Tech YouTuber Lon.TV has recently uploaded a video demonstrating how to identify and decode various digital transmissions with an RTL-SDR dongle. In the video he explains how to use VB Cable to pipe audio from SDR# into various decoders, and then goes on to show DMR, APRS, POCSAG, L-Band AERO, FT8, and JS8/JS8CALL all being decoded via an RTL-SDR Blog V3 dongle.
DragonOS is a ready to use Ubuntu Linux image that comes preinstalled with multiple SDR program. The creator of DragonOS, Aaron, uploads various YouTube tutorials showing how to use some of the preinstalled software. This month one of his tutorials covers how to use a SDRplay RSP1A or a HackRF to receive and decode FT8 with the preinstalled software WSJT-X or JS8Call. Aaron also notes that an RTL-SDR could also be used as the SDR.
In the video he covers how to set up a virtual audio cable sink in Linux for getting audio from GQRX into WSJT-X, setting up rigctld to allow WSJT-X to control GQRX, configuring GQRX, CubicSDR and WSJT-X, and finally downloading and using GridTracker.
Eric had an inverted L and T3FD antenna set up in his backyard and he wanted to test both at the same time to see which received HF better overall. Rather than relying on subjective 'by ear' measurements he decided to use the digital FT8 mode as his comparison signal. FT8 is quite useful for this purpose as the decoded data includes a calculated signal-to-noise (SNR) reading which is a non subjective measure that can be used for comparisons. It also contains information about the location of the signal which can be used for determining the DX capability of the antenna.
To perform the comparison he used two or our RTL-SDR Blog V3 dongles running in direct sampling mode, and also added an additional low pass filter to prevent excessively strong TV and FM signals from overloading the input. Each antenna is connected to it's own RTL-SDR, and a modified version of GQRX with remote UDP control is used to switch between multiple FT8 frequencies so that multiple bands can be covered in the experiment. WSJT-X is used for decoding the FT8 packets.
After logging SNR values for several days he was able to plot and compare the number of packets received by each antenna, the maximum distance received by each antenna. His results showed that his inverted L antenna was best in both regards. He then performed a relative comparison with the SNR readings and found that the inverted L performed best apart from at 14 MHz, where the T3FD performed better.
In further tests he also compared the antennas on which signal headings they were receiving best from. The results showed that Erics inverted L was receiving best from one direction only, whereas the T3FD received signals from more headings.
Eric's post includes full instructions on the software setup and also Python code which can be used to replicate his experiments. We think that this is a great way to objectively compare two types of antennas.
Over on YouTube TechMinds has posted his latest video which shows an overview of the features available in OpenWebRX, and also how to set it up on a Raspberry Pi. OpenWebRX is software which allows you to access your SDR remotely via the internet or local network through a web browser. All major SDRs are supported including RTL-SDRs. The software includes a waterfall display, all the standard demodulators, as well as several digital decoders for DMR, YSF, NXDN, D-Star, POCSAG, APRS, FT8, FT4, WSPR, JT65 and JT9.
In the video TechMinds first demonstrates OpenWebRX in action, showing reception of HF SSB amateur radio signals, decoding FT8 and plotting received grids on a map, decoding and plotting APRS on a map and decoding YSF/DSTAR/DMR digital voice. After this demonstration he goes on to show how to set up the OpenWebRX server on a Raspberry Pi via the installation image.
Over on YouTube user ModernHam has uploaded a useful tutorial showing how to use our RTL-SDR Blog V3 dongles for FT8 monitoring. The RTL-SDR Blog V3 has a built in direct sampling circuit which allows for reception of HF signals without the need for any upconverter. FT8 is an amateur radio weak signal digital communications mode which can be received all around the world even with low transmit power.
In his setup he uses SDR# and Virtual Audio Cable to pipe audio to the WSJT-X decoder. His video goes through all the steps and settings that need to be set and then shows a demo of some signals being received. ModernHam also has another video uploaded a few days earlier which is a more general introduction to FT8 decoding.
If you're interested we uploaded a tutorial last year that shows how to set up a Raspberry Pi 3 based FT8 decoding station with a V3 dongle.
