Tagged: noise

Generating White Noise with an FL2K Dongle

The FL2K project allows us to turn a cheap USB 3.0 dongle into a fully transmit capable SDR (filters still required for high power work). We have posted about the FL2k project several times on this blog since early 2018.

Recently we thank reader Mikael for submitting a fork of the Osmo-FL2K driver code which he writes enables it to generate white noise with uniform amplitude distribution. This could be useful for projects that require a wideband noise source such as when attempting to measure filter and VSWR of antennas.

IK1XPV, author of the code notes that the current code is only tested on the Windows driver branch, via compilation on Visual Studio 2019 at the moment. The main contributed code can be found in \src\fl2k_noise.c.

FL2K Test Hardware
An FL2k Dongle connected to an RTL-SDR via VGA to BNC Breakout Cable and Attenuators

Reducing HF Electrical Noise by Using a Faraday Cage for Switch-Mode Power Supplies

Over on his blog, DXer OH2-2192 was frustrated by lots of local electrical noise showing up on the HF bands on his Airspy + Spyverter SDR receiver. He discovered that the majority of the noise he was seeing was coming from the switch mode power supplies that power the electronic devices used in his setup. Switch mode power supplies are very common in the modern world, with almost every electronic device using one to efficiently convert wall AC into DC power. However, they convert power by rapidly switching on and off, and these on/off square wave pulses cause a lot of RF noise especially on the HF spectrum.

Instead of changing to noise free linear regulators which are expensive, very heavy and big, OH2-2192 decided that he'd try creating a Faraday cage shield out of metal mesh to enclose all his switch-mode power supplies. Using a simple AM loop antenna and Airspy's Spectrum Spy software he measured the amount of noise produced by a switch-mode supply placed inside and outside of the cage. The results he saw were very promising with the shielded supply eliminating the noise almost entirely.

Faraday Cage Shield for Switch Mode Power Supplies
Faraday Cage Shield for Switch Mode Power Supplies (Right image shows the results of a switching supply placed outside and inside the Faraday cage)

Identifying Noise Sources in the Shack using an SDR and an Active Receive Loop

Over on YouTube user SignalSearch has uploaded a video showing how he uses an active magnetic loop antenna indoors to identify local noise sources. Magnetic loop antennas are directional, meaning that they receive best when pointing towards a signal. This means that they also receive noise better when pointed at a noise source.  In the video SignalSearch uses a W6LVP receive loop antenna and demonstrates noise being emitted from his lightbulb, and from a plug in Ethernet over powerline adapter, which are known to be huge sources of HF noise.

If you are interested in the noise produced by these Ethernet over powerline adapters then we did a previous post on this problem over here.

Showing what Solar Power Inverter Interference Looks Like

Over on YouTube user ALI6359 has uploaded a video showing what severe interference from a neighbors poor quality solar power inverter looks like on his RTL-SDR dongle. An inverter converts the DC power produced by solar panels into AC power which is used by common household equipment. Inverters typically use switching techniques to convert the power, and this can cause RF noise if the inverter is poorly designed and not shielded.

In the video ALI6359 shows strong interference all across the VHF spectrum. He also writes in the video description that the interference also occurs all over the entire HF band. He writes:

This is what happens if you or your neighbours install a dodgy quality solar power system. i am using a uhf phased array antenna facing away from the source of interferance but i am picking up very strong interferance. just touching the antenna connector of the rtlsdr is enough for the interferance to show up. i once had a HF upconverter (stopped working now) it used to show very strong interferance through the enitre HF band. the solar inverter certainly fails the part 15 FCC requirements.

In a previous post we also showed how interference from Ethernet over powerline adapters can destroy the entire HF band as well.

HamRadioScience: Why Apple’s iMac May be the Best PC for SDR Applications

Over on on the HamRadioScience blog, the author has uploaded an article that makes the case on why Apple iMac PC’s may be the best choice for SDR receivers (at least for HF frequencies). In the testing he uses an SDRplay and Elad FM-Duo to show that the plastic case of the SDRplay does not affect the picked up RFI. He shows that when the SDR’s are connected to an iMac the interference from RFI on HF frequencies is minimal. However when connected to a Core i5 PC, there is significant amounts of CPU and monitor noise generated.

