Category: News

United Nations Expert Arrested in Tunisia for Using an RTL-SDR

Recently several newspapers [CNA] [France24] [Guardian] [MEM] [HuffPostMG] have reported a story about a United Nations (UN) expert being arrested in Tunisia for having an RTL-SDR dongle. Dr. Moncef Kartas is a member of a UN panel of experts investigating violations of the UN arms embargo on Libya. 

On March 26, 2019 Kartas was arrested on his arrival in Tunisia on suspicion of spying for "unnamed foreign parties", and one of the key arguments being used against him is that he was in possession of and had used an RTL-SDR dongle. In the France24 article, they explain that he was using the RTL-SDR as part of his investigation for monitoring air traffic to Libya in an attempt to link flights against violations of the arms embargo. 

As Kartas' business in Tunisia was to present his findings on the arms embargo violations, other experts believe that the arrest is politically motivated, and that ownership of the RTL-SDR for espionage is simply being used as an excuse. However, while the investigation continues Kartas remains in jail, and in Tunisia a charge of espionage could be punishable by death. As Kartas holds UN diplomatic immunity, and as Tunisia is a member of the UN, the arrest and detainment is seen as illegal.

We hope that Kartas is safe and will be released soon. If you want to keep an eye on his story, there is a Twitter account called "Free Moncef Kartas" @FreeMoncefK that appears to be posting news articles and tweets about his arrest.

Human Rights Watch Denounces the arrest of Moncef Kartas
Human Rights Watch Denounces the arrest of Moncef Kartas [Photo Source]

The 2019 New England Workshop for SDR

The New England Workshop on Software Defined Radio (NEWSDR) is a yearly conference that hosts multiple SDR related talks. Previously we posted a selection of our favorite 2018 talks which involved topics such as remote sensing of space with SDR, wireless deep learning and multi-objective SDR optimization.

This years NEWSDR event will been held on Jun 13 and 14 at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. They are currently offering pre-registration for free, and are looking for poster presentations.

This year is the 9th iteration of NEWSDR and it will be held at the University of Massachusetts Boston campus on June 13 and 14. Registration is free and we are also accepting submissions for poster presentations and elevator pitches. The event is an excellent networking opportunity and includes technical presentations as well as demonstrations from industry sponsors (Ettus/NI, MathWorks, Analog Devices, and MediaTek).

NEWSDR 2019 Poster
NEWSDR 2019 Poster

LimeNET Micro Now Crowdfunding

Lime Microsystems, creators of the LimeSDR, LimeSDR Mini and LimeNET SDR devices have recently begun crowdfunding for a new product they are calling LimeNET Micro. LimeNET Micro is described as a software defined radio platform with an integrated processor for creating self contained wireless networks. In other words it is a LimeSDR LMS7002M SDR transceiver chip with an included Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3, FPGA, GNSS module, EEPROM and Flash memory attached to it.

The LimeNET Micro is capable of full duplex TX and RX (1 port each) with the typical LimeSDR frequency range of 10 MHz - 3.5 GHz. However a major difference is that the LimeNET Micro is only capable of a 0.27 MHz bandwidth, whereas other LimeSDR products are capable of bandwidths up to 30.72 MHz. One interesting additional feature is that the LimeSDR Micro comes with a GNSS module that can be used to receive GPS/GLONASS etc for high accuracy timing if required.

Some use cases that they envision LimeNET micro being useful for include:

  • Inexpensive enterprise and personal networks
  • Rural, autonomous, and resilient networks
  • Universal IoT communications hubs
  • Rapid deployment infrastructure for emergency response
  • Remote radio solutions for amateur radio and radio astronomy
  • Integration into application-specific RF appliances
  • Radio spectrum survey
  • Passive wireless geolocation
  • PHY and security research
  • RF-aware robotics

The price is $269 USD and this includes a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3. Higher end kits can be purchased which include Acrylic ($399) or Aluminum enclosures ($459).

LimeNET Micro with Raspberry Pi Compute 3 Module attached.
LimeNET Micro with Raspberry Pi Compute 3 Module attached.

