Category: Amateur Radio

Showing the HF Interference Problem from Ethernet over Powerline Devices

Over on our YouTube channel we’ve uploaded a new video that shows how bad the interference from Ethernet over Power devices can be. Ethernet over Power, Powerline Networking, Powerline Communications or ‘HomePlug’ is a technology that allows you to use any of your household power outlets as an internet Ethernet port, completely eliminating the need for runs of Ethernet cabling. They are capable of high speeds and can be used anywhere in the house assuming the two plugs are on the same power circuit.

Unfortunately these devices tend to wipe out almost the entire HF spectrum for anyone listening nearby. As household powerline cables are not shielded for RF emissions they radiate in the HF spectrum quite heavily. In the video we demonstrate what the HF spectrum looks like with one of these devices used in the house. The particular device used was a TP-Link brand adapter, and a WellBrook Magnetic Loop antenna was used outdoors, with the null facing the house. An Airspy R2 with SpyVerter was used to view the spectrum.

The video shows that even when the network is idling there are several brief bursts of noise all over the spectrum. Then when a file is downloaded almost the entire spectrum is completely wiped out.

Interestingly from the video it appears that the amateur radio frequencies are actually carefully notched out and those frequencies remain relatively clean. Most manufacturers of these devices appear to have worked with the ARRL to please ham radio enthusiasts, but SWLers will likely be in trouble if any of these devices are used in your house or neighbors house.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMXRo5FKUIQ

Lowering the Noise Floor on HF with High Quality Coax

Bonito is a company that sells various products such as their own small active antennas. Some examples are the Bono-Whip (20kHz – 300 MHz), GigaActiv (9kHz – 3 GHz) and the MegaLoop (9kHz – 200 MHz). 

Over on their blog they’ve uploaded a post titled “why even good antennas need good coax cable”. The post explains why high quality heavy shielded coax cable may be required to receive HF signals in noisy environments. The author writes how even placing an antenna in a quiet area outdoors may not work if the coax is still run through an high interference environment, such as through a house.

Typically RG58 cable is most commonly used with HF antennas. However, the author noticed that when using RG58 he was still receiving FM stations, even though the antenna that he was using was a MegaLoop with a built in broadcast FM filter. After switching his RG58 cable to H155 coax, the FM station disappeared. H155 coax is low loss and designed for GHz level frequencies, so it has much better shielding from its tighter braid.

The images below also show the difference in noise floor the author saw after replacing all his RG58 with H155 coax. 

http://ReceptionwithRG58Coax

Reception with RG58 Coax

http://ReceptionwithH155Coax

Reception with H155 Coax

Showing the HF Interference Problem from Ethernet over Powerline Devices

Over on our YouTube channel we’ve uploaded a new video that shows how bad the interference from Ethernet over Power devices can be. Ethernet over Power, Powerline Networking, Powerline Communications or ‘HomePlug’ is a technology that allows you to use any of your household power outlets as an internet Ethernet port, completely eliminating the need for runs of Ethernet cabling. They are capable of high speeds and can be used anywhere in the house assuming the two plugs are on the same power circuit.

Unfortunately these devices tend to wipe out almost the entire HF spectrum for anyone listening nearby. As household powerline cables are not shielded for RF emissions they radiate in the HF spectrum quite heavily. In the video we demonstrate what the HF spectrum looks like with one of these devices used in the house. The particular device used was a TP-Link brand adapter, and a WellBrook Magnetic Loop antenna was used outdoors, with the null facing the house. An Airspy R2 with SpyVerter was used to view the spectrum.

The video shows that even when the network is idling there are several brief bursts of noise all over the spectrum. Then when a file is downloaded almost the entire spectrum is completely wiped out.

Interestingly from the video it appears that the amateur radio frequencies are actually carefully notched out and those frequencies remain relatively clean. Most manufacturers of these devices appear to have worked with the ARRL to please ham radio enthusiasts, but SWLers will likely be in trouble if any of these devices are used in your house or neighbors house.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMXRo5FKUIQ

Lowering the Noise Floor on HF with High Quality Coax

Bonito is a company that sells various products such as their own small active antennas. Some examples are the Bono-Whip (20kHz – 300 MHz), GigaActiv (9kHz – 3 GHz) and the MegaLoop (9kHz – 200 MHz). 

Over on their blog they’ve uploaded a post titled “why even good antennas need good coax cable”. The post explains why high quality heavy shielded coax cable may be required to receive HF signals in noisy environments. The author writes how even placing an antenna in a quiet area outdoors may not work if the coax is still run through an high interference environment, such as through a house.

