Category: Other

Patching rtl_fm for use with 15+ RTL-SDR Dongles

Enrique is working on a project which would record FM audio as MP3 files. To do this he uses rtl_fm with several RTL-SDR dongles. However, a major roadblock was that he found that adding five or more dongles to his server resulted in all dongles with a USB index over 3 producing the error “Failed to submit transfer 4!”.

After trying to work around the problem with Docker and VMs and ultimately failing he decided to look into other solutions. He found that rtl_test had an option to force synced output, and with this option enabled he was able to use more than four dongles. So he ended up implementing that synchronization code into rtl_fm.

With that code implemented he is now able to run up to 15 dongles on a single server. A higher amount might still be possible, but Enrique did not have that many dongles to test.

If you’ve been experiencing this problem Enrique has uploaded a patched version of rtl_fm at https://github.com/niofis/rtl-sdr.

Update: On Keenerds branch he’s rejected a merge of this patch citing the following:

Synchronous mode doesn’t work. Rtl_fm used to use synchronous mode. It produced constant minor glitches that made data decoding impossible. Don’t use it.

The whole “many simultaneous dongles” problem is a well-known issue related to LibUSB. All you need to do is reduce the DEFAULT_BUF_NUMBER in librtlsdr.c and recompile.

15 instances of rtl_fm running
15 instances of rtl_fm running

The Panoradio: A tech-demo for direct sampling SDR

SDR researcher Stefan Scholl (DC9ST) recently wrote in to us and wanted to share his project which is a direct sampling SDR using a fast AD converter on the Zynq SoC (System on Chip). He calls the SDR ‘Panoradio’. He writes:

The Panoradio is a modern software defined radio receiver, that directly samples the antenna signal with 250 MHz with an analog-to-digital converter. The receiver captures and displays signals from 0-100 MHz, i.e. shortwave and VHF signals simultaneously, and can even receive signals from the 70 cm band with undersampling.

The hardware platform is the Zedboard, that features the Xilinx Zynq Soc, which combines an FPGA with an ARM A9 dual core and runs a Linux operating system. Fast signal processing is then done in the FPGA, slow signal processing with the ARM A9. The radio can operate in standalone mode with just a monitor and mouse attached.

The radio’s features at a glance:
– 0 -100 MHz direct sampling reception
– Direct sampling of 70 cm (425 – 440 MHz) signals
– Three independent zoomable waterfall displays (100 MHz to 6.1 kHz bandwidth)
– Two independent audio receivers (22 kHz bandwidth) with Weaver SSB demod
– Standalone operation with embedded system (Zynq / Zedboard)
– Full Linux running, including demodulation software (e.g. Fldigi)

The Panoradio is designed as a tech-demo for software defined radio, that shows what is possible with today’s technology in AD conversion and signal processing platforms.
It is an open source project, the design files can be accessed from the project website, which also includes basic information on direct sampling SDRs and single-sideband (SSB) detection:
www.panoradio-sdr.de

Stefan also presented his work at the “Software Defined Radio Academy” conferences in Friedrichshafen, Germany in both 2015 and 2016. The talks are shown below, as well as some photos and screenshots of the SDR in action.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1_fOYEi-p8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HICY3TYsp9Y

A direct sampling SDR is an SDR without any analogue tuner on the front end, basically directly sampling with the ADC from the antenna. This takes us closer to a ‘true’ SDR which has very little analogue components. Over time we should start to see more direct sampling SDRs popping up. For example recently we saw the release of a new Xilinx RFSoC which is capable of sampling at up to 4Gsamples per second which should provide a very wide band, wide frequency range SDR. While this chip will probably be extremely expensive for the time being as it is mainly designed for commercial cell tower communications, it shows how well direct sampling technology is progressing.

Patching rtl_fm for use with 15+ RTL-SDR Dongles

Enrique is working on a project which would record FM audio as MP3 files. To do this he uses rtl_fm with several RTL-SDR dongles. However, a major roadblock was that he found that adding five or more dongles to his server resulted in all dongles with a USB index over 3 producing the error “Failed to submit transfer 4!”.

After trying to work around the problem with Docker and VMs and ultimately failing he decided to look into other solutions. He found that rtl_test had an option to force synced output, and with this option enabled he was able to use more than four dongles. So he ended up implementing that synchronization code into rtl_fm.

With that code implemented he is now able to run up to 15 dongles on a single server. A higher amount might still be possible, but Enrique did not have that many dongles to test.

If you’ve been experiencing this problem Enrique has uploaded a patched version of rtl_fm at https://github.com/niofis/rtl-sdr.

