Comprehensive Video Guide to Trunking and Digital Voice with the RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube user AVT Marketing has uploaded a five part video series that very clearly and slowly shows how to use an RTL-SDR to set up trunking and digital voice monitoring. In the videos he uses SDR#, Unitrunker, DSD+ and VBCable for the monitoring.

The first video in the series shows a brief overview of the digital trunking voice set up, and explains a bit about digital voice communications. The second video shows how to install an RTL-SDR, and walks you through downloading Unitrunker and DSD+. The third video is a tutorial about SDR# and also explains how trunking radio systems works. The fourth video shows how to install Unitrunker, DSD+, VBCable, and how to configure each program. Finally the fifth and last video in the series shows the final steps in using Unitrunker and DSD+.

This looks like a very good video series, especially for those that like to see every step in the process played out in full.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9KJrtIO8_4&list=PL1fGEpsCNIpYAVyTZrIl2wc4nazYiY0ob

Nigun Downconverter PCB Completed

We last posted about Nigun back in January 2017, and at that point the schematic design had just been completed. Nigun is a downconverter which can be used to allow the RTL-SDR and other SDRs to receive frequencies above their typical maximum tuning range, which for the RTL-SDR is about 1.8 GHz. A downconverter works by taking those high frequencies and converting them down into a frequency which the SDR can actually tune to.

Recently “raziele”, the designer of Nigun has completed the PCB design and he aims to order the first batch of units during June. The main specifications of Nigun are pasted below:

  • Dynamic LO – LO will be determined by the user and programmed by the MCU
  • Almost no filtering – will leave this challenge outside of this project scope
  • Power up and programming via micro-usb connector. Should be able to power up from a USB power-pack (but probably not from a computer port)
  • Highest RF frequency will be 3GHz
  • Product also features a VCO for signal-generation purposes. VCO support should be 200-2700MHz

Previously Outernet had been working on a downconverter design for their 1.5 GHz satellite service, but they decided that it was not economical. So it is good to see an alternative downconverter in the works. More details about Nigun are available on the GitHub page.

The Nigun Downconverter PCB Design
The Nigun Downconverter PCB Design

A Review of the SpyVerter R2

The SpyVerter is a high performance upconverter that enables HF reception on SDR’s that aren’t able to tune directly to HF frequencies. Like any upconverter it works by converting those lower HF frequencies ‘up’ into a higher frequency range that is actually receivable by the SDR.

Back in December 2015 when the SpyVerter first came out we reviewed the unit and found that it was probably the best and highest value upconverter on the market. It was priced at a similar or cheaper price to competitors, came in a metal enclosure and had excellent performance. The main reason for its high performance is due to the architecture. While most upconverters on the market like the ham-it-up use an ADE-1 double balanced mixer component, the SpyVerter instead uses an H-mode mixer design. This design is harder to engineer, but it provides better dynamic range meaning that strong signals are less likely to overload the upconverter.

The SpyVerter was recently given a refresh, and the SpyVerter R2 is now available. The changes are small and are mostly centered around the clock. The oscillator is now a 24 MHz 0.5 PPM TCXO, run through a SI5351 clock generator to produce the 120 MHz upconversion frequency. A new onboard microcontroller programs the SI5351 on power up.

This change in clock design also now allows you to connect a 10 MHz reference frequency if ultra stable, or phase coherent frequency operation is required. A u.FL connector is provided next to the output SMA connector on the PCB for connecting a 10 MHz reference. Unfortunately there is no breakout hole in the metal enclosure, meaning that you’ll need to drill your own hole in the enclosure to get the u.FL clock cable out. Few people will need this feature however, as thanks to the 0.5 PPM TCXO stock frequency stability is now excellent.

The new design also uses less power, only drawing 10 mA of current compared to 47 mA in the SpyVerter R1. It also has 12 dB lower local oscillator leakage meaning that the gains might be able to be pushed slightly higher without overload. Once again, just like with the SpyVerter R1 the R2 is also powered via the bias tee on the Airspy, and so is compatible with the bias tee on our RTL-SDR V3 dongles.

There’s also an interesting mod that can be performed with the SpyVerter R2. The LO frequency can be modded to run at 58 MHz instead of 120 MHz. 58 MHz is just low enough to avoid the broadcast FM band, and the lower frequency allows the switches used in the H-mode design to run at a lower frequency. This results in an insertion loss better by about 3 dB’s and less LO leakage meaning that the RF gains can be pushed higher. The main disadvantage to this mod is that the lowest input frequency will only be 28 MHz.  The mod details don’t seem to be published yet, but we’ll update this post once they are.

The cost of the SpyVerter R2 remains the same as before at $49 USD. Compared to the Ham-It-Up v1.3 which costs $41.95 USD and does not come with an enclosure or TCXO, the SpyVerter still seems to be the best value. Currently you can buy one internationally from iTead who ship from China, at Airspy.us for US customers, and there are several European distributors linked on the Airspy website.

Disclaimer: The SpyVerter R2 was sent by the Airspy team to us for free in exchange for an honest review.

DAB/DAB+ Decoder Software “Welle.io” Now Available on Android

Back in March of this year we posted about “Welle.io”, a DAB/DAB+ decoder that supports the RTL-SDR and other SDRs like the Airspy. It was available for Windows, Linux and Raspberry Pi 2/3.

