Dial-In to the

Osmocom maintainer Harald Welte has offered an update on the progress of a “BBS Revival” project that will see genuine analogue dial-ups offered to curious hackers at the 36th Chaos Communications Congress (#36C3) in Leipzig later this year.

The BBS era is captured in Jason Scott’s BBS: The Documentary. (📷: Jason Scott)

Before the World Wide Web, and before even the ARPANET became the Internet, hackers around the world communicated using dial-up bulletin board systems (BBSes). From the hobbyist BBS which was a cheap modem connected to someone’s eight-bit microcomputer to the huge commercial efforts which would grow into the internet service providers of the 90s, the BBS scene waned in popularity when packet-switched networks took over from analogue dial-ins over the plain old telephone system (POTS) — but never truly went away.

Harald Welte, maintainer of the Osmocom family of open-source telecommunications software, is one of a number of BBS enthusiasts looking to bring fully-functional dial-in BBSes to the 36th Chaos Communications Congress (#36C3) later this year.

“The high level goals remain: Have a portable setup consisting of: A PBX and reasonable number of both analogue and ISDN ports; a Livingston PM3 RAS to avoid tons of individual modems and multiport serial boards on the BBS side; set up at least a few BBSs that users can explore; a collection of physical modems, ISDN TA, and all related accessories (phone line cables, RS232 cables, adapters, etc.) that users can borrow,” Welte writes in a post to the Osmocom mailing list.

“The idea then is that at the event (36C3 will be at least the first one) people can come to the ‘retro BBS assembly’ or whatever it will be called, and connect using terminal programs and modems/TAs which they can borrow on-site, or of course bring any old equipment they may still have.”

Welte explains that he’s far from alone: “In parallel, a crew around the old BIONIC BBS has been reviving Zerberus from the dead. I’m not up to speed in terms of their detailed status, but at the very least, there’s a Zerberus VM Image based on FreeDOS which works, even with real analogue modems handed into the VM (I just tested it this weekend).”

More information on Welte’s plans for the event can be found on the Osmocom mailing list, while information on #36C3 itself is available from the official website.

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