Update: On Keenerds branch he’s rejected a merge of this patch citing the following:

Synchronous mode doesn’t work. Rtl_fm used to use synchronous mode. It produced constant minor glitches that made data decoding impossible. Don’t use it.

The whole “many simultaneous dongles” problem is a well-known issue related to LibUSB. All you need to do is reduce the DEFAULT_BUF_NUMBER in librtlsdr.c and recompile.

15 instances of rtl_fm running
15 instances of rtl_fm running

The Panoradio: A tech-demo for direct sampling SDR

SDR researcher Stefan Scholl (DC9ST) recently wrote in to us and wanted to share his project which is a direct sampling SDR using a fast AD converter on the Zynq SoC (System on Chip). He calls the SDR ‘Panoradio’. He writes:

The Panoradio is a modern software defined radio receiver, that directly samples the antenna signal with 250 MHz with an analog-to-digital converter. The receiver captures and displays signals from 0-100 MHz, i.e. shortwave and VHF signals simultaneously, and can even receive signals from the 70 cm band with undersampling.

The hardware platform is the Zedboard, that features the Xilinx Zynq Soc, which combines an FPGA with an ARM A9 dual core and runs a Linux operating system. Fast signal processing is then done in the FPGA, slow signal processing with the ARM A9. The radio can operate in standalone mode with just a monitor and mouse attached.

The radio’s features at a glance:
– 0 -100 MHz direct sampling reception
– Direct sampling of 70 cm (425 – 440 MHz) signals
– Three independent zoomable waterfall displays (100 MHz to 6.1 kHz bandwidth)
– Two independent audio receivers (22 kHz bandwidth) with Weaver SSB demod
– Standalone operation with embedded system (Zynq / Zedboard)
– Full Linux running, including demodulation software (e.g. Fldigi)

The Panoradio is designed as a tech-demo for software defined radio, that shows what is possible with today’s technology in AD conversion and signal processing platforms.
It is an open source project, the design files can be accessed from the project website, which also includes basic information on direct sampling SDRs and single-sideband (SSB) detection:
www.panoradio-sdr.de

Stefan also presented his work at the “Software Defined Radio Academy” conferences in Friedrichshafen, Germany in both 2015 and 2016. The talks are shown below, as well as some photos and screenshots of the SDR in action.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1_fOYEi-p8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HICY3TYsp9Y

A direct sampling SDR is an SDR without any analogue tuner on the front end, basically directly sampling with the ADC from the antenna. This takes us closer to a ‘true’ SDR which has very little analogue components. Over time we should start to see more direct sampling SDRs popping up. For example recently we saw the release of a new Xilinx RFSoC which is capable of sampling at up to 4Gsamples per second which should provide a very wide band, wide frequency range SDR. While this chip will probably be extremely expensive for the time being as it is mainly designed for commercial cell tower communications, it shows how well direct sampling technology is progressing.

Video Tutorial: Transmitting Signals with a Raspberry Pi

Over on YouTube Crazy Danish Hacker, who earlier brought us an excellent video tutorial series on GSM sniffing, has now uploaded a two part series that shows how to transmit signals with a Raspberry Pi and the PiFM and RPiTX software. We’ve featured RPiTX several times on this blog before as a cheap TX complement to the RTL-SDR. The software allows you to modulate a GPIO pin on your Raspberry Pi in such a way that it produces AM/FM/SSB etc radio signals at a frequency of choice.

Crazy Danish Hackers tutorial shows us how to set up RPiTX, starting from installing Raspbian and enabling SSH to installing the software and actually transmitting something. Some useful tips to get around common problems are also presented.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNCKwqKKxyQ
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Vnu-Nl2cX4

A Visualization of Yearly Shortwave Activity with WebSDR

The WebSDR from the University of Twente, Netherlands is a wideband HF SDR that is accessible from all over the world via the internet. It was first activated in 2008 making it the very first WebSDR ever. The creator of the service Pieter-Tjerk de Boer PA3FWM has recently made available spectrum image archives which show the HF band conditions over the last two years.

Intrigued by this data, London Shortwave decided to make a timelapse animation of this image data. The results are shown in the videos below, and London Shortwave adds:

The X axis represents the frequency and the Y axis is the time of day, starting at the top. Conventional wisdom about band behaviour can be easily confirmed by watching this video: the 60m, 49m and 41m bands are mostly active after dark, with the 60m and the 49m bands being generally busier during the winter months. The 31m band is most active around sunset, but carries on all night until a few hours after sunrise. The 25m band is active during sunrise and for a few hours afterwards, and around sunset during the winter months, but carries on all night during the summer. Peak activity on the 22m and 19m bands is also clustered bi-modally around the morning and the evening hours, though somewhat closer to the middle of the day than on the 31m and the 25m bands. The 16m band is mostly active during the daylight hours and the 13m band is quiet throughout the year except for the occasional ham contest.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VioW3bQsq0M

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Op3uE-hy9Vo

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

An Update on the PatronX Titus II

Back in September 2016 we posted about the PatronX Titus II portable software defined radio which appears to currently be on its way to beginning production. It is a portable Android tablet based SDR, which we speculate is using similar chips to the SDRplay RSP with its 100 kHz to 2 GHz tuning range. The price goal is set to be under $100 USD.

