Reverse Engineering Bus Telemetry Data with an RTL-SDR

Bastian recently wrote into us at to let us know that he’s been working on reverse engineering the bus telemetry system used in his hometown of Paderborn, Germany. Bus telemetry is often used to update live signs at bus stops that indicate based on GPS data how long a bus user needs to wait for the next bus.

Bus sign: Wireless bus telemetry updates this sign.
Bus sign: Wireless bus telemetry updates this sign.

A similar reverse engineering of bus telemetry was performed before by Oona Raissan in Helsinki, Finland. Oona found that in Helsinki bus telemetry was transmitted as a DARC subcarrier embedded in regular broadcast FM radio. In many countries bus telemetry runs through GSM or TETRA communications as well, which are encrypted and would be very difficult to decode.

However in Paderborn, Germany Bastian discovered that the bus telemetry system used a different protocol which he discovered by noticing that some very strong signals appeared on his spectrum at 150.9 MHz whenever a bus drove by his flat.

After making a recording of this signal in GQRX, bastian analysed it in Audacity and discovered that the binary data bits were encoded by the presence or absence of a half sine wave. After discovering the encoding he was then able to determine the bit rate and build a decoder in GNU Radio. His post goes into further detail about concepts he used in his GNU Radio program such as frame detection, bit stuffing and error detection.

Finally, with all his decoder program written he was able to gather lots of data from each packet such as the bus ID, line, bus stop, distance from last bus stop, delay, position and even the orientation of the bus. Bastian has also uploaded a video showing everything in action, which we have embedded below.

Bus position heatmap from data obtained via the RTL-SDR
Bus position heatmap from data obtained via the RTL-SDR

One comment

  1. noway

    I want the same and i ask 1000x for an Application who help me to discover the Signal but noboy answer me…
    If the use GSM/ 3G for its impossible to geht the Data without decode all GSM Cals/ Data Session…

    So i use Windows. I try with an 2nd SDR# Session it dont work becouse the Virtual Audio Cable Driver support only a narrow Bandwith. So….
    Does anyone have an smart solution?

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>