Tagged: automatic packet reporting system

IGate2: An RTL-SDR Compatible APRS iGate for Android

Thank you to Agrosi Luciano for submitting news about his new RTL-SDR compatible Android App called "IGate2". IGate2 is a receive only APRS IGate written for Android devices. There is a free and paid version of the app. The free version is limited to 100 packets forwarded per session. The paid version costs US$3.49 and has unlimited packet forwards. The description of the app is pasted below:

The RTL-SDR dongle tuner (cost starting from 10 €) and its antenna, receives the information contained in APRS packets transmitted from HAM radio stations, and then a phone device, with IGate2, forwards them to the world wide web using its internet connection (WiFi or 3G).

IGate2 acts as a Software Defined Radio Demodulator, a TNC Modem and an Internet Gate.

It needs the installation of a driver (Martin Marinov’s driver) for the SDR dongle that you can find in: https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=Martin+Marinov.

If you already own an unused cellular phone or tablet, IGate2 represents a very cheap, compact and easy-to-use solution for suppling an IGATE service to radio amateur community.

Raw data contained in radio packets are visible on the phone screen and may be routed (if you check this option) to the APRS-IS network. All data convoyed and shared in APRS-IS network can be seen in maps and bulletins on particular websites, for example: http://aprs.fi/ .

To be authorized to send data to APRS-IS you must have a HAM CallSign and a PassCode. See aprs-is.net. If you are not a radio amateur, you may only use your equipment in receive only mode.
The app has an audio monitor useful for tuning the parameters of the Sdr receiver (it may not work well in old devices with low memory). In the main page there is a frequency switch, a hub with the text of received packets, two indicator lights: one for the Sdr connection and one for the Aprs-Is connection, three counters reporting the number of: received, forwardable and forwarded packets. When you leave the main page while the IGate is running, the app service will continue working in the background, you can recall the main page by tapping the service icon in the android status bar.

Since the device and the Sdr dongle drains much power from the phone battery, it is recommended to use the phone charger or a power bank. You will need an OTG power cable. It is not easy to find a working cable, maybe you can do it yourself. The reception quality of the IGate depends, above all, on the antenna connected to the Sdr dongle. With very strong FM broadcasts in your area, it may be helpful to manually adjust the gain of the receiver or use a band-stop filter.

If you weren't already aware, Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) is a digital VHF mode used in amateur radio. It allows for packets of data to be sent to receiving nodes over a local area via RF. Typical uses for it are vehicle tracking, weather station telemetry, text messages, announcements and other wireless device telemetry like high altitude balloons. An IGate is an internet connected node which receives local APRS RF signals and uploads them to the internet, to be seen on sites like aprs.fi. TX capable IGates may also broadcast to the local RF network messages from APRS transmitters on the other side of the world.

IGate2: Android App that turns your phone and RTL-SDR into an APRS IGate.
IGate2: Android App that turns your phone and RTL-SDR into an APRS IGate.


PyPacket: An APRS iGate For Your RTL-SDR

[Pypacket] was developed by GitHub user [cceremuga] and allows you to take advantage of a Linux computer (such as a Raspberry Pi) and an RTL-SDR to quickly and easily build your own APRS iGate.

For those not familiar with APRS, it stands for the [Automatic Packet Reporting System] and is used by amateur radio operators for applications like transferring messages and location data over RF networks and the internet. The internet connection is where an iGate comes into play. An iGate is used to connect an APRS RF network to the internet, so that many isolated RF APRS networks can communicate worldwide. Furthermore this software can be configured as a “SatGate”, which like an APRS iGate will take messages from APRS satellite’s and route them over the internet.

For example, you could have an amateur radio vehicle continually transmitting it’s location via RF to an APRS iGate. The vehicles position can then be viewed online on an APRS aggregation site like aprs.fi, or it could be re-transmitted over RF elsewhere in the world.

An iGate is usually accomplished by using a ham radio tuned to the local APRS frequency (or sat frequency) and then special PC software is configured to gate the messages.  However, with the release of PyPacket the amount of work and cost required to setup an iGate has been cut drastically. 

