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Dell-branded Sierra Wireless 3G/4G modem not online?


Your Dell modem not getting online?

It’s not uncommon to find weird mobile broadband modems that for one reason or another don’t end up working as expected with NetworkManager/ModemManager; but the new 3G/4G modems in Dell laptops are at a total different level. These Dell-branded devices are really Sierra Wireless powered modems, e.g. the Dell 5808 is a Sierra Wireless MC7355, or the Dell DW5570 is a Sierra Wireless MC8805.

Looks like not only Dell-branded modems are affected by this issue. According to some user reports HP-branded modems like the HP lt4111 (based on the Sierra Wireless EM7355) are also affected by the issue.

Late last year we started to receive several bugreports in the ModemManager and libqmi mailing lists for these kind of devices. Basically, the modem would never get to a proper online mode with the RF transceivers powered and therefore would never even get registered in the mobile network. This was happening to both QMI and MBIM based configurations, and the direct error message reported by libqmi when trying to get into online mode was just… not very very helpful.

  $ sudo qmicli -d /dev/cdc-wdm1 --dms-get-operating-mode
  [/dev/cdc-wdm1] Operating mode retrieved:
    Mode: 'low-power'
    HW restricted: 'no'

  $ sudo qmicli -d /dev/cdc-wdm1 --dms-set-operating-mode=online
  error: couldn't set operating mode: QMI protocol error (3): 'Internal'

The issue was reported to the kernel, assuming that this would likely be a new missing rfkill related setup in newer Dell laptops. One of the users reported in that same bugreport that actually using Sierra’s GobiNet driver instead of qmi_wwan would end up putting the modem in online mode, so just switching drivers during boot would make it work. WTF?

Digging in Sierra’s GobiNet QMI driver

Well, without much hope of finding anything, and given that I had just bought such a Dell modem myself for testing a new “Dell” plugin, I decided to dig into Sierra’s kernel driver sources. Apart from some already known things (e.g. they use the WDA service to set the net data format in new modems instead of the old CTL service), these lines popped:

  if (is9x15)
    // Set FCC Authentication
    result = QMIDMSSWISetFCCAuth( pDev );
    if (result != 0)
      return result;

The Sierra GobiNet driver is sending some magic “FCC auth” command during boot to the modem; which according to the driver sources maps to command 0x555F in the DMS service. Hey I should try that!

Adding the new command support in libqmi wasn’t difficult, so in some minutes I was ready to test it… and worked.

  $ sudo qmicli -d /dev/cdc-wdm1 --dms-get-operating-mode
  [/dev/cdc-wdm1] Operating mode retrieved:
    Mode: 'low-power'
    HW restricted: 'no'

  $ sudo qmicli -d /dev/cdc-wdm1 --dms-set-fcc-authentication
  [/dev/cdc-wdm1] Successfully set FCC authentication

  $ sudo qmicli -d /dev/cdc-wdm1 --dms-get-operating-mode
  [/dev/cdc-wdm1] Operating mode retrieved:
    Mode: 'online'
    HW restricted: 'no'

Support for this is already available automatically when using libqmi and ModemManager git master. It will hit the next stable releases likely as well.

These fixes have been already released in ModemManager 1.4.4 and libqmi 1.12.4.


Well, I don’t know if there is any command in MBIM to do the same operation (likely there is in a Sierra-specific service), but one thing we could anyway try to do is to use “QMI embedded in MBIM“, which Bjørn has already tested some times. I’ll try to test that some day, but I’ll need to get another modem as my DW5570 only comes up with a QMI configuration. For now, if you’re stuck with this problem using MBIM, you can likely just select USB configuration #1 using usb_modeswitch and get the modem switched to QMI mode.

If your modem is being managed in MBIM and not in QMI, you can now use Collin McMillan’s tool to issue the QMI FCC Auth command embedded in MBIM transactions.


Dell-branded Sierra Wireless modems need the “FCC Auth” command (QMI DMS service, 0x555F) before they can be brought online; supported in libqmi and ModemManager already.

Let’s go freelancing :)

It’s been almost 4 years working for Lanedo, and I don’t regret a single day having worked for them. Still, I believe it was a time for a change in my life, and since February 1st I am now working as a freelance developer.

I’ve really been involved in pretty different things during my professional life… antivirus desktop applications and gateways, satellite orbit determination and time synchronization systems, VoIP-based push-to-talk server development, and of course NetworkManager, ModemManager, libqmi, libmbim, Tracker, OpenWRT or GTK+.

I would love to keep on working on all these Free Software projects, but I’m also open to exploring new technologies. Change is always good, they say.

So, if you’re looking for a passionate software engineer to develop, improve or integrate your system, just check my website and get in touch. I’d love to hear about your needs and issues and how we can solve them together :)

Talking at FOSDEM 2014


Third time in a row, I’ll also be giving a talk at FOSDEM this year:
LTE in your Linux based system

The talk is an introduction to QMI and MBIM devices, how they are exposed by the Linux kernel, and how you can use them from the command line through libqmi, libmbim and ModemManager.

See you there!


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