Currently it is available for ‘pre-order’ on the HFCC website, although what they call a pre-order is actually just an expression of interest, and no payment is required.

Today over on the SWLing post blog we’ve seen an update. They write:

As you can imagine the response to Titus has almost been overwhelming! Pre-orders far exceeded our imagination and excitement from broadcasters has been very loud. DRM and digital broadcasting seems to be reinvigorated with Titus in 2017. I think we really broke the price barrier that most everyone has been dreaming of and provided the flexibility that has held back the cause.

As posted on http://hfcc.org/delivery/receivers.phtml

‘Update on availability received from PantronX: “We have been overwhelmed with the response to Titus with orders and request – coupled with an early Chinese New Year that the pre-production date has slipped a bit. Please be patient as we work with our suppliers and add more functions.” ‘

We are doing all we can to push – Chinese New Year is a crazy time – the factories are shut down for 3 to 4 weeks and as you can imagine the stress prior to and the performance after.

Hopefully in the next couple of weeks our http://titusradio.com/ website will undergo a much needed update. So much to do – but we are making good headway.

The Titus II Portable SDR
The Titus II Portable SDR

The PandwaRF RF Analysis Tool

Recently we heard about the PandwaRF Portable Analyzer (previously known as the GollumRF). This is not an SDR, but can probably be described as a programmable and computer controlled radio. It appears to be based on the Yardstick One design which is made by Micheal Ossmann, the creator of the HackRF. Both the Yardstick One and PandwaRF are based on the CC1111 sub-1 GHz RF transceiver chip. These types of pseudo-sdr’s can be very useful for reverse engineerin, analyzing and experimenting with simple digital signals.

For example it could be used to capture data from any ASK/OOK/MSK/2-FSK/GFSK modulation in the 300 – 928 MHz band. You can then easily analyze the data, and the restransmit the same or a modified signal. The same could be done with a TX capable SDR like the HackRF, but doing so tends to require a lot more work.

The difference between the Yardstick One and PandwaRF appears to be mainly in the connection interface. The PandwaRF is essentially the Yardstick One with a Bluetooth LE connectivity and an Android/iOS smartphone app. USB connectivity for Linux still exists. It also has an internal battery whereas the Yardstick One does not. They wrote a post comparing the RTL-SDR, Yardstick One and PandwaRF here.

The device seems to be new, as it just starting shipping in November and the first batch is still being sold. It costs 145 euros and appears to originate from the EU. There is also a ‘mini’ version in pre-order which also costs 145 euros. In comparison the Yardstick One costs about $99 – $145 USD depending on the shop you choose.

The PandwaRF
The PandwaRF
PandwaRF Android App
PandwaRF Android App

Building an SDR Transmitter using GPIO Pins on an FPGA

Recently an RTL-SDR.com reader named Jon wrote in and wanted to share his project called FPGA-TX. FPGA-TX is software that provides low-cost SDR transmit capabilities on an FPGA. It works in a similar way to RPiTX which is by simply turning the GPIO pins on and off very quickly in such as way that it generates any desired AM/FM/SSB transmission. These methods are crude and require external analog filtering, but can be used for creating almost any sort of RF transmission at a wide range of frequencies extremely cheaply. These sorts of cheap transmitters are great companions to low cost SDR dongles like the RTL-SDR.

Jon’s project runs on FPGA boards and currently supports the Digilent Nexys 4 and Digilent CMOD A7 ($75) FPGA boards. An FPGA is an integrated circuit that can be easily reconfigured to implement various different digital circuits.

FPGA-TX can transmit at frequencies of up to 400 MHz and current supports AM, FM, LSB, USB, Wideband FM and Wideband FM Stereo transmission modes. It runs on Linux. The FPGA transmitter has been tested combined together with an amplifier and filter. It can also interface with a GPS unit for clock calibration.

An FPGA Based Transmitter. In the photo: FPGA, Amplifier, Filter, Attenuator, TX/RX Switch.
An FPGA Based Transmitter. In the photo: FPGA, Amplifier, Filter, Attenuator, TX/RX Switch.
The FPGA-TX Ubuntu Interface.
The FPGA-TX Ubuntu Interface.