Typically RG58 cable is most commonly used with HF antennas. However, the author noticed that when using RG58 he was still receiving FM stations, even though the antenna that he was using was a MegaLoop with a built in broadcast FM filter. After switching his RG58 cable to H155 coax, the FM station disappeared. H155 coax is low loss and designed for GHz level frequencies, so it has much better shielding from its tighter braid.

The images below also show the difference in noise floor the author saw after replacing all his RG58 with H155 coax. 

http://ReceptionwithRG58Coax

Reception with RG58 Coax

http://ReceptionwithH155Coax

Reception with H155 Coax

Receiving the Recently Launched BY70-1 Satellite

BY70-1 is a Chinese amateur Cubesat satellite which was recently launched on December 29, 2016. It is expected to stay in orbit for only 1 – 2 months due to a partial failure with the satellite releasing into an incorrect orbit. The purpose of the satellite is for education in schools and for amateur radio use. The receivable signals include an FM repeater and BPSK telemetry beacon both of which can be received at 436.2 MHz. The telemetry beacon is interesting because it also transmits images from an on board visible light camera. These signals can easily be received with an RTL-SDR or other SDR with an appropriate antenna.

Over on his blog Daneil Estevez has been posting about decoding these telemetry images. He’s been using telemetry data collected by other listeners, and the gr-satellites GNU Radio decoder which is capable of decoding the telemetry beacons on many amateur radio satellites. So far the decoded images haven’t been great, they’re just mostly black with nothing really discernible. Hopefully future decodes will show better images.

If you want to track the satellite and attempt a decode, the Satellite AR Android app has the satellite in its database.

Not many people seem to have gotten telemetry decodes or images yet, but below we show an image decoded by  on Twitter.

BY70-1 Image Decoded by @bg2bhc
BY70-1 Image Decoded by @bg2bhc

Receiving CB Radio with an RTL-SDR Dongle

Back in July we posted a story by Mario Fillipi (N2HUN) who wrote an article about using the RTL-SDR to receive CB radio, and how while the CB radio heyday is over, there are still opportunities for good listening available today.

Recently Mario has posted a new article on swling.com where he discusses his CB radio listening hobby further. To listen to the CB band at 26.965 – 27.405 MHz he uses an RTL-SDR dongle together with a ham-it-up upconverter. While an upconverter is not required since most RTL-SDR dongles typically tune down to 24-25 MHz, he finds that using one helps because it can help block out interference from the strong broadcast FM band.  We note that you could also use one of our BCFM Block filters for the same purpose.

Mario notes that recently he noticed the CB band was open during the night. Usually the frequencies that CB radio uses propagate best during the daytime, and poorly at night. But on some occasions it can open up at night as well. He writes that on some occasions during a winters night during a snowstorm he has been able to receive the world on CB, from Europe, the Caribbean and Australia.

CB Band Voice in SDR# with an RTL-SDR and Ham-it-up Upconverter
CB Band Voice in SDR# with an RTL-SDR and Ham-it-up Upconverter

Building a Homemade FM Repeater with a Raspberry Pi, Rpitx and RTL-SDR Dongle

A radio repeater is usually a radio tower that receives weak signals from handheld, desktop or other radio, and rebroadcasts the same signal at a higher power over a wide area at a different frequency. This allows communications to be extended over a much greater area.

Repeaters are generally made from expensive professional grade radio equipment, however ZR6AIC has been experimenting with creating an ultra low cost repeater out of a RTL-SDR and Raspberry Pi. In his system the RTL-SDR dongle is set up to receive a signal on the 70 cm (420 – 450 MHz) amateur radio band, and then retransmit it using Rpitx on the 2M (144 – 148 MHz) amateur radio band.  He also adds a 2M low pass filter to the output of the Raspberry Pi to keep the signal clean.

RTL-SDR + Rpitx Block Diagram
RTL-SDR + Rpitx Block Diagram

Rpitx is software for the Raspberry Pi which we have featured on this blog several times in the past. We’ve also seen the qtcsdr software which also uses Rpitx and an RTL-SDR to create a transceiver. Rpitx allows the Raspberry Pi to transmit radio signals without the need for any transmitting radio hardware at all. It works by modulating signals onto a General Purpose I/O (GPIO) pin on the Raspberry Pi. If the GPIO pin is modulated in just the right way, FM/AM/SSB or other signal modulation approximations can be created at a specified frequency. The signal is however not clean, as this type of modulation generates many harmonics which could be dangerous if amplified. If you use Rpitx, always use appropriate filtering hardware.