KerberosSDR Now Available for Pre-order on Indiegogo

We're happy to announce that KerberosSDR is now available for pre-order on Indiegogo.

As promised we announced the release to KerberosSDR mailing list subscribers first, so that they'd be the first to get the initial discounted early bird units. However due to much higher than expected interest, we have released a few "second early bird" units at a still discounted price of $115 + shipping. We're only going to release 300 of these so get in quick before the price jumps up to $125. Our pre-order campaign will last 30 days, and afterwards the retail price will become $150.

If you weren't already aware, over the past few months we've been working with the engineering team at Othernet.is to create a 4x Coherent RTL-SDR that we're calling KerberosSDR. A coherent RTL-SDR allows you to perform interesting experiments such as RF direction finding, passive radar and beam forming. In conjunction with developer Tamas Peto, we have also had developed open source demo software for the board, which allows you to test direction finding and passive radar. The open source software also provides a good DSP base for extension.

More information available on our KerberosSDR page, and the Indiegogo page.

KerberosSDR with Calibration Board Attached (Metal Enclosure with SMA connectors Not Shown)
KerberosSDR with Calibration Board Attached (Metal Enclosure with SMA connectors Not Shown)
KerberosSDR Main Board (Metal Enclosure with SMA connectors Not Shown)
KerberosSDR Main Board (Metal Enclosure with SMA connectors Not Shown)

New Products in Our Store: Wideband LNA + Spare V3 Metal Enclosures

We've just released two new products in our store. The first is a low cost general purpose wideband LNA and the second is some spare RTL-SDR V3 aluminum enclosures. The wideband LNA is currently available for shipping from our Chinese warehouse and will be available on Amazon in a few days time. It costs US$17.95 including worldwide free shipping. The spare aluminum enclosure is only available from our Chinese warehouse and costs US$5.95.

Please Click Here to Visit our Store

Wideband LNA

The Wideband LNA is based on the Qorvo SPF4189Z LNA chip (datasheet pdf) which has the following declared specs:

  • Frequency range of 50 MHz to 4000 MHz
  • Noise figure = 0.6dB @ 900 MHz
  • OIP3 = 39.5 dBm @ 900 MHz
  • P1 Saturation = 22.7 dBm @ 1960 MHz
  • Gain = 18.7 dB @ 900 MHz

Compared to most of the other SPF5189Z LNAs found on eBay, our wideband LNA comes standard with a full conductive metal case, includes ESD protection on the antenna input, and is by default powered via 3 - 5V bias tee power. Our RTL-SDR Blog V3 dongles have a 4.5V bias tee built in, so they can be used to power this LNA. Direct power can be enabled simply by changing a jumper position, and removing the metal case.

This is a general purpose wideband LNA. It is useful for reducing the noise figure and thus increasing SNR, and for overcoming coax loss on all supported frequencies between 50 - 4000 MHz. However, because it is wideband you may need additional filtering if you have strong overloading signals in your area. If you're mostly interested in improving ADS-B reception, then we instead recommend our Triple Filtered ADS-B LNA which is also available at our store. The specs of the SPF5189Z are similar to that of PGA-103+ or PSA4-5043+ based LNAs. In the image slider below we compare the gain with the LNA4ALL which is a PSA4-5043+ based LNA.

Spare Aluminum Enclosure

The second product is some spare RTL-SDR Blog V3 aluminum enclosure. A few readers of this blog contacted us as they found RTL-SDR V3 enclosures to be a good fit (after being cut down to size) for home made filters, other LNAs and for FlightAware dongles. Our spare enclosures come with two SMA side panels, and one USB side panel. There is only limited stock of this product at the moment. Note that we're not including a thermal pad, since FlightAware dongles do not require additional cooling since they operate at 1.09 GHz. Additional cooling via thermal pad is only needed for stable operation when using RTL-SDRs above ~1.5 GHz.

WidebandLNA_Store
WidebandLNA_PCB_Store
wideband_lna_gain
spare_enclosure_shop
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United Nations Expert Arrested in Tunisia for Using an RTL-SDR

Recently several newspapers [CNA] [France24] [Guardian] [MEM] [HuffPostMG] have reported a story about a United Nations (UN) expert being arrested in Tunisia for having an RTL-SDR dongle. Dr. Moncef Kartas is a member of a UN panel of experts investigating violations of the UN arms embargo on Libya. 

