The FlightAware team have today announced the release of the “ProStick”, an RTL-SDR dongle that they write has been modified for improved ADS-B reception. The new FlightAware RTL-SDR’s main defining feature is that it comes with a built in low noise amplifier (LNA) on the front end. The built in LNA is optimized for the ADS-B frequency of 1090 MHz and has 19 dB of gain with a 0.4 dB noise figure and an OIP3 of +39dB. They claim that the new unit will give a 20-100% performance boost in terms of range for Mode S reception when compared to a standard RTL-SDR.
As the increased gain and amplifier non-linearities can cause overload and intermodulation to more easily occur, the FlightAware team stresses that you must use the new device with a 1090 MHz filter, such as their FlightAware filter. In a previous post we reviewed the FlightAware filter and antenna and found that they performed very well and are great value for money.
The new unit is priced cheaply at $16.95 + shipping on Amazon for US buyers, and $24.95 + shipping on eBay for international buyers.
So far we haven’t seen any circuit photos or news about which LNA chip has been used, but we intend buy a unit and do a review when it arrives.
One criticism about this unit that we can already see is that it should be understood that good RF design teaches us to always place the LNA as close to the antenna as possible to overcome cable loss and keep the noise figure low. Placing the LNA at the antenna vs at the receiver makes a huge difference in performance, depending on how long and lossy your coax cable run is. Furthermore, integrating an LNA into the receiver ruins the system for optimal performance with an LNA placed by the antenna due to the reduced linearity caused by the additional internal LNA. The post at http://ava.upuaut.net/?p=836 explains optimal LNA placement very well. We think that perhaps selling an external LNA and bias tee module would have been a significantly better idea to optimize ADS-B reception. However, the additional LNA should help to reduce the noise figure of the dongle by a few dBs which will result in improved ADS-B reception as long as signal saturation does not occur.