Removing RX filters on a TI Calypso phone (Motorola/Compal C123)


I will present here a small report on my efforts to remove the RX filters from a TI calypso based phone. The illustrations here are for a Motorola C123, but the same would apply to a lot of other calypso phones since most of them are based around the same reference design.

First off, why would you want to remove those filters ?

Well, they get in the way when you want to receive the uplink frequencies of the GSM band, attenuating the signal by around 30dB. The two main applications where it's useful to receive those are :

This step is just the "preparation" of your phone hardware for those applications. A lot of further work is needed to actually use the phone like that (if it's even possible), but this is outside the scope of this document.


Before getting to the filters removal and replacement, we first need to get access to them. Unfortunately, on the C123, that means getting through the soldered RF shield. Some other calypso phone have a clip-on shield which is easier to remove but those are harder to get a hold of. For more informations on the various models, you can always refer to the "Supported Phone Hardware" list on the OsmocomBB project homepage: here.

If you've already taken appart the phone and shield, just can just skip this section entirely.

First step is to remove the PCB from the plastic case. There is two torkx screws in the battery compartement at the bottom, then unclip the plastic case gently with a flat screwdriver or blade, and finally remove two more screws at the top of the PCB. (one is hidden behind a piece of adhesive foam).

Next step is to unclip the antenna (the black piece on top). Once this is done, we also need to get the screen out of the way or it will melt when we heat up the area. To do this, just unclip it from the PCB, it's held by two plastic clips and four metal ones on its side. Once unclipped, just fold it back like shown on the picture.

C123 disassembled

I personally found easier to remove the screen entirely, but that's optional. To remove it, just lift the flex pcb until the small glued area comes off. It will then be held only by the solder. Clean the glue with isopropyl alcohol so that it doesn't burn and then heat up the soldered zone with a hot air gun while gently pulling on the flex PCB. At some point, it will just come off.

C123 disassembled with screen unsoldered

Now to the "hard" part : the shield of the RF portion itself. You can try to unsolder it as a whole block, but I personally couldn't do it this way. So I decided to first cut off the top.

For this, I wrapped the bottom of the phone with plastic and painter's tape to protect the main area from metal dust and shards.

C123 wrapped in plastic

Then using a dremel with a cutting disk, I just grinded all the corners until the metal is almost gone. Beware of not touching anything else !

Once it's almost all cut, you can just pry the top off, and then clean the inside with dust remover spray to make sure there are no metal shards or dust left on the PCB.

With the top side removed, it becomes easier to remove the sides, by unsoldering them one solder point at a time. You can also gently bend them forward and backward repeatedely until all the solder points give out.

C123 RF shield cut

Now that the shield is removed, a last clean up with dust spray can't hurt. You should also check you didn't make any solder bridges or any kind of damages when removing the sides.

Finally, before proceeding further, it's a good idea to check the phone still works (with OsmocomBB for instance). You obviously need to fix the antenna back for the test. Clipping it back and then using a small wire inside the small hole across the platic and pcb to tighten them together works great.

C123 RF section

Removing the filters

The theory

It's possible to find on the net some reference schematics for the C118/123 phones (and others as well). The reception path always pretty much looks the same and the part we're concerned about looks like the following :

C123 RX filter official schematic

It's divided into the low frequency (GSM900/GSM850) path and high frequency (DCS1800/PCS1900) path. Both are very similar except for little variations on the SAW input matching. As you can see, the filter does more than just filters the signal, it also converts the unbalanced 50 ohm input from the antenna itself to a 100 ohm balanced signal going to the RITA chipset. This means that for a proper modification, we can't just remove the filter and bridge it.

The proper solution is to replace the filter by another component that does the unbalanced to balanced conversion only : a balun. Hopefully, I managed to found some that have almost the same pinout and size as the original filters: TDK HHM1523C1 (for EGSM band) and HHM1526 (for DCS band). The pinout difference lies in the input pin. The original filters have one vertically centered input pin while the baluns have two pins on the upper and lower border. The first one is the input and the second is not connected. This isn't much of a problem because the balun pins are small enough that if you solder the balun in place of the filter, the input and NC pins will not touch the input solder pad. It's then possible to connect the input properly where it needs to be using a small capacitor acting as a RF bridge.

The remaining problem, that I overlooked on my first try, is that what's actually implemented on the phone doesn't match the schematics. It's more like this :

C123 RX filter schematic as implemented

The input matching changes don't matter much. But the connection to the RITA are relevant. Since there is no capacitors in reality, there is no DC isolation between the filter and the RITA. It might not matter for the SAW filter, but for our balun, it's a problem. The RITA outputs are DC-biased to some internal voltage, but the balun is gonna be biased to GND. To make this work, we need to make sure the balun has proper DC blocking on both input and output. For the input, it's already handled because we use a capacitor to connect the input pin as mentionned before. For the output, we need to remove the inductances and replace them by some capacitors of our own.


The 'right way' with baluns

On the right you can see a closeup of the work zone. On the top is the low frequency path and on the bottom, the high frequency one.

The first step is to remove the filters and the 0402 inductors at the output. So just use your hot air rework station to heat up the area and pick each component one by one with small tweezers.

Closeup of RX filters

Once the components removed, you can try to clean up the pads using desoldering braid. It's however a very delicate operation because you might end up damaging the pads and/or the traces. You can see on the right that I ripped out two pads and the small traces joining them (on the low frequency path, the pads joining inductor output to filter input). If you do rip some stuff, don't panic and just try to figure some way to deal with it (see below).

Closeup of empty pads

To put the components back, just apply a very small amount of solder paste to each pads except the filters input pads (the vertically centered ones). Drop the baluns and capacitors on their respective spot and then just heat until reflow.

At this point you can inspect visually and electrically for proper contacts. Note that the balun will appear to short both input to the ground, it's normal. So you will have to rely on visual inspection only for the output pads. But you can check that both ground pins are well soldered to the ground and that the NC and input pin are indeed unconnected for now.

The final step is to solder the input capacitor on the side for the input. For this just use small amount of solder paste to 'stick' the capacitor in place and heat up with a fine solder iron tip. Note that it's way easier to do if you put the PCB vertically on its side, so that gravity helps you keep the capacitor in place during the work.

The final result should look like the picture on the right. As you can see, I had to recover from my damaged pads by putting one of the output capacitor a little weirdly, but it all worked out.

Closeup of the newly soldered baluns

The 'hacked up' way with just caps

Closeup of the hacked-up capacitors

When attempting this for the first try, I soldered / desoldered components a few times and ended up destroying the pads and traces so much that there was no way I could put the original filters or balun back on the PCB.

So in a last attempt to make the phone do something, I tried something a little unorthodox (actually proposed by h0rizon on IRC :). Instead of doing a proper unbalanced to balanced signal convesion, I just connected one of the RITA balanced line to the ground using a DC blocking cap. And then connected the other balanced line to the input via a capacitor as well. For DCS1800 you need to add a capacitor of your own, but for EGSM, there is a capacitor in the input SAW matching that does the trick so you only need a wire.

The quite dirty results is shown on the side. It's ugly but it actually works ... The signal is maybe distorded or a litte more noisy, that has yet to be determined. So if you screw up, you can always fall back to this :)


Still need to do proper comparaison and write that up ...
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