Category: News

Testing Sharp Slicer: Multiple Spectrum Slices via SDR# with an Airspy SDR

Youssef the author of SDR# has recently released an update which adds a feature called "Sharp Slicer". This feature allows Airspy SDR users to open multiple instances of SDR#, each able to tune to a seperate signal within the currently tuned frequency range of the SDR. This is somewhat similar to the old multi-VFO plugin from rtl-sdr.ru, however the advantage of Slicer is that you can have seperate spectrum and waterfall graphs for each signal. This could be especially useful for monitoring multiple narrowband HF modes with an Airspy HF+ Discovery. 

To use Sharp Slicer you must have an Airspy SDR, be it an Airspy Mini/R2 or HF+/Discovery. Unfortunately it will not work with RTL-SDR or other SDRs. Once the SDR is running in SDR#, simply press the "+" button on the top left to open a new Slicer instance. It seems possible to open as many instances as you want, and probably the only limitation is your CPU. On our Intel i7-6700 we tested up to 8 instances running at the maximum bandwidth of an Airspy Mini, and the SDR# CPU utilization was only at 50%.

A nice touch is that you can also see the location of each VFO on the master SDR# instance, and the color can be changed on each Slicer instance.

Over on Twitter @ea3ibc has also been testing:

ARRL/TAPR Digital Communications Conference: Held Online for Free from September 11-12

Just a few days prior to the 2020 GNU Radio conference, ARRL and TAPR will hold their yearly Digital Communications Conference (DCC) online. DCC is a yearly conference with many SDR and RF related talks, with a focus on ham radio science. The talks will be live streamed on YouTube for free, however you can register for $30. Registration will grant you the ability to ask questions or chat via Zoom, and includes access to the papers. The YouTube live link has not been provided yet, so keep an eye on the DCC web page for the announcement.

The schedule of talks can be viewed here, and below we're listing the talk titles.

  • HamSCI PSWS Overview/Status
  • HF Propagation Measurement Techniques and Analyses
  • Early Results of Festival of Frequency Measurement Experiment & June 21, 2020 Asian Eclipse
  • Frequency Estimation Techniques
  • LC-PSWS Engineering Status
  • PSWS Control Software and Database
  • Evaluation of uBlox GPS Receivers Performance
  • TangerineSDR Hardware Update
  • TangerineSDR VLF Module (A new module!)
  • Characterizing and Optimizing the behavior of a Ground-based Magnetometer for Ionospheric Space Weather Observations
  • Mobile Mesh Tower Fleet
  • Design Tips for QSD Down Conversion SDR Designs
  • Packet Compressed Sensing Imaging (PCSI: Robust Image Transmission over Noisy Channels
  • Continued Lessons from the RF-Seismograph
  • Current Status Report of FX.25 KISS TNC Development
  • APRS Performance and Limits
  • Digital Signal Processing: I2S in ESP32
  • Aids to the Presentation and Analysis of WSPR Spots: TimescaleDB Database and Grafana
  • QMesh: A Synchronized, Flooded Mesh Network Protocol for Voice
  • GaN based RF Power Amplifier Design
  • The AERO/VISTA Twin Small Satellite Project
  • ENAMS (Electromagnetic Noise Area Monitoring System)
  • PSWS Antenna Designs
  • RF Machine Learning Applied to doing Cognitive Radio on HF
  • Improved Layer 2 Protocol
  • FreeDV 700D and 202
  • Forward Error Correction and Pictures from Mars

Reminder: Register for the GNU Radio Online Conference on September 14-18

This is just a reminder that the 2020 GNU Radio Conference will be held online in a few days time starting on September 14 and ending September 18 2020. Viewing the live talks and participation in the discussion forums is free for everyone around the world, however you must register first via their site. The paid $50 workshops are all currently booked however you can go on the waiting list in case more spaces are opened.

GNU Radio Conference (GRCon) is the annual conference for the GNU Radio project & community, and has established itself as one of the premier industry events for Software Radio. It is a week-long conference that includes high-quality technical content and valuable networking opportunities. GRCon is a venue that highlights design, implementation, and theory that has been practically applied in a useful way. GRCon attendees come from a large variety of backgrounds, including industry, academia, government, and hobbyists.

GRCon20 will be held starting September 14, 2020 online as a virtual event. The organizing team is hard at work to create a fun and interactive experience.

Our keynote speakers include: Becky Schoenfeld W1BXY, managing editor of QST magazine, Oona Räisänen [ windytan ] hacker of signals and computer programmer, and Jim St. Leger, Director Open Source, Intel.

With an annual program that has broad appeal, GRCon attracts people new to Software Radio just looking to learn more, experts that want to keep their finger on the pulse & direction of the industry, and seasoned developers ready to show off their latest work.

