Category: LimeSDR

A SDR Digital Voice Hotspot with GNU Radio, MMDVM and QRadioLink

Thank you to Adrian (YO8RZZ) for writing in and sharing with us his article explaining how to use an SDR to set up a digital voice hotspot for digital voice modes supported by MMDVM such as D-Star, DMR, System Fusion, P25 and NXDN. Adrian notes that this is possible with any full duplex SDR such as the LimeSDR or PlutoSDR, or with a combination of simplex devices, such as a HackRF for transmitting combined with an RTL-SDR for receiving.

MMDVM is firmware that normally runs on an ARM microcontroller board such as the Arduino Due, and is designed to be interfaced with hardware radios via the microcontrollers built in ADC and DAC hardware.

In order to use an SDR instead of physical hardware radios, Adrian's article describes how a fork of MMDVM called MMDVM-SDR is used in his system as this allows the code to run on a normal Linux computer with an SDR. GNU Radio running on Adrian's own QRadioLink software is then used to create software ADC/DAC interfaces for the SDR and MMDVM-SDR to interface with, as well as providing a user interface.

QRadioLink used as the UI for MMDVM-SDR and GNU Radio

uSDR: A Lightweight Multimode SDR Receiver Program for Windows

Thank you to Viol Tailor for submitting news about the release of his general purpose multimode software defined radio receiver program for Windows called "uSDR" or "microSDR". Viol writes that uSDR is designed as a lightweight binary with a simple and compact user interface and highly optimized DSP to minimize CPU, hence the "micro" part of the name.

The software is compatible with RTL-SDR, Airspy, BladeRF, HackRF and LimeSDR radios. It has features including demodulation, base band and pass band recording, playback, and spectrum and waterfall visualizations.

uSDR aka microSDR. A lightweight SDR receiver program from Windows.

LibreCellular: Easy 4G Cellular Network with LimeSDR and Intel NUC

We recently came across the LibreCellular project which is aiming to make it easy to implement 4G cellular networks with open source software and low cost SDRs. The project appears to be in the early stages, and seems to be focusing on deploying and modifying existing open source 4G basestation software known as srsRAN which will be used with a particular combination of hardware in order to create a reliable and easy to set up 4G basestation solution.

The reference hardware that they are recommending consists of an Intel NUC single board computer ($699), LimeSDR ($315), LimeRFE front end filtered power amplifier ($699), and Leo Bodnar Mini Precision GPS Reference Clock ($140). All together you can create a 4G basestation for around $1850.

LibreCellular Components for a 4G Basestation: LimeRFE, Leo Bodnar GPS Clock, LimeSDR, Intel NUC.

CalibrateSDR: Calibrating your SDR Frequency Offset with DAB+

Thanks to Andreas Hornig who has recently released a new program called "CalibrateSDR" (GitHub code) which is designed to accurately determine the frequency offset of an SDR via an IQ recording of a DAB+ station.

Cheaper RTL-SDR and SDRs use a low quality crystal oscillator which usually has a large offset from the ideal frequency. Furthermore, that frequency offset will change as the dongle warms up or as the ambient temperature changes. The end result is that any signals received will not be at the correct frequency, and they will drift as the temperature changes. Higher end SDRs and improved RTL-SDRs like our RTL-SDR Blog V3 use a temperature compensated oscillator (TCXO) which has a very small frequency offset and very little temperature drift.

CalibrateSDR can be used with almost any SDR to determine the frequency offset. Andreas notes that CalibrateSDR uses the synchronization channel symbols from DAB+ digital audio stations to determine the offset. His post contains a great explanation of how this works. If you don't have DAB+ in your area, an alternative is Kalibrate-RTL which uses GSM cellphone signals to calibrate.

His results were as expected, showing that the generic RTL-SDRs have large frequency offsets, and his RTL-SDR Blog V3 and LimeSDR have much better precision.

The null symbol (lower amplitude portion) and phase reference (Orange) in a DAB+ signal

TechMinds: Extending the Range of Transmit Capable SDRs with Amplifier

Over on his YouTube channel TechMinds has uploaded a new video showing how to use RF amplifiers to extend the transmit range of transmit capable SDRs like the LimeSDR, HackRF and PlutoSDR. Whilst they are transmit capable, most low cost SDRs like those mentioned above can only transmit at very low power levels typically much less than 30 mW. In the video TechMinds tests a wideband SPF5189Z and filtered 2.4 - 2.5 GHZ CN0417 based amplifier, and shows the output power obtained using an inline power meter.

He also notes that these wideband amplifier will also amplify harmonics so filtering is recommended. At the same time we note that you should only transmit if you are licenced to do so (for example with a ham radio licence), especially if you are amplifying the output.

