Earlier in the month we posted about how rtl_433 has been ported to ESP32 devices that are combined with CC1101 or SC127X transceiver chips, such as the low cost LILYGO LoRa 32 boards available on Aliexpress.
Over on YouTube Matt from the Tech Minds channel has uploaded a video showing how to set up rtl_433 on an ESP32 device, and how to set it up with a home automation service like Home Assistant, Node Red or OpenHAB via an MQTT broker.
PCB boards that combine these two chips can be found cheaply on Aliexpress as LoRa boards, under the name "LILYGO LoRa 32". If you are unaware, ESP32 chips cheaply combine a WiFi and Bluetooth modem with a microcontroller that is capable of hosting a webserver. CC1101 and SC127X are low cost low power hardware transceiver chips made for IOT devices. We've posted about LILYGO boards in the past as they've been used with interesting projects such as Meshtastic, and for weather balloon tracking.
This project could be useful for home automation as a module has been made available for openMQTTGateway. Instead of dedicating a more powerful Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR, you can now dedicate a much cheaper and much lower power device to the task.
SDRangel is a free open source software defined radio program that is compatible with many SDRs, including RTL-SDRs. SDRAngel is set apart from other programs because of it's huge swath of built in demodulators and decoders.
The Maverick-603 is a US$149 FT8 receiver based on an open source RF chip design which is capable of acquiring signals between 7 MHz and 70 MHz (technically 1 MHz to 100 MHz). It is currently undergoing Crowd Funding on Crowd Supply with 7 days left in the campaign. Shipping is expected to begin in April 2023.
FT8 is a popular weak signal propagation digital mode used by ham radio enthusiasts. FT8 signals can be received and decoded all over the world even with low transmit power and poor propagation conditions thanks to its highly error tolerant encoding. A dedicated FT8 receiver allows enthusiasts to set up a 24/7 FT8 monitor without dedicating more expensive ham radio equipment to the task. Note that a computing device like a PC or possibly a Raspberry Pi 4 will still be required to run the FT8 decoding software as this is a software defined radio.
The Maverick-603 is based on a custom open source RF chip design made possible by the company eFabless. It is now possible to cheaply design and produce custom ASIC chips (at least at the lower end of the technology scale), replacing more costly FPGA designs. The technical specs of the Maverick-603 are:
Power Supply: 3.3 V / 10 mA
Operating Frequency Range: 1 to 100 MHz
Minimum Signal Strength: -25 dBm
Input Antenna Impedance: 50 Ohm
Data Interface: SPI
Board Size: 2" x 1.75"
Capable of receiving FT8 signals
7 - 70 MHZ frequency range
Low-power operation (1.8 Volts) means no battery or outlet is required
The plugin makes use of the well known rtl_433 software behind the scenes, which is a command line based RTL-SDR compatible decoder for various wireless ISM band devices such as weather stations, car keys, tire pressure sensors, doorbells and various other remote controlled devices. The plugin GUI makes using and displaying data from rtl_433 much more convenient.
Thank you to Adam from Double A Labs for submitting his latest YouTube video where he uses his RTL-SDR to probe the coaxial cable that provides his broadband internet and cable TV. In the video Adam explains how hybrid fiber-coaxial internet and TV broadband networks (such as Comcast/Xfinity) work, and how the Specktrum software can be used with an RTL-SDR to explore the spectrum on these cables. Adam writes:
What I found was pretty interesting, including a few unmodulated analog TV carriers on the line producing a black screen on my TV. I also explain how coaxial broadband networks work (bi-directional amplifiers, upstream/downstream splits, etc.) and how internet service providers are upgrading them.
How Broadband Cable Networks (Xfinity etc.) Work and Probing One with a Spectrum Analyzer (RTL-SDR)
Thank you to a contributor for submitting an article about Airframes.io, which is an ACARS/VDL2/HFDL/Satellite ACARS aggregation site. The article below it attributed to Kevin Elliott and was edited by Frank Vance. They would also like to attribute the large group or volunteers at Airframes.io.
One of the most popular hobbyist uses of SDR is receiving and decoding vehicle information data such as ADS-B for aircraft or AIS for marine traffic. Some hobbyists have been banding together to exchange their mutual data streams to provide coverage over wide geographic areas.
One of the largest and most successful such projects in the aviation realm is ADS-B Exchange (https://www.adsbexchange.com/), where over 8,000 volunteer feeders provide ADS-B data to a global aviation map in real time.
But modern air carriers have much more data to and from their aircraft than just the position information from ADS-B. In the 1970s, ACARS was created to carry that traffic. Today, ACARS is seen on its own frequencies on VHF, embedded in AVLC on the VDL2 VHF frequencies, on HF (shortwave) frequencies using the HFDL network of stations worldwide, and on satellite on both the Inmarsat (ACARS over AERO, or AoA) and the Iridium (called ACARS over Iridium, or AoI) systems.
Airframes.io (https://app.airframes.io/) is a project that has been under development for a while to aggregate ACARS data in the same way ADS-B Exchange is aggregating ADS-B data. Under the capable leadership of Kevin Elliott (https://github.com/kevinelliott), software development has progressed to the point that new feeders are actively being sought to improve the global coverage and provide a broader base of data to improve the decoding.
With a wide variety of data sources, this is a collaboration project that is open to all levels of SDR hobbyists. A simple RTL-SDR.COM unit attached to a Raspberry Pi with a smaller antenna works well with the VHF coverage. Depending on one's interest level, an HFDL feeder may require multiple SDRs with much broader frequency range, capable of reception in the sub-30 MHz bands. The L-band based Iridium AoI uses a small antenna as well, but requires a wide bandwidth SDR. Finally, reception of the C-band Inmarsat (AoA) traffic may involve a moving dish antenna of at least 6 foot diameter to obtain usable signals.
What kind of data is seen in ACARS? One can observe weather conditions aloft, messages to/from the carrier operations staff, information about the origin and destination of the flight, and technical data on the aircraft operation (not all of which can be decoded at this time.) Additionally, the HFDL and satellite feeds offer location information out of sight of the traditional ADS-B coverage, such as over the oceans and polar regions.
Additional information about setting up a receiver/feeder for HFDL, Inmarsat L-band, Inmarsat C-band, and Iridium L-band is available on The Bald Geek's GitHub page: https://thebaldgeek.github.io/Consider joining with the dozens of volunteers already feeding and contributing software updates to the Airframe.io project.
In his latest video Rob from the Frugal Radio YouTube channel has uploaded a video where he experiments with a SDR web interface and smartphone App called "Rdio-scanner". Rdio-scanner is an interface that tries to reproduce the user experience of using a real hardware scanner with an SDR and RF voice decoding/recording software like Trunk Recorder being used in the background. Rob writes:
rdio-scanner creates a customizable web interface from which to control your software defined radio. Using it, you can turn a computer, phone or tablet into something that closely resembles a hardware scanner!
Trunk Recorder is the software that decodes the unencrypted P25 signals and records them to disk. Here is it demonstrated working on a large Simulcast (LSM) site.
rdio-scanner reads the audio files. Through the rdio-scanner interface, you are basically choosing which audio files to play.
Rob runs the rdio-scanner software on his Panasonic Toughbook, noting that the interface looks really great in Tablet mode and works well with the touchscreen. He also notes that his toughbook has a SIM card socket, so a data SIM would enable him to access his P25 monitoring system at home from anywhere.
SDR experiments with Rdio-scanner, Trunk Recorder, Airspy Mini & Panasonic Toughbook on P25 LSM