I just did the bluetooth-guess-my-modem-type bits required in libnma. If I feel in the mood I may even try to implement the proper support in the applet, but I wouldn’t mind some help with this… patches welcome! Same goes for other desktops relying on NetworkManager (KDE, xfce…); I wouldn’t mind to update those myself as well, but I truly don’t have that much free time.

gnome-control-center integration

Ok, so gnome-shell integration is more or less ready now; we should be finished, right? Well, not just yet. gnome-control-center also talks to ModemManager, in this case to get Operator Name and Equipment Identifier, which btw were not getting properly loaded and updated. Once that fixed, I finally got a new patch to have the control center talk to the new interface.

Fedora 18 packages

I bet you won’t go one by one to all the patches I linked before and apply them in your custom compiled NetworkManager, gnome-shell, network-manager-applet and gnome-control-center… but for all those brave Fedora 18 users, you can try with the 64-bit packages that I built for me, all available here:

If you want to rebuild these packages yourself, you’ll find the source tarballs here and the packaging repositories here. The packaging is really awful – I suck at it – so you’ll probably need to install the RPMs with –force 🙂 Note that the git repo for packaging has several git submodules, one for each item packaged, so remember to “git submodule init” and “git submodule update“.

We done yet?

Are these all the patches needed to have the best ModemManager experience in GNOME3? No! The list of pending tasks for this purpose grows a bit every day…