Titles of the talks scheduled are shown below. The full list of talks, workshops and descriptions can be found here

  • Oona Räisänen - Video Decoding Adventure
  • Introducing OpenCPI as an Infrastructure for GNU Radio and GNU Radio Companion
  • How Strong is my SDR Signal?
  • Introducing the Radio Resiliency Competition
  • Are We Alone? How GNU Radio Can Help Us Find ET
  • A Conversation with the Ettus Research / NI SDR R&D Team
  • Enabling Performance Portability of GnuRadio on Heterogeneous Systems
  • Architecture Update - Marcus Mueller
  • Becky Schoenfeld - Keeping Ham Radio Alive and Well: ARRL’s Education Initiatives
  • ESA's OPS-SAT Mission: Powered by GNU Radio
  • Designing a Narrowband Radar using GNU Radio and Software Defined Radio for Tomography and Indoor Sensing
  • The De-Swiggification of GNU Radio
  • Exploring RFNoC with the UHD Python API
  • Teaching the Principles of Time Delay Spectrometry Ultrasound with GNU Radio
  • Ultra-cheap SDR Digital Television Transmission: ISDB-T with an osmo-fl2k and an RTL-SDR
  • Software defined radio based Synthetic Aperture noise and OFDM (WiFi) RADAR mapping
  • Community Continuous Integration (CI) for GNU Radio
  • RadEOT: The Radio Education Outreach Tool
  • Software defined radio based Global Navigation Satellite System real time spoofing detection and cancellation
  • SDR to GPU Peer-to-Peer Data Streaming for Cognitive Radar and EW Use-Case
  • Security Analysis of Zigbee Networks with Zigator and GNU Radio
  • Using GNU Radio in Amateur Radio
  • GR Wiki Block Docs: What's Important?

Nils Reviews the RX-888: A Sub $200 16-Bit 32 MHz Bandwidth SDR

A lot of affordable Chinese clone SDRs have been coming onto the market recently, and the RX-888 is one of the most interesting. The RX-888 appears to be an improved clone of the RX-666 which in turn is a clone derived from Oscar Steila (IK1XPV)'s BBRF103 original open source design.

The RX-888 is based on the LTC2208 16-bit ADC chip which is capable of streaming the entire 1 kHz to 32 MHz frequency range to the PC over USB 3.0 with direct sampling. Frequencies from 32 MHz to 1.8 GHz can also be received via an R820T2 tuner which is on the board (the same tuner used in most RTL-SDRs). Due to the bandwidth restrictions of the R820T2 silicon, the bandwidth above 32 MHz is restricted to 8 - 10 MHz. The main change when compared to the RX-666 appears to be that there is an LNA which improves medium wave and small antenna performance which was a problem on the RX-666. The RX-888 also adds several heat sinks to the enclosure, as excessive heat generation of the LTC2208 ADC appears to also be an issue.

The RX-888 Software Defined Radio

Recently Nils Shiffhauer (DK80K) wrote up a great review of the RX-888. In the review he covers the specs, shows a few screenshots of some signals he's received and also provides multiple audio samples of signals received.

The RX-888 is currently available on marketplace sites like Aliexpress and eBay priced at around US$180. In the past SDRs that could receive the entire HF band at once were rare, with the only affordable SDR with this capability being the KiwiSDR. So it is good to see that we may now be entering a stage of new advancement in affordable SDRs.

One thing to note is that this design can be considered a clone. However the original design by Oscar is open source and from this post on his blog he seems happy and accepting of the clones.

We note that we have ordered a unit and will be uploading a review once we test it.

The RX-888 PCB

The NEWSDR 2020 Conference will be held Online on 12 August

The 10th New England Workshop on Software Defined Radio (NEWSDR 2020) will be held online this year due to the ongoing pandemic. It is due to be held on 12 August 2020, 9:00 AM (US Eastern) – 5:00 PM (US Eastern). Registration is free, however you do need to register before 9 August 2020 in order to receive login details.

The 2020 New England Workshop on Software-Defined Radio (NEWSDR’20) is the tenth installment of an annual workshop series organized by the Boston SDR User Group (SDR-Boston). Given the continued global health emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s event will be safely hosted online using a variety of Internet technologies such as Zoom, YouTube Live, and Slack. Although this will be a virtual event, the NEWSDR 2020 organizers are committed to achieving the primary goal of this workshop by providing a forum that enables individuals working on SDR-related projects within the New England area to get together, collaborate, and introduce SDR concepts to those interested in furthering their knowledge of SDR capabilities and available resources. NEWSDR 2020 welcomes both experienced SDR enthusiasts as well as individuals who are interested in getting started with SDR.

This years talks include a Keynote by Dr. Tom Rondeau of DARPA, “Spectral Coexistence: What is its future in the US?”, “A Software-Defined Wireless Communications Network Research Infrastructure for the Internet of Things (IoT)”, “Open-Source Software in Software-Defined Radio” as well as several community and poster talks.

Videos of previous NEWSDR conference talks can be found listed on their website.