Extend SDR Transmit Range - LimeSDR - HackRF - Adalm Pluto Amplifier

RadioSlate: A Tablet with Built in LimeSDR or HackRF

A new project called "RadioSlate" has recently been announced by Yian IT, a Chinese IoT company. RadioSlate will be an SDR-enabled tablet designed to be used with a HackRF or LimeSDR software defined radio that will be mounted internally behind the screen under some metal shielding. The tablet uses a 1024 x 600 touchscreen and runs an Intel M3 8100Y 1.1 to 3.4 GHz dual core CPU with 8GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and it supports both Linux and Windows. Batteries will not be included, but it supports batteries in the standard 18650 form factor which can be purchased anywhere.

The project is due to be crowdfunded on CrowdSupply in the near future, and you can currently sign up to receive updates and be notified when the project launches. They write:

RadioSlate is a sturdy aluminum tablet with an industry-favorite software-defined radio (SDR) board—your choice of HackRF or LimeSDR—tucked away behind its touchscreen. Whether you’re a Ham radio operator, a network engineer, a mobile base station designer, a security auditor, or some other variety of SDR enthusiast, RadioSlate lets you do your thing, even if that thing requires you to go outside and walk around, get unusually close to transmitters and receivers, keep one hand free for other tasks, or manage all of the above without drawing undue attention to yourself.

Explore the spectrum, while on the go, without having to drag along your laptop, an SDR board, and cables.

The RadioSlate: An SDR-enabled Tablet
The RadioSlate: An SDR-enabled Tablet

A Comprehensive Lab Comparison between Multiple Software Defined Radios

Librespace, who are the people behind the open hardware/source SatNOGS satellite ground station project have recently released a comprehensive paper (pdf) that compares multiple software defined radios available on the market in a realistic laboratory based signal environment. The testing was performed by Alexandru Csete (@csete) who is the programmer behind GQRX and Gpredict and Sheila Christiansen (@astro_sheila) who is a Space Systems Engineer at Alexandru's company AC Satcom. Their goal was to evaluate multiple SDRs for use in SatNOGS ground stations and other satellite receiving applications. 

The SDRs tested include the RTL-SDR Blog V3, Airspy Mini, SDRplay RSPduo, LimeSDR Mini, BladeRF 2.0 Micro, Ettus USRP B210 and the PlutoSDR. In their tests they measure the noise figure, dynamic range, RX/TX spectral purity, TX power output and transmitter modulation error ratio of each SDR in various satellite bands from VHF to C-band.

The paper is an excellent read, however the results are summarized below. In terms of noise figure, the SDRplay RSPduo with it's built in LNA performed the best, with all other SDRs apart from the LimeSDR being similar. The LimeSDR had the worst noise figure by a large margin.

In terms of dynamic range, the graphs below show the maximum input power of a blocking signal that the receivers can tolerate vs. different noise figures at 437 MHz. They write that this gives a good indication of which devices have the highest dynamic range at any given noise figure. The results show that when the blocking signal is at the smallest 5 kHz spacing the RSPduo has poorest dynamic range by a significant margin, but improves significantly at the 100 kHz and 1 MHz spacings. The other SDRs all varied in performance between the different blocking signal separation spacings.

Overall the PlutoSDR seems to perform quite well, with the LimeSDR performing rather poorly in most tests among other problems like the NF being sensitive to touching the enclosure, and the matching network suspected as being broken on both their test units. The owner of Airspy noted that performance may look poor in these tests as the testers used non-optimized Linux drivers, instead of the optimized Windows drivers and software, so there is no oversampling, HDR or IF Filtering enabled. The RSPduo performs very well in most tests, but very poorly in the 5 kHz spacing test.

The rest of the paper covers the TX parameters, and we highly recommend going through and comparing the individual result graphs from each SDR test if you want more information and results from tests at different frequencies. The code and recorded data can also be found on the projects Gitlab page at https://gitlab.com/librespacefoundation/sdrmakerspace/sdreval.

DragonOS: Debian Linux with Preinstalled Open Source SDR Software

Thank you to Aaron for submitting news about his latest project called "DragonOS" which he's been working on while in COVID-19 lock down. DragonOS is a Debian Linux based operating system which comes with many open source software defined radio programs pre-installed. It supports SDRs like the RTL-SDR, HackRF and LimeSDR.

Aaron's video below shows how to set up DragonOS in a VirtualBox, and he has two other videos on his channel showing how to set up ADS-B reception with Kismet, and how to run GR-RDS in GNURadio. He aims to continue with more tutorial videos that make use of the software installed on DragonOS in the near future.

DragonOS 10 Installer (download in description)

Screenshot of the GR-RDS Tutorial