Roundup of Software Defined Radios

New software defined radio (SDR) products are popping up every few months these days so we thought we’d compile a big list of available SDRs.

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Cheap AIS Ship Tracking

Large ships and passenger boats are required to broadcast an identification signal containing position, course, speed, destination, and vessel dimension information to help prevent sea collisions. This system is known as the “Automatic Identification System” or AIS for short. AIS can be decoded with an RTL-SDR dongle and right software.

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RTL-SDR for Budget Radio Astronomy

With the right additional hardware, the RTL-SDR software defined radio can be used as a super cheap radio telescope for radio astronomy experiments such as observing the Hydrogen Line and meteor detection.

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List of SDRSharp Plugins

There are a number of SDRSharp plugins that extend its functionality. Here is a collection of all the plugins and download links that we know of.

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Decoding Inmarsat STD-C EGC Messages

With an RTL-SDR dongle, a cheap $10 modified GPS antenna or 1-2 LNA’s and a patch, dish or helix antenna you can listen to Inmarsat satellite signals, and decode the STD-C NCS channel which contains information such as search and rescue (SAR) and coast guard messages as well as news, weather and incident reports.

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Measuring filter characteristics and antenna VSWR with an RTL-SDR and noise source

By using an RTL-SDR dongle together with a low cost noise source it is possible to measure the response of an RF filter. Also, with an additional piece of hardware called a directional coupler the standing wave ratio (SWR) of antennas can also be measured.

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Following Trunked Radio with Unitrunker

Follow trunked radio conversations with your RTL-SDR and a program called Unitrunker. Also decode digital communications like P25 and DMR using the Digital Speech Decoder (DSD+) software.

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Cheap ADS-B Aircraft RADAR

Modern planes use something called an ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) Mode-S transponder, which periodically broadcasts location and altitude information to air traffic controllers. The RTL-SDR can be used to listen to these ADS-B signals, which can then be used to create your very own home aircraft radar system.

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Receiving ACARS Airplane Data

ACARS is an acronym for Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System and is a digital communications system that aircraft use to send and receive short messages to and from ground stations. With an RTL-SDR these messages can be decoded.

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Decoding DRM Radio

Digital Radio Monodial (DRM) radio is a type of digital shortwave radio signal that is used by international shortwave radio broadcasters. It provides superior audio quality compared to AM signals by using digital audio encoding. With an upconverter, good antenna, and decoding software the RTL-SDR software defined radio can receive and decode DRM signals.

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Elster R2S Smart Meter GNU Radio Decoder

Smart meters are meters that monitor electricity usage and wirelessly transmit their data to the electricity company. They are a part of the “smart grid”, and allow for better electricity control and usage reporting.

Clayton Smith was able to reverse engineer the data signal from the Elster R2S meters which are used in the Ottawa area on the 902-928 MHz band. The Elster meters use frequency hopping channels, and Clayton was able to receive 6 out of the 25 channels in his area, which should be sufficient, as most of the data packets are repeated on different channels.

He has released his GNU Radio program which will work the the RTL-SDR. Currently, it is capable of displaying meter readings and hourly electricity usage to a terminal.

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