NEWSDR 2020 to be held online
NEWSDR 2020 to be held online

Metal Case Upgrade for the SDRplay RSP1A back in Stock

Our metal case upgrade kit for the SDRplay RSP1A software defined radio is now back in stock in our store and will be ready to ship out within the next couple of days. This is a premium aluminum metal upgrade enclosure for the SDRplay RSP1A. Helps block RF interference and protects the RSP inside the sturdy enclosure. This will be the final batch made of this product, so if you are interested please order before stock runs out for good.

The kit includes 1x black aluminum metal enclosure with two labelled side panels, 1x black semi-hardshell carry case, 1x thermal pad to keep the RSP1A cool and mechanically stable inside the enclosure, 1x accessory set including enclosure screws, GND lug bolt set and 3M anti-slip rubber feet.

RSP1A Metal Case Upgrade
RSP1A Metal Case Upgrade

NanoVNA V2 Now Readily Available for $60 + US Stock Available at R&L

The much awaited NanoVNA V2 is now readily available for around $60 + shipping from the Tindie store. Shipping is noted to begin on June 30th due to a public holiday and you must agree to possible pandemic delays, although feedback from earlier customers indicates that most countries appear to be receiving the packages in good time. You can also add a calibration kit for $10 extra, or a calibration kit and acrylic enclosure for $14 extra.

For US customers R&L Electronics have them in stock in "high end" for $59.95 and "low end" for $54.95 options. The high end option appears to have higher quality cables included. UPDATE: It has been brought to our attention that the stock at R&L is actually from a "clone" manufacturer and the clones do not support the original developer.

We note that the NanoVNA V2 is an open source project created by OwOComm, a research organization with a mission to further "intellectual communism". Therefore any factory is free to produce their own version from the designs, and hence several other versions have already been showing up on marketplaces like Aliexpress/eBay. However, for now it is probably safer to buy directly from the original manufacturers on the Tindie store. This is because according to the developer the quality of the "unofficial" clones that are showing up on Aliexpress and eBay is not yet known. The official version also supports the original developer and funds future software development.

NanoVNA V2 Available for Sale on Tindie
NanoVNA V2 Available for Sale on Tindie

A Vector Network Analyzer (VNA) is an extremely useful tool for radio hobbyists as it allows you to tune antennas, filters, and measure cable loss among other applications. Until recently a VNA would cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. However, the original NanoVNA brought expensive VNA capabilities to the masses with its low $40 pricing. But the original design was limited to a maximum frequency of only 900 MHz. The new V2 design pushes this maximum frequency up to 3 GHz officially, and unofficially up to 4.4 GHz with reduced performance. It also improves on overall dynamic range and maintains the affordable price.

Trump Tweets about Pushed Buffalo Protestor Scanning to Jam Police Radios with an RTL-SDR and Android Phone

In political news 75 year old Buffalo protestor Martin Gugino has been generating controversy due to a video of him being pushed to the ground by a police officer, then subsequently lying motionless while bleeding from the head and being ignored by other officers.

Recently US president Donald Trump tweeted about a video news report by "One America News" (OAN) indicating that Gugino may have been trying to scan police with a "capture scanner". Whilst talking about the capture scanner they show an image of an RTL-SDR dongle and Android phone running the SDR Touch software. OAN go on to say that these capture scanners are designed to "skim microphones" in order to capture police communications, and are a tool commonly used by Antifa. Credit to @hackerfantastic for initially tweeting about the RTL-SDR being featured in the video.

Trump's tweet reads "Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment @OANN
I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?".

We're not entirely sure where this theory from OAN came from as there is no need to get so close in order to listen to police radio communications, since if unencrypted, they can be listened to from anywhere in the city. It's also unclear as to what microphones police would be using, and how these could be "skimmed" with an RTL-SDR. As for blacking out the equipment, an RTL-SDR cannot transmit so it would be impossible to use to jam the radios. An illegal jammer could be used after scanning, but police frequencies are already well known anyway, and there would be no need to scan for them so close even if low power comm links were used.

The video also shows that he appears to be filming police badge numbers with his phone before he was pushed, so it is unlikely that he was using an RTL-SDR and running SDR Touch at the same time as the camera app. No cables, antenna or dongle can be seen in the video either.

In the past we have seen a Slovenian researcher almost jailed for performing University research with an RTL-SDR, and a UN expert arrested for possessing an RTL-SDR in Tunisia. So this is a timely reminder to be careful as police and media do not always understand what an SDR is.

EDIT: Please note that this is not a political post or blog. We only post it to highlight the severe lack of understanding that can surround SDR and our technical hobbies. Comments inciting violence against protestors or anyone are NOT OK, and will be removed. Please keep discussions technical and civil in nature.

OAN indicates that Martin Gugino may have used an RTL-SDR on police
OAN indicates that Martin Gugino may have used an RTL-SDR "capture scanner" on police