On March 26, 2019 Kartas was arrested on his arrival in Tunisia on suspicion of spying for "unnamed foreign parties", and one of the key arguments being used against him is that he was in possession of and had used an RTL-SDR dongle. In the France24 article, they explain that he was using the RTL-SDR as part of his investigation for monitoring air traffic to Libya in an attempt to link flights against violations of the arms embargo. 

As Kartas' business in Tunisia was to present his findings on the arms embargo violations, other experts believe that the arrest is politically motivated, and that ownership of the RTL-SDR for espionage is simply being used as an excuse. However, while the investigation continues Kartas remains in jail, and in Tunisia a charge of espionage could be punishable by death. As Kartas holds UN diplomatic immunity, and as Tunisia is a member of the UN, the arrest and detainment is seen as illegal.

We hope that Kartas is safe and will be released soon. If you want to keep an eye on his story, there is a Twitter account called "Free Moncef Kartas" @FreeMoncefK that appears to be posting news articles and tweets about his arrest.

Human Rights Watch Denounces the arrest of Moncef Kartas
Human Rights Watch Denounces the arrest of Moncef Kartas [Photo Source]

The 2019 New England Workshop for SDR

The New England Workshop on Software Defined Radio (NEWSDR) is a yearly conference that hosts multiple SDR related talks. Previously we posted a selection of our favorite 2018 talks which involved topics such as remote sensing of space with SDR, wireless deep learning and multi-objective SDR optimization.

This years NEWSDR event will been held on Jun 13 and 14 at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. They are currently offering pre-registration for free, and are looking for poster presentations.

This year is the 9th iteration of NEWSDR and it will be held at the University of Massachusetts Boston campus on June 13 and 14. Registration is free and we are also accepting submissions for poster presentations and elevator pitches. The event is an excellent networking opportunity and includes technical presentations as well as demonstrations from industry sponsors (Ettus/NI, MathWorks, Analog Devices, and MediaTek).

NEWSDR 2019 Poster
NEWSDR 2019 Poster

LimeNET Micro Now Crowdfunding

Lime Microsystems, creators of the LimeSDR, LimeSDR Mini and LimeNET SDR devices have recently begun crowdfunding for a new product they are calling LimeNET Micro. LimeNET Micro is described as a software defined radio platform with an integrated processor for creating self contained wireless networks. In other words it is a LimeSDR LMS7002M SDR transceiver chip with an included Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3, FPGA, GNSS module, EEPROM and Flash memory attached to it.

The LimeNET Micro is capable of full duplex TX and RX (1 port each) with the typical LimeSDR frequency range of 10 MHz - 3.5 GHz. However a major difference is that the LimeNET Micro is only capable of a 0.27 MHz bandwidth, whereas other LimeSDR products are capable of bandwidths up to 30.72 MHz. One interesting additional feature is that the LimeSDR Micro comes with a GNSS module that can be used to receive GPS/GLONASS etc for high accuracy timing if required.

Some use cases that they envision LimeNET micro being useful for include:

  • Inexpensive enterprise and personal networks
  • Rural, autonomous, and resilient networks
  • Universal IoT communications hubs
  • Rapid deployment infrastructure for emergency response
  • Remote radio solutions for amateur radio and radio astronomy
  • Integration into application-specific RF appliances
  • Radio spectrum survey
  • Passive wireless geolocation
  • PHY and security research
  • RF-aware robotics

The price is $269 USD and this includes a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3. Higher end kits can be purchased which include Acrylic ($399) or Aluminum enclosures ($459).

LimeNET Micro with Raspberry Pi Compute 3 Module attached.
LimeNET Micro with Raspberry Pi Compute 3 Module attached.

KerberosSDR Now Available for Pre-order on Indiegogo

We're happy to announce that KerberosSDR is now available for pre-order on Indiegogo.

