A Bulgarian made antenna by LZ3RR – $31 USD + shipping
A Slovakian made collinear antenna by stanislavpalo130 – $25 USD + shipping
A Slovakian made 5/8 antenna by stanislavpalo130 – $24 USD
RTL-SDR stock antenna – Included with generic RTL-SDRs
A 3.5 dBi loaded whip – $3 to $15 USD
In summary the tests seem to show that nothing beats the FlightAware antenna, with the closest in performance being the Bulgarian made antenna. We should mention however, without knowing the real radiation patterns, SWR and various other factors it is hard to say which one will work best for everyone. Different locations/obstacles/mountings could mean that antennas with different designs and therefore radiation patterns work better than others. But it seems that the FlightAware antenna is the top performer in the common scenario of being able to mount the antenna on a roof with a good view of the horizon.
Akos from the radioforeveryone.com blog has recently uploaded some new posts. The first post is a tutorial on setting up a PiAware server with an RTL-SDR. PiAware is the official ADS-B feeder software from FlightAware.com, which is a web service that provides real time tracking of aircraft. Most of the flight data comes from volunteers around the world running a PiAware server with an RTL-SDR, ADS-B antenna and Raspberry Pi. The installation is fairly simple, involves burning an SDcard with the PiAware image, setting up the WiFi and then seeing your receiver online on the PiAware website. From there you can then configure the device further.
Akos the author of the radioforeveryone.com blog has recently added two new articles to his blog. The first post is a comprehensive guide to setting up your own ADS-B station. The guide focuses on creating a system that is easy to use, has good performance and is value for money. In the post he shows what type of computing hardware is required, what software can be used and what RTL-SDR dongles work best. He also shows what choices are available when it comes to amplification and filtering to improve signal reception and goes on to talk a bit about adapters and the antennas that work best for him.
EDIT: It’s been pointed out in the comments by antenna experts/enthusiasts that the 1/2 wave ground plane antenna described by Akos in his tutorial may not be technically correct. A 1/2 wave antenna has a huge impedance which requires some sort of matching. Without matching there is going to be about 10 dB of loss due to the mismatch, and so the antenna will perform poorly. We recommend sticking with a 1/4 wave design, which is essentially the same as Akos’ 1/2 wave ground plane antenna, just with the element lengths halved.
Akos from the radio for everyone blog (formerly known as the rtlsdr4everyone blog) has uploaded two new posts. On the first post he shows some further tests on the new FlightAware Prostick plus. The Prostick is an RTL-SDR that contains a built in LNA and the Prostick plus adds an additional SAW filter on the stick. For him the Prostick Plus works significantly better than the regular Protstick + external FA cavity filter and also gets about twice the ADS-B reception reports as our V3 which does not use an additional internal LNA. Next week we hope to release our own review of the Prostick Plus, and we’ll hopefully be able to show and explain why some people see better performance with the plus and why some instead see degraded performance.
In his second post Akos shows a tutorial on building an easy helical antenna for Outernet reception. The antenna is constructed from readily available household materials such as a soda bottle, coax cable, electrical tape and a cookie tin. With the cookie tin used he was able to get a SNR reading between 7 – 9 dB, which is pretty good considering that only 3 dB is required for Outernet decoding to work.
Stratux is an RTL-SDR based project that gives small plane pilots access to ADS-B data, without having to purchase an expensive commercial ADS-B installation. It consists of software that runs on a Raspberry Pi, and two RTL-SDR dongles to receive both 1090 MHZ ADS-B, and 978 MHz UAT. The decoded data is then streamed via WiFi to a tablet running navigation aide software with charts for pilots.
Typically Stratux kits come with two standard ‘Nano’ styled RTL-SDR dongles. However, users of the Stratux system have been reporting problems with overheating, and with the Pi struggling with the high current demands of a typical setup which includes two RTL-SDR dongles, active WiFi broadcasting, a GPS unit and an optional cooling fan. A typical RTL-SDR dongle draws 280 mA, so two dongles are already pulling 560 mA.