Over on YouTube user TheGazLab has uploaded a video that reviews the Airspy HF+, and also shows how to use the HF+ with SDR# and WSJT-X in order to create a FT8 monitor. The Airspy HF+ is high dynamic range HF/VHF receiver designed for DXing.
In the video TheGazLab demonstrates to us the decoding in real time, and explains the CAT control SDR# plugin that he's using. The CAT control plugin when combined with a virtual serial port driver allows the WSJT-X program to automatically tune SDR# to the FT8 frequency selected in WSJT-X.
Later in the video he also discusses the SpyServer network which allows SDR# users to connect to remote public Airspy and RTL-SDR units over the internet. He demonstrates connecting to a public server in the UK, and decoding FT8 via the remote server. The video also shows the new SpyServer interface by @zakhttp which nicely lays out the world SpyServer network on a map, making it easy to choose a desired location to listen to.
QRP is amateur radio slang for 'low transmit power'. QRP digital modes such as FT8, JT9, JT65 and WSPR are modes designed to be transmit and received across the world on low transmit powers (although not everyone uses only low power). The special design of these modes allows even weak signals to be decodable by the receiving software. Released in 2017, FT8 has shown itself to now be the most popular mode by far with JT9 and JT65 taking a backseat. WSPR is also not as active as FT8, although WSPR is more of a beacon mode rather one used for making contacts.
Apart from being used by hams to make contacts, these weak signal modes are also valuable indicators of the current HF propagation conditions. Each packet contains information on the location of the transmitter, so you can see where and how far away the packet you've received comes from. You also don't need to be a ham to set up a monitoring station. As an SWL (shortwave listener), it can be quite interesting to simply see how far away you can receive from, and how many countries in the world you can 'collect' signals from.
This tutorial is inspired by dg0opk's videos and blog post on monitoring QRP with single board computers. We'll show you how to set up a super cheap QRP monitoring station using an RTL-SDR V3 and a Raspberry Pi 3. The total cost should be about US $56 ($21 for the RTL-SDR V3, and $35 for the Pi 3).
With this setup you'll be able to continuously monitor multiple modes within the same band simultaneously (e.g. monitor 20 meter FT8, JT65+JT9 and WSPR all on one dongle at the same time). The method for creating multiple channels in Linux may also be useful for other applications. If you happen to have an upconverter or a better SDR to dedicate to monitoring such as an SDRplay or an Airspy HF+, then this can substitute for the RTL-SDR V3 as well. The parts you'll need are as follows:
- RTL-SDR V3 (or upconverter, or other HF & Linux capable SDR)
- Raspberry Pi 3 (or other SBC with similar performance)
- Internet connection
- Band filter (optional but recommended)
- HF antenna (this could be as simple as a long wire)
Examples of QRP Receivers with an RTL-SDR
One week of #FT8 monitoring with the @rtlsdrblog V3 dongle using direct sampling on 30m with a 90ft longwire. 3151 unique calls, 2836 grids and 86 countries. ADIF from #pskreporter and mapped with @GridTracker . pic.twitter.com/1c826gDoce— Johnny (@cuoops) June 15, 2018
Thank you to Michael (dg0opk) who wrote in and wanted to share details of his full SDR monitoring system for weak signal HF modes. His setup consists of nine ARM mini PCs (such as Banana Pi's, Raspberry Pi's, and Odroid's), several SDRs including multiple RTL-SDR's, an Airspy Mini, FunCube Dongle and SDR-IQ, as well as some filters and a wideband amp. For software he uses Linrad or GQRX as the receiver, and WSJTx or JTDX as the decoding software, all running on Linux.
Michael also notes that his Bananapi FT8, JT65 and JT9 SDR monitor has been up and stably running continuously for half a year now. Bananapi's are lower cost alternatives to the well known Raspberry Pi single board computers, so it's good to note that a permanent weak signal monitoring system can be set up on a very low budget. Presumably even cheaper Orange Pi's would also work well.
With his setup he is able to continuously monitor FT8, JT65 and JT9 on multiple bands simultaneously without needing to tie up more expensive ham radios. His results can be seen on PSKReporter. A video of his RTL-SDR Raspberry Pi 3 decoding FT8, JT65 and JT9 can be found here.