As promised we announced the release to KerberosSDR mailing list subscribers first, so that they'd be the first to get the initial discounted early bird units. However due to much higher than expected interest, we have released a few "second early bird" units at a still discounted price of $115 + shipping. We're only going to release 300 of these so get in quick before the price jumps up to $125. Our pre-order campaign will last 30 days, and afterwards the retail price will become $150.

If you weren't already aware, over the past few months we've been working with the engineering team at Othernet.is to create a 4x Coherent RTL-SDR that we're calling KerberosSDR. A coherent RTL-SDR allows you to perform interesting experiments such as RF direction finding, passive radar and beam forming. In conjunction with developer Tamas Peto, we have also had developed open source demo software for the board, which allows you to test direction finding and passive radar. The open source software also provides a good DSP base for extension.

More information available on our KerberosSDR page, and the Indiegogo page.

KerberosSDR with Calibration Board Attached (Metal Enclosure with SMA connectors Not Shown)
KerberosSDR with Calibration Board Attached (Metal Enclosure with SMA connectors Not Shown)
KerberosSDR Main Board (Metal Enclosure with SMA connectors Not Shown)
KerberosSDR Main Board (Metal Enclosure with SMA connectors Not Shown)

New Products in Our Store: Wideband LNA + Spare V3 Metal Enclosures

We've just released two new products in our store. The first is a low cost general purpose wideband LNA and the second is some spare RTL-SDR V3 aluminum enclosures. The wideband LNA is currently available for shipping from our Chinese warehouse and will be available on Amazon in a few days time. It costs US$17.95 including worldwide free shipping. The spare aluminum enclosure is only available from our Chinese warehouse and costs US$5.95.

Please Click Here to Visit our Store

Wideband LNA

The Wideband LNA is based on the Qorvo SPF4189Z LNA chip (datasheet pdf) which has the following declared specs:

  • Frequency range of 50 MHz to 4000 MHz
  • Noise figure = 0.6dB @ 900 MHz
  • OIP3 = 39.5 dBm @ 900 MHz
  • P1 Saturation = 22.7 dBm @ 1960 MHz
  • Gain = 18.7 dB @ 900 MHz

Compared to most of the other SPF5189Z LNAs found on eBay, our wideband LNA comes standard with a full conductive metal case, includes ESD protection on the antenna input, and is by default powered via 3 - 5V bias tee power. Our RTL-SDR Blog V3 dongles have a 4.5V bias tee built in, so they can be used to power this LNA. Direct power can be enabled simply by changing a jumper position, and removing the metal case.

This is a general purpose wideband LNA. It is useful for reducing the noise figure and thus increasing SNR, and for overcoming coax loss on all supported frequencies between 50 - 4000 MHz. However, because it is wideband you may need additional filtering if you have strong overloading signals in your area. If you're mostly interested in improving ADS-B reception, then we instead recommend our Triple Filtered ADS-B LNA which is also available at our store. The specs of the SPF5189Z are similar to that of PGA-103+ or PSA4-5043+ based LNAs. In the image slider below we compare the gain with the LNA4ALL which is a PSA4-5043+ based LNA.

Spare Aluminum Enclosure

The second product is some spare RTL-SDR Blog V3 aluminum enclosure. A few readers of this blog contacted us as they found RTL-SDR V3 enclosures to be a good fit (after being cut down to size) for home made filters, other LNAs and for FlightAware dongles. Our spare enclosures come with two SMA side panels, and one USB side panel. There is only limited stock of this product at the moment. Note that we're not including a thermal pad, since FlightAware dongles do not require additional cooling since they operate at 1.09 GHz. Additional cooling via thermal pad is only needed for stable operation when using RTL-SDRs above ~1.5 GHz.