A Pre-Built Raspberry Pi Image for using an RTL-SDR as an APRS RX iGate

Keith Maton (G6NHU) wrote in and wanted to share his new ready to go APRS RX iGate image for the Raspberry Pi. APRS stands for “Amateur Packet Reporting System”, and is a type of packet radio communications system used by Amateur Radio operators. They often use them to transmit short mail messages, weather sensor updates, track vehicles and for various other purposes. An iGate allows APRS messages to be transmitted over the all world via the internet via a signal chain such as: RF->iGate RX->Internet->iGate TX->RF.  To run an iGate you should be a radio amateur with a callsign. A global aggregation of APRS broadcasts received by iGates can be seen at aprs.fi.

An RTL-SDR can be used to receive APRS packets easily and many amateur radio enthusiasts have been setting up APRS RX only iGates using the “direwolf” decoding software. Keith’s image simplifies the process of installing and configuring software significantly by proving a plug and play image that you just burn to an SDcard and plug into your Raspberry Pi. His post also explains how to configure the iGate correctly.

iGate Raspberry Pi Image Running
iGate Raspberry Pi Image Running

Solving APRS Interference Issues with a Bandpass Filter and Coax Notches

John, DK9JC N1JJC wanted to set up an RTL-SDR APRS packet iGate. APRS stands for “Amateur Packet Reporting System”, and is a type of packet radio communications system used by Amateur Radio operators. They often use them to transmit short messages, weather sensor updates, and for vehicle tracking. An iGate allows APRS messages to be transmitted over the all world via the internet like so RF->iGate RX->Internet->iGate TX->RF.

When trying to receive the APRS packets John discovered a problem. He discovered that there was a very strong 100kW broadcast FM and 50kW DAB transmitter on a transmission tower in line of sight of his antenna. The strong signals were overloading the dongle and completely wiping out the APRS packets that he was trying to receive at 144.8 MHz.

First John tried a simple bandpass filter with 0.8 dB insertion loss and 20dB attenuation. The filter still wasn’t enough, so he went and made a several coax notch filters to take out each of the interfering signals. A coax notch filter is simply a length of coax connected via a “T” junction to the main coax cable. This creates a notch of attenuation at a frequency depending on the length of the notching coax. With these notches combined with the bandpass filter he was finally able to receive APRS packets.

A coax notch filter
A coax notch filter

Setting up a Raspberry Pi based APRS RX IGate with an RTL-SDR

Recently amateur radio hobbyist WB20SZ wrote in to us to let us know about his work with creating an easy to build receive only APRS internet gateway (IGate) with a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR dongle. The process involves using WB20SZ’s “Dire Wolf” software which is a free Linux based APRS encoder/decoder. He writes that it can be used to observe APRS traffic, as a digipeater, APRStt gateway or Internet Gateway (IGate). Setting up the APRS IGate is a simple matter of piping the received APRS audio from rtl_fm into the direwolf software. Instructions for installing direwolf can be found here.

APRS stands for Automatic Packet Reporting System and is a packet radio protocol used by radio amateurs to broadcast real time data such as messages, announcements, weather station reports and sometimes the location of vehicles. If an APRS station has a GPS attached to it, the broadcasts will also contain the GPS coordinates. Internet Gateways or IGates are repeaters that are used to receive messages from a local radio and pass them on via the internet to a transmit capable IGate repeater anywhere in the world. To run an IGate you should be a radio amateur with a callsign. A global aggregation of APRS broadcasts received by IGates can be seen at aprs.fi.

Various APRS messages seen on aprs.fi
Various APRS messages seen on aprs.fi

Using Xastir with the RTL-SDR

Xastir is a Linux based program that is used for plotting Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) data on a map. APRS is is type of packet radio system used by ham radio for real time local area digital communications. It is often used for sending messages, plotting positions on a map or providing weather station data.

Over on his blog, KJ6VVZ’s has uploaded a post showing how he was able to get the RTL-SDR working with Xastir. He uses rtl_fm piped into MultimonNG for the APRS decoding and then sends the decoded APRS information to Xastir via a FIFO buffer.

Xastir Message Log
Xastir Message Log

Decoding APRS with SDR#, APRSISCE32 and an RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube user k2nccvids has posted a video showing how he was able to decode APRS signals and plot them on a map using APRSISCE32. APRSISCE32 is an advanced Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) decoder which has mapping capabilities and can also connect to the internet as an iGate. APRS is used by amateur radio hobbyists to send data like messages, announcements and also GPS coordinates.