PiSDR is a Raspberry Pi distribution that is pre-loaded with multiple programs for various software defined radios. It currently supports RTL-SDR, LimeSDR, PlutoSDR, Airspy, and as of the most recent update the Airspy HF+. The currently pre-installed software packages include SDR Angel, Soapy Remote, GQRX, GNURadio, LimeUtil, and LimeVNA.
Recently version 3.0 was released, and this new version adds a few new features like Desktop shortcuts, Raspberry Pi 4 support, Airspy HF+ support and documentation.
The latest image can be downloaded from the PiSDR website at https://pisdr.luigifreitas.me. It can be burned to an SD card in the same way that you would with a standard Raspbian installation. This is a great image to start from if you're experimenting with RTL-SDRs on a Raspberry Pi, as it means that you don't need to go through all the steps of installing the drivers and software like GQRX and GNU Radio which can take a long time to install.
The transmitting side consists of a GNU Radio flowchart that encodes the text file into a binary string, modulates that binary string with Binary Phase Shift Keying (BPSK), and then transmits it using the LimeSDR.
The receiving side uses an RTL-SDR, and is based on another GNU Radio flowgraph that uses a polyphase clock sync block to synchronize the sampling time, a costas loop for fine frequency correction, an LMS DD equalizer block to compensate for multipath effects, and finally demodulation blocks that recover the bits and text file from the BPSK signal.
His results showed that he can almost recover the entire file except for the first few bytes of data which is always lost since it takes time for the clock sync and costas loop block to converge. The post goes into further detail about what each of the blocks do and some of the signal theory math behind everything. The GNU Radio GRC file is also provided if you want to try it out yourself.
Back in 2017 we posted about the crowd funding of the Fairwaves XTRX, a small PCIe based TX/RX capable software defined radio that back then cost US$199 (now only the XTRX Pro is available for US$599). The XTRX is based on the same RF chips that are used in the LimeSDR and each unit has 2 x 2 MIMO (multi-input, multi-output), 120 MSPS SISO / 90 MSPS MIMO, 30 MHz to 3.7 GHz tuning range and comes with an on board GPSDO.
If you’re working on a massive MIMO system or have a large swath of spectrum you need to monitor, XYNC (pronounced iks-sync) is right for you. XYNC builds on the success of the Octopack SDR we offered during the XTRX campaign and takes into account feedback from the original Octopack users.
You can connect two XYNC boards, either to increase the number of RX/TX channels (e.g., two XYNC Octos give you 32 TX and 32 RX channels) or to increase throughput per channel (e.g., two XYNC Quadros give you twice the throughput of a single XYNC Octo). Connecting more than two XYNC boards is also possible, but requires an external clock and 1 pps signal distribution circuitry, neither of which is provided as part of this campaign.
While advertised as low cost, the pricing is probably out of reach for most hobbyists, with the quad 8x8 unit coming in at US$4500 and the top 16 board 32x32 unit priced at US$13,000. Still, these prices are very good for a massively MIMO SDR and pricing is set to rise once the crowdfunding campaign ends in 39 days.
Back in August 2019 the Chaos Communication Camp was held in Germany. This is a 5 day conference that covers a variety of hacker topics, sometimes including SDR. At the conference Osmocom developer Harald Welte (aka @LaF0rge) presented a talk titled "The Limits of General Purpose SDR devices". The talk explains how general purpose TX capable SDRs like HackRFs and LimeSDRs have their limitations when it comes to implementing advanced communications systems like cellular base stations.
Why an SDR board like a USRP or LimeSDR is not a cellular base station
It's tempting to buy a SDR device like a LimeSDR or USRP family member in the expectation of operating any wireless communications system out there from pure software. In reality, however, the SDR board is really only one building block. Know the limitations and constraints of your SDR board and what you need around it to build a proper transceiver.
For many years, there's an expectation that general purpose SDR devices like the Ettus USRP families, HackRF, bladeRF, LimeSDR, etc. can implement virtually any wireless system.
While that is true in principle, it is equally important to understand the limitations and constraints.
People with deep understanding of SDR and/or wireless communications systems will likely know all of those. However, SDRs are increasingly used by software developers and IT security experts. They often acquire an SDR board without understanding that this SDR board is only one building block, but by far not enough to e.g. operate a cellular base station. After investing a lot of time, some discover that they're unable to get it to work at all, or at the very least unable to get it to work reliably. This can easily lead to frustration on both the user side, as well as on the side of the authors of software used with those SDRs.
The talk will particularly focus on using General Purpose SDRs in the context of cellular technologies from GSM to LTE. It will cover aspects such as band filters, channel filters, clock stability, harmonics as well as Rx and Tx power level calibration.