WidebandLNA_Store
WidebandLNA_PCB_Store
wideband_lna_gain
spare_enclosure_shop
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SDR# Inmarsat Decoder Plugin Now Available

Microp11, the programmer of Scytale-C a standalone Inmarsat decoder has just released a new Inmarsat decoder SDR# plugin. The plugin is currently in the "pre-alpha" stages, so is still missing some functionality and may be buggy. However, it does appear to be functional at this point in time. It can be used with RTL-SDRs, and any other SDR# compatible SDR including units running on remote SpyServers. Microp11 writes:

  • I ran it with SDR# version v1.0.0.1761.
  • If it crashes you SDR# I apologize in advance.
  • The auto-tracking (default on) will alter your SDR# frequency and follow the signal’s CF. When the SNR is very low, please disable it and manually tune the SDR# to try to get the CF as close to 2000 as possible.The demodulator still has plenty ideas of its own.
  • Use USB mode with 4000 Hz bandwidth.
  • For now the interface is missing the usual scatter plots.
  • UDP Address and UDP Port are for sending the decoded frames to the Scytale-C UI.
  • Offset and CF are the difference from zero error and the CF frequency of the demodulated BPSK signal.
  • Tx and SYM are the transmitted over UDP frames and SYM is showing the number of demodulated symbols.
  • A bunch of libraries are attached as extra files. Please be gentle and accept the package as it. Will clean-up in the future.
  • Use in conjunction with the Scytale-C UI from the archive: “x64-UI1.6-Decoder1.4.zip” (link below)
  • The magic line is included in the archive: “SDRSharp.ScytaleC-1.0-alpha.zip”

The files can be downloaded from https://bitbucket.org/scytalec/scytalec/downloads.

SDRSharp Scytale-C Plugin
SDRSharp Scytale-C Plugin

Japanese RTL-SDR Products Now Available for International Shipping on Amazon.co.jp

Thanks to 'Nobu' for letting us know that his RTL-SDR products sold on Amazon.co.jp are now available for international shipping (in Japanese, please use the Google Translated version if needed). Before Amazon.co.jp offered international shipping you had to use a third party Japanese forwarding service in order to purchase his products.

Japan has a strong RTL-SDR scene, with a few small Japanese companies and individuals (including Nobu) selling custom RTL-SDR products on their local Amazon store. Products such as upconverters, galvanic isolators, LNAs, filters, cooling products and more are available. Back in 2015 we reviewed some of these products in a post available here. Since then we've found continued use in particular with the galvanic isolator which helps reduce noise from the computer and nearby electronics at HF frequencies. 

Some Japanese RTL-SDR Products available for International Shipping on Amazon.co.jp
Some Custom Japanese RTL-SDR/RF Products available for International Shipping on Amazon.co.jp

bladeRF 2.0 micro: New 47 MHz – 6 GHz, 56 MHz bandwidth, 2×2 MIMO SDR for $480

Nuand have recently released their new bladeRF 2.0 micro software defined radio. The SDR has a frequency range of 47 MHz to 6 GHz on TX and 70 MHz to 6 GHz on RX, a bandwidth of up to 56 MHz, a 12-bit ADC and has 2 RX and 2 TX radios.

There are two options for sale, the US$480 xA4 version and the US$720 xA9 version. The differences between the two appear to be entirely in the FPGA, with the more expensive version having an FPGA that contains many more logic elements which means that more DSP hardware can be synthesized on it. The RF transceiver chip used is the AD9361, which is the chip used on most high end SDRs like USRP's.

The bladeRF 2.0 micro is the next-generation 2x2 MIMO, 47MHz to 6GHz frequency range, off-the-shelf USB 3.0 Software Defined Radio (SDR) that is easy and affordable for students and RF enthusiasts to explore wireless communications, yet provides a powerful waveform development platform expected by industry professionals.

Support is available for Linux, macOS, and Windows. The bladeRF libraries, utilities, firmware, and platform HDL are released under open source licenses, and schematics are available online. The FPGA and USB 3.0 peripheral controller are programmable using vendor-supplied tools and SDKs that are available online, free of charge.

The bladeRF 2.0 micro features support for: GNU Radio via gr-osmosdr, Pothos via SoapySDR, SDRange, SDR Console, SDR # via sdrsharp-bladeRF, YateBTS, OpenAirInterface, srsUE & srsLTE, MathWorks MATLAB® & Simulink® via libbladeRF bindings.

The bladeRF 2.0 micro
The bladeRF 2.0 micro