Software Defined Radio talk at CPOSC 2017
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README.md
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README.md

CPOSC Talk 2017: Software Defined Radio

Listening to the bleeps and bloops around you

About This Repository

This repository contains several items that are useful to those who are interested in SDR and would like some 'quick-start' resources.

Quick Start

Help! I don't have an SDR, and I'm too impatient to wait for Amazon Prime to deliver one to me!

Never fear, Web SDR is here!

Check out WebSDR.org to get started using Software Defined Radio right away.

Keep in mind that these are somewhat limited in frequency ranges, a device you have/own locally can (typically) tune from 24MHz to 1.7GHz.

Okay, I ordered an SDR and now what do I do?

Well, read on, intrepid radio user!

Commands and Programs Used/Mentioned in Talk

  • GQRX: Used for general tuning and reception
  • Multimon-ng: POCSAG/Pager decoding. Used in conjunction with NetCat and SOX audio manipulation.
  • Dump1090: Used to display ADS/B Airplane Tracking.
  • RTL_433: Used to decode ISM devices; thermometers, doorbells, Tire Pressure Sensors, etc.
  • Robot36: Android App used to decode SSTV images from ISS and ham radio bands.
  • WXtoImg: Slightly out-of-date program used to decode NOAA Satellite Telemetry.

GQRX has a feature which allows for UDP streaming of any captured signal. Using Unix-y philosophy, we could integrate netcat (nc) to allow various command-line programs to interpret the audio from the RTL-SDR.

For example, to decode POCSAG messages, start the UDP stream feature and run:

nc -l -u -p 7355 | sox -t raw -esigned-integer -b16 -r \
48000 - -esigned-integer -b16 -r 22050 -t raw - | \
multimon-ng -t raw -a SCOPE -a POCSAG512 -a POCSAG1200 -a POCSAG2400 -f alpha -

This will take the raw I/Q signals from GQRX, perform audio levelling and sample rate modifications, then pass it to Multimon-NG for decoding.

It's also possible to change the arguments for Multimon-NG to allow for decoding of Morse Code and several other signal types.

Software Defined Radio Frontends

GQRX is an excellent Linux and Mac based SDR frontend. It has a very easy to use interface in addition to support for many of the common SDR hardware devices.

More information, including download links, can be found at the GQRX Homepage.

If you're using Windows; follow the SDR# Setup guide.

Also of interest might be the Big List of SDR Software

Included in this repo is a Lancaster-County specific Bookmarks file. This will allow for quick setup of bookmarks, which indicate the frequency, type, origin, and mode of common broadcasts in Lancaster County and surrounding areas.

Linux Setup: Copy the bookmarks file to ~/.config/gqrx/bookmarks.csv

Setting Up Your RTL-SDR

If your RTL-SDR device has a Temperature Controlled Crystal Oscillator (TCXO), you can forego this step.

The commonly available inexpensive RTL-SDR devices use commonly available crystal oscillators. Because of the generic quality of these oscillators, the tuning accuracy of the RTL-SDR can 'drift' over time.

It's ideal that the first time the RTL-SDR is used, you calibrate it against a known, strong signal. Doing so will ensure that you're correctly tuning to the correct frequency.

I would recommend tuning to one of the NOAA weather radio frequencies accessible in your area.

You will find NOAA broadcasts on one of the following frequencies:

  • 162.400 MHz
  • 162.425 MHz
  • 162.450 MHz
  • 162.475 MHz
  • 162.500 MHz
  • 162.525 MHz
  • 162.550 MHz

Set the tuner to exactly one of these frequencies (whichever is strongest), then adjust your PPM/Frequency Correction value until the exact center of the signal is directly underneath your tuner selection bar.

Be sure to check your calibration often, as changes in temperature (the RTL-SDR can get warm) will subtly affect the frequency, which can lead to errors in tuning.

Going Further

As you get more familiar with the SDR, you might find that you require certain specific items to catch that one extra signal.

Low or High Frequencies

An unmodified RTL-SDR can receive signals from around 24MHz to 1700MHz. If you desire to listen to frequencies outside of this range, you will need to have an up-converter, or down-converter. These devices will 'move' signals up or down, into the listening range of the SDR.

I would recommend that an Up-Converter would be purchased first, as there are a large number and variety of signals that can be observed on frequencies from 0Hz to 24Mhz.

The Ham-It-Up and SpyVerter are the two most popular up-converters offered at a reasonable price.

High frequencies can be 'down-converted' by using a modified SUP-2400 DirecTV device. Check out RTL-SDR.com for more info.

Transmitting

It's possible to combine your SDR with a Raspberry Pi device to 'replay' certain transmissions.

I've successfully been able to control wireless light switches, doorbells, and temperature sensors.

PLEASE BE AWARE THAT YOU MUST BE LICENSED IN ORDER TO TRANSMIT ON MOST FREQUENCIES

Projects such as RPiTx allow to replay captured SDR data.

PLEASE BE AWARE THAT YOU MUST BE LICENSED IN ORDER TO TRANSMIT ON MOST FREQUENCIES

If you're interested in transmitting on licensed frequencies, check out ARRL for information on obtaining an amateur radio license.