Tagged: trunking

SDRTrunk Setup and Use Tutorial

Over on his blog John Hagensieker has uploaded a tutorial that shows how to set up SDRTrunk with RTL-SDR dongles. SDRTrunk is an application that allows you to follow trunked radio conversations, and decode some digital voice protocols such as P25 Phase 1. It is similar to Unitrunker and DSDPlus combined into one program. It is also Java based so it is cross platform and so can be used on Linux and MacOS systems as well.

John’s tutorial contains many useful screenshots, so it should be great for a beginner. He starts from the beginning, with finding trunking frequencies over on radioreference.com, then goes on to the installation and use on Linux. He also later explains how the Airspy can be used instead of multiple RTL-SDR to cover 10 MHz of bandwidth so that multiple systems can be monitored.

SDRTrunk Running and decoding a P25 Phase 1 System
SDRTrunk Running and decoding a P25 Phase 1 System

Installing and Using SDRTrunk on Linux for Live Trunk Tracking with an RTL-SDR

SDRTrunk is a cross platform Java based piece of software that can be used for following trunked radio conversations. In addition to trunk tracking it also has a built in P25 Phase 1 decoder. Compared to Unitrunker SDRTrunk is an all-in-one package, and currently it supports most trunking system control channels, but unlike Unitrunker it still misses out on some systems EDACS and DMR.

Over on his YouTube channel AVT Marketing has uploaded an excellent 6-part video series that shows how to install SDRTrunk and the Java runtime environment on Ubuntu Linux. The sections covered include, installing Java, setting the Java environment variables, installing other SDRTrunk prerequisites such as Apache Ant and the JMBE audio codec for decoding P25, and finally actually using and setting up SDRTrunk. Like all of AVT’s other videos, this is an excellent tutorial that takes you through the entire process from the very beginning so is useful for beginners as well.

If you’re new to trunking: Trunking systems are typically used with handheld radio systems (e.g. those that police, security guards, workmen etc carry around). The basic idea is that each radio constantly listens to a digital control channel which tells it what frequency to switch to if a call is being made. This allows the frequency spectrum to be shared, instead of designating one fixed frequency per user which would be very inefficient. But this system makes it difficult for scanner radios to listen in to, because the voice frequency could change at any time. Therefore software like Unitrunker and SDRTrunk which can decode the control channel is required. In addition many new systems use digital audio like P25 or DMR which requires digital decoders like SDRTrunk or DSDPlus.

Comprehensive Video Guide to Trunking and Digital Voice with the RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube user AVT Marketing has uploaded a five part video series that very clearly and slowly shows how to use an RTL-SDR to set up trunking and digital voice monitoring. In the videos he uses SDR#, Unitrunker, DSD+ and VBCable for the monitoring.

The first video in the series shows a brief overview of the digital trunking voice set up, and explains a bit about digital voice communications. The second video shows how to install an RTL-SDR, and walks you through downloading Unitrunker and DSD+. The third video is a tutorial about SDR# and also explains how trunking radio systems works. The fourth video shows how to install Unitrunker, DSD+, VBCable, and how to configure each program. Finally the fifth and last video in the series shows the final steps in using Unitrunker and DSD+.

This looks like a very good video series, especially for those that like to see every step in the process played out in full.

TETRA Decoding on Windows with Telive

TETRA is a type of digital voice and trunked radio communications system that stands for “Terrestrial Trunked Radio”. It is used heavily in many parts of the world, except for the USA. Telive is a decoder for TETRA which is compatible with RTL-SDR dongles, and has been around and in use for almost 2 years now. If you have unencrypted TETRA signals available in your area it can be used to listen in on them.

Telive is dependent on GNU Radio, so it is normally installed and used on a Linux system. Previously we wrote a tutorial on it’s installation and use, and other users have also made bootable Linux images of telive available.

However, now a TETRA experimenter by the handle of “cURLy bOi” has released a new prototype of a telive modification that works on Windows systems. It makes use of the GNU Radio for Windows development. The telive Windows file can be downloaded from curly’s webserver. His reademe file shows how to install and use the software and it reads:

This has been put together as lowest-effort configuration
to run telive on Windows system. I have also optimized to process (for example adding the CQPSK block to GRC since the python code in the original telive package is IN FACT some unused part of GNU Radio)

This package contains pre-compiled binaries that work on my 64-bit system. I have compiled them inside the M-SYS2 package. If you don’t trust me, you can follow the installation guide from telive docs, just be prepared you are going to need a lot of packages for the M-SYS2 (pacman -S gcc automake git wget, etc.)