Chris, creator of the Stratux software and seller of Stratux kits has just released a new low power RTL-SDR dongle (kit with antennas). The cost is $35 USD for two dongles (one for 1090 MHz and one for 978 MHz). The dongle obtains its low power feature by using a switching regulator instead of a linear regulator as the main 3.3V power regulator on the PCB. Normally you would not want to use switching regulator for the main regulator in an RF device because they are very noisy in terms of RF interference generated. However switching regulators are much more efficient compared to linear regulators, and thus save a lot of current wastage. Other dongle manufacturers like ThumbNet have actually gone the other way, removing the secondary 1.2V switching regulator from the standard dongle design, and using a linear regulator instead. The ThumbNets end up with lower noise, but draw 400 mA of current.
With the switching regulator the new Stratux dongles only draw about 185 mA, a saving of almost 100 mA. They also generate 0.5W less heat. Users of the Stratux system have so far been impressed with them and have not noticed any appreciable difference in ADS-B performance. We think that these low power dongles might also be of interest to people using them on mobile phones or battery/solar powered remote installations.
During testing, Chris found that there was no significant noise floor increase visible on the 978 MHz & 1090 MHz frequencies. Most of the switching noise increase appears to be on the lower frequencies, but those frequencies are not relevant for the Stratux use case anyway.
Chris was kind enough to send us some samples of the new low power dongles. First we ran a noise floor scan with rtl_power to determine the effect of the switching regulator. The results show that the spurs and noise floor readings have definitely increased by a significant amount, with an especially large noise floor rise below 400 MHz. In SDR# wandering switching noise spurs are also visible throughout the spectrum, but they tend to weaken in strength once an antenna is connected.
Fortunately, ADS-B is very tolerant to spurs and is generally not affected by this type of noise. We’ve only given the Stratux a quick test on ADS-B so far, but when compared against another ‘nano’ styled dongle the Stratux performed nearly identically (in fact even a little better) in terms of messages received. The two dongles were connected to the same antenna via a splitter and we logged the number of messages received in 10 minutes.
In conclusion the Stratux RTL-SDR set out to solve the mobile power issues suffered by people using the Stratux system. It has achieved that with an over 100mA saving in current use. The new Stratux dongle is much noisier, but the noise does not appear to significantly affect ADS-B reception as seen by our results and from the reports from Stratux users who beta tested this dongle.
Back in March of this year we posted about the release of the FlightAware “Pro Stick”. The Pro Stick is FlightAware’s ADS-B optimized RTL-SDR dongle. It uses a low noise figure LNA on the RF front end to reduce the system noise figure, thus improving the SNR at 1090 MHz. Because the added gain of the LNA can easily cause overload problems if there are other strong signals around, FlightAware recommend using one of their 1090 MHz ADS-B filters in front of the dongle to prevent overload.
FlightAware.com is a company that specializes in live air travel tracking. Most of their data comes from volunteers running RTL-SDR ADS-B receivers.
Over on their forums and on Amazon, they announced the device and specs. They wrote:
FlightAware is excited to announce the next evolution of USB SDR sticks for ADS-B reception! The new Pro Stick Plus USB SDR builds on the popular Pro Stick by adding a built-in 1090 MHz bandpass filter. The built-in filter allows for increased performance and range of reception by 10-20% for installations where filtering is beneficial. Areas with moderate RF noise, as is typically experienced in most urban areas, generally benefit from filtering. By integrating the filter into the SDR stick, we are able to reduce the total cost by more than 40% when compared to buying a Pro Stick and an external filter.
Filter: 1,075 MHz to 1,105 MHz pass band with insertion loss of 2.3 dB; 30 dB attenuation on other frequencies
Amp: 19 dB Integrated Amplifier which can increase your ADS-B range 20-100% more compared to dongles from other vendors which can increase range 10-20% over a Pro Stick in environments where filtering is beneficial
Native SMA connector
Supported by PiAware
R820T2 RTL2832U chips
USB powered, 5V @ 300mA
Note that this dongle is only for ADS-B at 1090 MHz, and not for 978 MHz UAT signals, as the filter will cut that frequency out.