ZR6AIC’s post goes into detail about how to install and set up the required software onto the Raspberry Pi and how to set up the script to piece all the programs together into a repeater. He’s also uploaded a video demonstrating the system in action on YouTube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTSNtzfe2YA

Solving APRS Interference Issues with a Bandpass Filter and Coax Notches

John, DK9JC N1JJC wanted to set up an RTL-SDR APRS packet iGate. APRS stands for “Amateur Packet Reporting System”, and is a type of packet radio communications system used by Amateur Radio operators. They often use them to transmit short messages, weather sensor updates, and for vehicle tracking. An iGate allows APRS messages to be transmitted over the all world via the internet like so RF->iGate RX->Internet->iGate TX->RF.

When trying to receive the APRS packets John discovered a problem. He discovered that there was a very strong 100kW broadcast FM and 50kW DAB transmitter on a transmission tower in line of sight of his antenna. The strong signals were overloading the dongle and completely wiping out the APRS packets that he was trying to receive at 144.8 MHz.

First John tried a simple bandpass filter with 0.8 dB insertion loss and 20dB attenuation. The filter still wasn’t enough, so he went and made a several coax notch filters to take out each of the interfering signals. A coax notch filter is simply a length of coax connected via a “T” junction to the main coax cable. This creates a notch of attenuation at a frequency depending on the length of the notching coax. With these notches combined with the bandpass filter he was finally able to receive APRS packets.

A coax notch filter
A coax notch filter

Using the RTL-SDR as a Panadapter for the IC-751A

A panadapter is a device that connects to a standard hardware radio and allows you to visually see the RF signals on a waterfall. Since SDR’s run on the PC, they naturally have the ability to display a panadapter screen, and most software like SDR#, HDSDR and SDR-Console already provide this. The RTL-SDR can also be used to add panadapter capabilities to a regular hardware radio. 

Gary Rondeau has been using the RTL-SDR as a panadapter for his IC-751A, which is a high quality ham radio transceiver. In his first post, Gary shows how he connected the RTL-SDR in a block diagram, and then shows how he interfaces the RTL-SDR and IC-751A together using HDSDR and the Omnirig software.

Block diagram showing the RTL-SDR as a Panadapter with the IC-751A and HDSDR.
Block diagram showing the RTL-SDR as a Panadapter with the IC-751A and HDSDR.

In his second post he shows a comparison between decoding JT65 and JT9 signals directly from the IC-751A audio output, vs via the RTL-SDR & HDSDR panadapter connection. His results show that as long as there is sufficient signal level, the RTL-SDR as a panadapter can match the performance of the raw IC-751A audio output, even producing less signal splatter on strong signals due to the pure numerical vs analogue mixing strategies of SDRs vs analogue radios.

RTL-SDR (top) vs raw audio from IC-751A below. RTL-SDR has a wider bandwidth, and less splatter at 2200 kHz when the strong signal came in.
RTL-SDR (top) vs raw audio from IC-751A below. RTL-SDR has a wider bandwidth, and less splatter at 2200 kHz when the strong signal came in.

Finally, in his third post he shows some more benefits of using the RTL-SDR as a panadapter, including rapid SSB tuning, RFI identification and signatures, helping work a pile up, monitor SSB net while working PSK on the parent radio, monitor the JT65 & JT9 band while working PSK – or vise versa and finally leave the radios on and monitor PSK, RTTY, JT65 & JT9 traffic for PSK Reporter.

Two Videos Showing the LimeSDR on HF in SDR-Console V3

The LimeSDR is a RX/TX capable SDR with a 100 kHz – 3.8 GHz frequency range, 12-bit ADC and 61.44 MHz bandwidth. It costs $299 USD and we think it is going to be an excellent next generation upgrade to SDR’s with similar price and functionality like the HackRF and bladeRF. Back in August we posted how they had added HF functionality to their drivers, and posted some videos from LimeSDR beta tester Marty Wittrock who had gotten HF working well  in GQRX.

Now that SDR-Console has added support for the LimeSDR and HF reception, Marty has uploaded two new videos showing it in action. The first video shows some SSB reception on 40M and the second shows some CW reception on 20M. Marty runs SDR-Console on a MSI Core i5 Cube PC. Marty also writes:

Even with the ‘older’ LimeSDRs that I have that don’t have the proposed modified matching networks on them the performance at 20m and 40m was actually REALLY good for voice and CW. Obviously if the band conditions for 15m and 10m were better the days that I tested the LimeSDR it would have been even better since ‘as-designed’ matching networks seem to do better at 30 MHz and up. Checking the performance at 162.475 MHz (my local Cedar Rapids, Iowa NOAA Weather Station) the performance is excellent on a VHF antenna.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwozoUD4Whk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2KK49sJ3L0