Cheap Snapdragon 410 based “4G LTE WiFi Modem” designed to run Debian 11


Some ultra-compact 4G LTE wireless routers housed in what looks like a bulky USB dongle are based on the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 401 (MSM8916) Cortex-A53 processor and have been hacked to run Debian 11 with Linux 5.15 instead of the pre- loaded Android operating system.

Shortly after Extrowerk purchased a “4G LTE WiFi modem” USB dongle for around $20, he noticed that it would show up as “Android” when connected to his PC. It also turned out that Chinese hacker HandsomeYingYan had already done some work on the device by modifying the lk2nd bootloader and Linux kernel for the OpenStick project to “mainline Linux on msm8916-based 4G USB modem”, and documented his work (in Chinese) to run Debian 11 on the “4G USB WiFi Modem” pictured below.

Let’s review some of the specs of said wireless router:

  • SoC – Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 quad-core Arm Corte-A53 processor (MSM8916) with
  • System Memory – 512MB RAM
  • Storage – 4GB eMMC flash (3.3GB available for system)
  • Connectivity – 4G LTE modem, Wi-Fi 4
  • Debugging – UART

The Snapdragon 410 is found as MSM8916 in mobile phones with a 4G LTE modem, but there is also the APQ8016E which has no modem but was integrated into the 96boards compatible SBC Dragonboard 410c that Linaro was using to work on mainline Linux support and more. Several years later, that means the Snapdragon 410 is well supported, and that certainly helps with this little hack.

The process to install Debian 11 on the “modem” isn’t too complicated either as Extrowerk explains using an Ubuntu machine:

  1. Switch the device to fastboot mode:

  2. Run it database/ script after downloading and extracting the generic image
  3. Download and extract the Debian image before running the script from the debian folder.
  4. The installation is complete and you can run adb case to access linux on usb dongle

OpenStick Debian 11

Extrowerk goes on to say that RNDIS and ADBD are started by default and it is possible to connect to SSH via ADB using the IP address He/she also explains how to setup WiFi and install packages with apt from there. GCC can even work on the small device.

That’s great, but just like you can’t judge a book by its cover, neither can you judge a “4G LTE WiFi Modem” by its cover, because I have a “4G WiFi Modem” hotspot LTE” which looks exactly the same, but does not appear as “Android”, and should be based on the Qualcomm MDM9200 platform instead. I can’t find any such device with an MSM8916 processor on the usual Aliexpress and Banggood websites, but there is one on Alibaba for around $15.

Via Hackaday

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