Back in April, we did a review of the original Pro Stick. We found its performance on ADS-B reception to be excellent, but only when a filter was used. The low NF LNA theoretically improves the SNR of ADS-B signals by about 7-8 dB, but in reality there is too much gain causing signal overload everywhere, thus making reception impossible without the filter. Rural environments may not need a filter, but in a typical urban or city environment strong FM/TV/GSM/etc signals are abundant and these signals easily overloaded the Pro Stick when no filtering was used. This new Pro Stick Plus dongle completely solves that problem at a low cost with its built in filter.
Remember that if you are using a run of coax cable between the LNA and RTL-SDR, then it is more optimal to use an external LNA, like the LNA4ALL. Only an external LNA mounted near the antenna can help overcome coax, connector, filter and other losses as well as reducing the system noise figure. The FlightAware dongles are the optimal solution when they are mounted as close to the antenna as possible. This is usually the case when running the FlightAware feeder software on a Raspberry Pi.
We hope to soon review the Pro Stick Plus, however we assume it will operate nearly identically to the Pro Stick + FlightAware ADS-B filter combination.
Akos from the rtlsdr4everyone blog has been busy uploading new posts over the past few days. His first post is part three in a series that discusses how to avoid ripoffs when buying RTL-SDR dongles. The RTL-SDR market has recently become quite saturated, and it is now easy to purchase something that most experienced users would consider a ripoff. His post shows some examples of what he considers to be poor value choices available on eBay.
His second post discusses his methodology for testing dongles on their ADS-B performance. The second post then leads into the third post in which he compares four antennas on ADS-B reception. He compares two telescopic whip antennas, one set to 1/2 wave length, and the other set to 1/4 wave, a NooElec 5dBi whip antenna, and the FlightAware ADS-B antenna. His results show that the FlightAware antenna was the best performer, followed by the 1/2 wave telescopic whip, then the NooElec 5dBi whip and finally the 1/4 wave telescopic whip. The fourth post continues the ADS-B topic, and he reviews the NooElec 5dBi ADS-B antenna. Although the performance is not as good as the FlightAware antenna he mentions that it is much smaller and great for portable use. If you are interested, we have also a review of the FlightAware antenna, and we also found its performance to be excellent.
In his fifth post Akos shows what his RTL-SDR travel kit consists of. In this post he recommends both our RTL-SDR V3 dongle as well as the NooElec SMArt. For a portable computer, he takes along a Raspberry Pi 3 and a 20,000 mAh battery bank with solar charger. (Though we’d be interested to hear from Akos how long it takes for that small solar panel to charge the battery bank, probably takes days to charge?) For antennas he prefers to take along our large 1.5m telescopic antenna, the NooElec 5dBi ADS-B antenna, a medium telescopic antenna and a Nagoya knock-off telescopic antenna.
Finally in the sixth post he shows a video that compares the differences between a generic dongle modded with direct sampling (without any impedance matching circuitry), an RTL-SDR dongle with ham-it-up upconverter and an SDRplay. Unsurprisingly the upconverter and SDRplay performs best.
As a bonus, Akos also has done an interesting stress test on the metal case of our RTL-SDR dongles, where he runs it over with a bus to see if it will survive. The case is mangled afterwards, but the dongle and functionality survives!
Akos from the RTLSDR4Everyone blog has recently uploaded a review of the FlightAware ADS-B ProStick RTL-SDR dongle. The FlightAware (FA) dongle is a standard RTL-SDR with SMA connector, but with a very low noise figure LNA built into the front end. This low noise figure helps improve the SNR of ADS-B signals, resulting in more decodes and further range. We previously reviewed the FlightAware dongle in our own review available here.
In his post Akos reviews the FA dongle on its use as a general RTL-SDR as well as an ADS-B receiver. His review is initially critical to some of the misinformed advertising claims made by FA. He then goes on to show some noise floor scans and some ADS-B reception comparisons. Finally he shows some modifications that can be made to improve the cooling of the PCB.
He concludes that the FA ProStick works very well on improving ADS-B performance, but that overloading due to the increased gain is common.