Albrecht Lohöfener, the author of Welle.io has recently written in to announce that Welle.io is now available for Android as well. The app appears to be free, but is currently marked as beta, so there may still be a few bugs.

The only other app that we’ve seen which is capable of decoding DAB/DAB+ on Android is Wavesink. Wavesink costs $14.90 USD on the Google Play store, but there is a free trial version available with runtime limitations and no DAB+ support.

Albrecht notes that the app is fairly computationally intensive and will require an Android device with at least 4 cores and a clock speed of 1.3 GHz to run the app. He also mentions that they are also looking for any interested developers and translators to help with development of the app.

Welle.io on Android
Welle.io on Android

RTL-SDR.com Presentation Slides from Hamvention

During this years 2017 Hamvention convention I was invented by TAPR to present three talks about the RTL-SDR. Several people who watched the talks have requested the slides, so they are uploaded here in PDF format.

The World Of Low Cost Software Defined Radio – Presented at the TAPR Banquet. An introduction to the RTL-SDR and many of the interesting applications that it has been used for.

An Introduction to RTL-SDR – Presented at the TAPR Digital Forum. A brief introduction to the RTL-SDR and a selection of some of the most popular applications.

Introduction to Cheap SDRs for Radio Monitoring – Presented at the Digital Modes Now and In the Future Forum. A brief introduction to the RTL-SDR and a selection of some interesting digital modes that can be monitored.

The talks may be on YouTube in the future. If and when they are they will be posted here too.

A big thanks to all that came to the talks, and all the people who I met at Hamvention. It was a great event and really nice to meet everyone interested in RTL-SDRs and SDRs in general.

Radio For Everyone: An Easy ADS-B Antenna, ADS-B Advice, and Long Term Results

Over on his blog Akos has uploaded several new posts all relating to ADS-B reception. His first post shows how to build a very simple yet effective “Coketenna” ADS-B antenna which can be built with an empty coke can and some coax cable. This antenna is essentially a 1/4 wave ground plane antenna with the ground plane being a coke can cut in half and mounted upside down. The whip sticking up is simply the coax inner wire. In his post Akos shows exactly how to construct one.

Cantenna and Coketenna
Cantenna and Coketenna

In his second post Akos offers some advice on mounting and positioning ADS-B antennas, discusses the ‘range myth’, talks a bit about LNA’s and filters and shows the differences between a stock RTL-SDR dongle, and one optimized for ADS-B reception like a FlightAware Protstick.

In his third post Akos shows his results from long term ADS-B reception comparisons between a generic RTL-SDR dongle, an RTL-SDR.com V3 dongle with 1090 MHz LNA powered by bias tee, a FlightAware Prostick and a FlightAware Prostick Plus. The V3 dongle with bias tee powered LNA is used as the benchmark receiver and the results show that it received the most signals. The next best was the Prostick Plus, followed by the Prostick and finally the generic dongle.

ADS-B Comparisons between 4 different RTL-SDR setups.
ADS-B Comparisons between 4 different RTL-SDR setups.

HackRF Receives Negative Press in the UK’s ‘DailyMail’ Newspaper

The HackRF is a $300 USD RX/TX capable software defined radio which has a wide tuning range from almost DC – 6 GHz, and wide bandwidths of up to 20 MHz. It uses an 8-bit ADC so reception quality is not great, but most people buy it for its TX and wide frequency/bandwidth capabilities.

Recently the HackRF received some negative press in the ‘Daily Mail’, a British tabloid newspaper famous for sensationalist articles. In the article the Daily Mail show that the HackRF can be used to break into £100,000 Range Rover car in less than two minutes. The exact method of attack isn’t revealed, but we assume they did some sort of simple replay attack. What they probably did is take the car key far away out of reception range from the car, record a key press using the HackRF, and then replay that key press close to the car with the HackRF’s TX function. Taking the key out of reception range of the car prevents the car from invalidating the rolling code when the key is pressed. 

Of course in real life an attacker would need to be more sophisticated as they most likely wouldn’t have access to the keyfob, and in that case they would most likely perform a jam-record-replay attack as we’ve seen with cheap homemade devices like RollJam. The HackRF cannot do this by itself because it is only half-duplex and so cannot TX and RX at the same time.

We should also mention that the HackRF is not the only device that can be used for replay attacks – potentially any radio that can transmit at the keyfob frequency could be used. Even a very cheap Arduino with ISM band RF module can be used for the same purpose.

Mike’s SDRuno Tutorial Series

Mike Ladd, one of the top volunteer contributors of the SDRplay community was recently hired by SDRplay officially and has now been working on a fairly comprehensive SDRuno tutorial series over on the SDRplay YouTube channel. SDRuno is the official software for the SDRplay line of SDRs and is a slightly modified version of the ‘Studio1’ software which was previously acquired by SDRplay. SDRuno also supports the RTL-SDR.

SDRuno is a complex piece of software with many features and settings, so it’s great to see a comprehensive video tutorial like this. Mike’s tutorial series currently has 10 episodes, and discusses things like the basic layout and settings of SDRuno, using Virtual Audio Cable (VAC), noise reduction, memories, calibration, DSD, notch filters and FM broadcast with RDS. More videos are probably still on the way.