1) Download GNU Radio for Windows from http://www.gcndevelopment.com/gnuradio/downloads.htm
and install
2) Copy contents of gnuradio_mod to c:\Program Files\GNURadio-3.7\
3) Download and install M-SYS2 from https://sourceforge.net/projects/msys2/ and install
4) Copy contents of msys_root to your M-SYS2 installation directory
5) Download FFmpeg for Windows (64-bit Shared) from https://ffmpeg.zeranoe.com/builds/
and extract everything from bin to usr\bin in your M-SYS2 installation directory
6) In M-SYS2 shell execute “pacman -S socat”
7) Get GNU Radio Companion (GRC) projects from original telive package at
(only udp or xmlrpc, pipes won’t work)
8) Open whatever GRC project you want to use and edit it:
– Delete the link between (all) Fractional Resampler and UDP Sink
– From the modules on the right (ctrl-f to search) drag CQPSK Demod to project
(If you don’t see CQPSK Demod then you have messed up #2)
– Connect Fractional Resampler -> CQPSK Demod -> UDP Sink
– Change UDP Sink Input Type to Float in its properties
– Save

1) Open GRC project of your choice (already with the CQPSK Demod box)
2) Use the Project/Execute to run the project from the GRC
– OR –
If you had headless (without GUI) project, use Project/Generate option
to generate top_block.py file in the GRC project directory.
Then open GNURadio Command Prompt from Start menu, the use this command
c:\Program Files\GNURadio-3.7\gr-python27\python.exe -u c:\path\to\grc\project\top_block.py
This will enhance performance.
3) Open new M-SYS2 shell for every channel in that project and execute
command “receiver1udp X” where X is the number of each channel in GRC project
4) Open new M-SYS2 shell, resize it to 203×60 and execute:
– cd /tetra/bin
– ./rxx OR ./rxx_xmlrpc (if you are using XMLRPC GRC project)
You can edit these files to match your preferences
5) That’s it, should work.

Note that we have not tested this out ourselves yet and can’t guarantee the file safety or that it works, but we have no reason to believe that it wouldn’t be safe or not work.

TETRA Decoding (with telive on Linux)
TETRA Decoding (with telive on Linux)

Using Multiple RTL-SDR’s to Capture a Trunking System

An RTL-SDR dongle has a maximum usable bandwidth of about 2.4 MHz which most often isn’t enough to capture an entire trunking system that may be spread out over a larger bandwidth. In order to get around this limitation Luke Brendt has been using three RTL-SDR dongles together to capture a trunking system in his area which is spread over 6 MHz of bandwidth.

Luke uses his own Trunk Recorder software and writes that he has modified it to support multiple SDR’s. His software has the following description:

Trunk Recorder is able to record the calls on a trunked radio system. It uses 1 or more Software Defined Radios (SDRs) to do. The SDRs capture large swatches of RF and then use software to process what was recieved. GNURadio is used to do this processing and provides lots of convienent RF blocks that can be pieced together to do complex RF processing. Right now it can only record one Trunked System at a time.

  • Trunk Recorder currently supports the following:
  • P25 & SmartNet Trunking Systems
  • SDRs that use the OsmoSDR source ( HackRF, RTL – TV Dongles, BladeRF, and more)
  • Ettus USRP
  • P25 Phase 1 & Analog voice

Luke also mentions that using three RTL-SDRs like this seems to be more efficient on the CPU than using a single SDR that has 8 MHz of bandwidth due to the amount of down sampling that needs to be done on larger bandwidth SDRs. 

When I was using a single SDR, each Recorder had to take in the full 8MHz and pull out the small 12.5KHz that was interesting. The end results is that I could only record about 3 channels at once before the CPU got overloaded. Since that control channel was going at the same time, that was the equivalent of about 32MHz of bandwidth to process.

With the RTL-SDR, each Recorder only has to look at 2MHz, which puts a lot lighter load on the CPU. Roughly speaking, having 3 Recorders active, plus the control channel would mean that only a total of 8MHz was being processed. As you can see, this means that it scales much more efficiently.

Using three RTL-SDR's to monitor a 6 MHz trunking system.
Using three RTL-SDR’s to monitor a 6 MHz trunking system.