The talk contains the essence of a decade of witnessing struggling SDR users (not only) with running Osmocom software with them. Let's share that with the next generation of SDR users, to prevent them falling into the same traps.
The LimeNet Micro is a is a $329 board that combines a Raspberry Pi 3 (compute module) together with a LimeSDR radio. The LimeRFE is an amplifier and filter board accessory designed to be used with LimeSDR units. When a LimeNET Micro and LimeRFE are used together, it is possible to create a transmit capable radio system that can be used for amateur radio.
In terms of software, Daniel is using a Python script that communicates with the Limesuite API for PTT control. For transmitting IQ data generated by GNU Radio he uses limesdr_send. So far he's been able to successfully test a CW beacon, SSB voice and waterfall text generated by gr-paint.
The LimeRFE is a power amplifier and filter bank solution designed for the low cost TX capable LimeSDR software defined radios. It has multiple bands from HF all the way up to 3.5 GHz, and is capable of putting out about 2W on the HF bands. Currently LimeRFE is crowdfunding over on CrowdSupply with a cost of US$599 or alternatively there is now a cheaper unit for US$449 without support for the cellular bands. The campaign is active for 4 more days from the time of this post, and after that the price is due to rise by another US$100.
The team at LimeMicro sent a unit to Daniel Estévez (EA4GPZ) for testing, and he has recently posted about his results and thoughts when using the LimeRFE for WSPR transmission with a 15m long wire antenna. Daniel connected his LimeRFE to his LimeSDR and used WSJT-X piped into SDRAngel via Pulseaudio to transmit WSPR on the 10m band. He notes that for lower bands, the LimeRFE will still need additional low pass filtering to attenuate harmonics. SDRAngel cannot yet control the LimeRFE so he also created a simple Python script for this purpose.
Unfortunately Daniel's unit only achieved 25dBm instead of the advertised 33dB, but in LimeMicro's post they note that they believe that this is due to shipping damage. However, even with only 0.3W power, Daniel's transmissions from Madrid were able to be picked up in the Canary Islands, Netherlands and Northern England.
Es’hailsat, otherwise known as QO-100 is the first geostationary satellite with an amateur radio payload on-board. The satellite contains both a Wide Band transponder for experimental modes and DVB-S Digital Television and a Narrow Band transponder used mostly for SSB voice and some digital mode contacts with other amateur operators. If you’re unfamiliar with this satellite we’ve covered it in previous articles, like in [Es’hail Transponder Now Active]
While many choose to use a transverter connected to a traditional amateur transceiver, others have turned to use Software Defined Radios to complete their satellite ground stations.
[Radio Innovation] posted a video back in March showing his contact on QO-100 using a LimeSDR Mini as the 2.4 GHz transmitter and a 10 GHz LNB for the downlink.
Calling cq on QO-100 with LIMESDR
The PlutoSDR has been frequently seen used for QO-100 satellite operation on the Wide Band transponder due to its ease of DVB-S transmission utilizing software such as [DATV Express] but more recently there have been more and more operators turning to SDR for their day to day satellite operation.
It will be interesting to see how these stations evolve, perhaps by the time North America has access to a similar satellite, we’ll be prepared to operate it.
[@Lugigi Cruz] has announced on twitter that his latest PiSDR image now includes full PlutoSDR support. PiSDR is a pre-built Raspberry Pi distribution that supports several SDRs including the RTL-SDR. It comes with many applications and libraries ready for you to use some of which include GQRX and GNURadio Companion. PiSDR is available on [GitHub] and just needs to be burned to an SD card to be used. The PlutoSDR is a low cost (typically priced anywhere between $99 – $149 depending on sales) RX/TX capable SDR with up to 56 MHz of bandwidth and a 70 MHz to 6 GHz frequency range.
With this update support for the PlutoSDR has been added. This should allow for a host of new interesting uses for the image as it includes SDRAngel, an SDR application that works with transmit capable SDRs. While I’ve not yet tested the image myself, this should in theory mean that the PiSDR image could be used with a transmit capable SDR like a PlutoSDR or Lime/Mini SDR to both transmit and receive anything from DATV to voice and more.
Below you can see the image running the Raspbian desktop with the SDRAngel software connected to the PlutoSDR. Those with a keen eye may also see the LimeSDR mini laying on the desk s well. The concept of SDR on a small microcomputer such as the Raspberry Pi isn’t a new one, but the existence of this distribution makes it much easier for people to jump in and start using it without having to configure and install software from scratch which can sometimes be a daunting task.