The Sprint Magic Box

It’s long been my opinion that Sprint’s network is basically a stack of weird LTE extender technologies stacked in a trenchcoat pretending to be a network.

They started out with some very curious CDMA sites, then upgraded to LTE, working alongside Ericsson.

Alongside their EvDO “3G” network, they offered the Airave device, which was a home bridge device that offered a femtocell connected to your existing home internet to improve service in areas where it’d otherwise be weak.

The latest take on this is the “Magic Box” which is a small LTE repeater/extender.

I found one in a junk shop and pulled the covers to reveal the “magic”.

Top of the unit showing the GPS antenna. The device is intended to stand in a window with this up and facing the glass. It’s really meant to sit in a window, as the donor antennas to connect to the existing LTE network are all on the back side…

I believe this is an array of 800 MHz and 2.5 GHz panel antennas. Not sure if this unit also uses the 1.7 GHz band.

On the side that faces the user, there’s a smaller 2.5 GHz panel, and a set of WiFi antennas. The black pad is just foam to support the cool e-paper display…

The big capacitive sensor on the bottom front is the wake-up button you use to start the unit.

Unfortunately that’s as far as it’ll get, as Sprint has allowed their service to degrade to non-existent in my city.

You can often get the display to do stupid things showing some basic X.org widgets as it glitches out.

There is no Ethernet jack on this unit. Some hackers have reported the presence of a 3 pin serial header to get in to the bootloader, but I’m not sure where this lives – further disassembly may be needed.

It’s also documented that there’s a tamper detection system built in to prevent the device for being modified to do Evil Things to the network and/or users’ data.

It’s an interesting device, and I find myself wondering what the performance of those antennas is. They’re pretty impressive and would certainly net you more signal than the tiny stripline antennas inside your handheld device!

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