Trunking with the Latest DSD+ 1.08t Fast Lane Version

DSD+ stands for Digital Speech Decoder Plus and is a software program that can allow you to decode digital voice signals such as P25 and MotoTRBO/DMR. DSD+ is under continual development, and in their last public update they began offering early access to the latest DSD+ features in development through their fast lane subscription. The fast lane subscription costs $10 USD for one year and $25 for unlimited early access. Information about joining the fast lane service can be found in the readme file of the latest DSD+ 1.074 public release.

Over on YouTube user John Miller has been testing the latest early access version DSD+ 1.08t. This new version adds trunking support which allows you to follow conversations. Previously other software like Unitrunker was required to follow the trunking signal. On YouTube John has uploaded a video first showing trunking in action, and a second video showing how to set up DSD+ 1.08t for trunking.

Listening to Trunked Radios with One RTL-SDR

Usually to listen to trunked radio systems, two RTL-SDR dongles are required. One for decoding the trunking control channel and another for listening to the audio channel. However if the audio channels are within the same chunk of received bandwidth as the control channel it is possible to use just one dongle to follow trunked conservations.

Recently Pawel of pewusoft wrote in to RTL-SDR.com to let us know about a tutorial he uploaded showing how to get trunking to work with just one RTL-SDR dongle. His method uses Unitrunker and SDR# together with the AuxVFO plugin and a new plugin that he wrote for interfacing with Unitrunker.

Although there is already a Unitrunker interface plugin for SDR#, Pawel wrote a new plugin based on serial port commands as he found that the original interface plugin did not work properly for him.

Unitrunker Serial Port Interface SDR# Plugin
Unitrunker Serial Port Interface SDR# Plugin

RTL-SDR Tutorial: Listening to TETRA Radio Channels

TETRA is a trunked radio communications system that stands for “Terrestrial Trunked Radio”. It is used heavily in many parts of the world, except for the USA. Recently, a software program called Tetra Live Monitor (telive) was released on GitHub. This software can be used along with the (patched) Osmo-TETRA software to monitor and listen to unencrypted TETRA communications.

Below we show a tutorial on how to listen to TETRA communications using a RTL-SDR RTL2832U software defined radio. This tutorial is based heavily on the telive_doc.pdf file that is written by the author of telive and included in the telive git download. Please refer to that pdf file for further details on how the software works. We have modified their tutorial slightly to make it a little easier to understand. As this code is still under heavy development if you have trouble please check their PDF file for modifications to the procedures.

Again, we reiterate: This tutorial is not a substitute for a thorough reading of the documentation. If you have trouble setting this software up, please refer to the telive documentation first, before asking any questions. It contains a comprehensive FAQ section which solves most of the common problems. The documentation can be found directly at https://github.com/sq5bpf/telive/raw/master/telive_doc.pdf. There is also a discussion at http://forums.radioreference.com/digital-voice-decoding-software/302347-tetra-decoding.html.

Decoding and Listening to TETRA Tutorial

Most of this tutorial is performed in Linux and we assume that you have some decent Linux experience. We also assume you have some experience with the RTL-SDR dongle and have a decent antenna capable of picking up TETRA signals in your area. If you don’t have a RTL-SDR dongle yet see our Buy RTL-SDR dongles page.

Note: As of October 2016 there is now a Windows port of the Telive decoding software available. This may be an option for you if you prefer to run in Windows. More information here.

First, we will need to find some TETRA signals. The easiest way to do this is to open SDR# or another program like GQRX and look for them. TETRA signals are continuously broadcasting with a bandwidth of around 25 kHz. In most European countries they can be found at 390 – 470 MHz. In some countries they may be found around 850 MHz or 915 – 933 MHz. There may be several TETRA signals grouped in close proximity to one another. See the example images below.

A Zoomed in TETRA Signal
A Zoomed in TETRA Signal
TETRA Signals Zoomed Out
A Grouping of TETRA Signals Zoomed Out

An example audio clip of a TETRA signal recorded in NFM mode is shown below.

Once you have found some TETRA signals, record their frequencies. Now close SDR#, or whatever software you were using and boot into Linux. In this tutorial we use a 32-bit Ubuntu 14.04 virtual machine running on VMWare Player as our Linux system. Some of the commands may vary if you are using a different system.

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