The differences in generated noise probably come from the fact that the iMac is probably much better shielded with an aluminum case and that they have high build quality standards for their monitors. The author suggests that an alternative to using an iMac could be to build your own PC, ensuring that dual chamber metal enclosures are used, which ensures that the power supply is isolated in its own separate steel compartment.

RFI is visible with the SDRplay in SDRuno when using the PC. But no RFI is seen with the iMac.
RFI is visible with the SDRplay in SDRuno when using the PC. But no RFI is seen with the iMac.

CANFI: Cheap Automatic Noise Figure Indicator Updated to V2.7

Back in July 2014 we posted about the CANFI (Cheap Automatic Noise Figure Indicator) system. The CANFI system is a set of hardware components that include an RTL-SDR and a corresponding software program for control. Back then the CANFI system only supported E4000 dongles. However, recently CANFI was updated to version 2.7 and now supports the R820T/2 tuners as well. The documentation has also been heavily improved. The authors of CANFI introduce their system as follows:

One of the main tasks for an experimenting microwave amateur is to measure the Gain (G) and Noise Figure (NF) of a particular receiving device. For this one will need a Noise Figure Indicator and a (calibrated) Noise Source.

There are a number of commercial devices available from different vendors at prices which will exceed an amateur’s budget by many times. A lot of them can be found on the surplus market but this doesn’t help very much. A combination of both meter and noise source is barely sold below the 2.000€ margin.

Since a lot of cheap DVB – T sticks became available the idea was born to use it together with a homebrew noise source as a very cheap alternative to commercial devices [1]. It is now possible to build a suitable solution within a budget of 100 – 200€. Using a PC with USB port for communication and power supply such a device is very compact and almost compatible to an industrial solution. Special software gives a convenient user interface. Last not least you can reuse the DVB-T stick (together with the preamplifier) as a sensitive receiver along with SDR software.

To create a CANFI system you will need an RTL-SDR, a MGZ 30889 preamp, a noise source, a 28V boost converter to power the noise source and a serial to USB converter to control the noise source.


Updates to the Power Line Noise Detector “Driveby” System

A few days ago we posted about Tim Havens “driveby” project, which is a RTL-SDR based system he developed to help create heatmaps of power line noise in his neighborhood. Upon doing further research, Tim discovered that the main source of power line interference was appearing at a frequency of 44.252 MHz. Then by using his driveby system to create a heatmap of his area at this frequency and also by using a hand held radio he was able to pinpoint a massive source of power line noise.

The noise appears to be coming from a faulty and unsafe power pole near a local school. He writes that the power poles primary ground line has been severed and that a wire from the AC line is simply dangling in the air, ready to be grabbed by school children.

Heatmap showing sources of powerline interference
Heatmap showing sources of powerline interference
The faulty power pole
The faulty power pole with dangling AC line
Severed grounding line
Severed grounding line

Measuring Power Line Noise in the Neighbourhood with the RTL-SDR “Driveby” System

Over the last few months Tim Havens has been developing a portable RTL-SDR based scanner that he intends to use for geo-tagged noise floor readings. He hopes to use such a system to map sources of RF noise related to power lines so that he can contact his power company to resolve them.

Tim’s system uses a powerful Odroid XU3 which is a Linux based mini embedded computer that sells for $179 USD. The Odroid XU3 has dual quad core ARM CPUs which is enough power to run rtl_power with 5 RTL-SDR dongles simultaneously. Rtl_power is an RTL-SDR tool which allows you to scan and record the power levels in the frequency spectrum. By using 5 dongles he is able to scan the 49 MHz, 50 MHz, 144 MHz, 222 MHz and 432 MHz bands simultaneously.

From a previous post Tim writes:

The idea behind this project is to be able to MAP real-world Geo-tagged noise floor readings.  This can be used for the primary purpose I intended for this application (mapping of problematic sources of RF Noise related to power lines in the area so that I can approach the local power company to resolve them) or any other sort of RF signal MAPPING.  Such as cellphone/cellsite coverage or FM broadcast coverage (and dead spots) among other things.

RTL dongles are CHEAP, and reliable, although not 100% stable (they drift a bit for the first 5 minutes of warm up) they can be used to measure changes in the RF Noise Floor (once warmed up).  While they don’t really seem to be able to be calibrated to anything less than -87db all we’re really looking for are relative changes to the noise floor while driving around a particular location (there is probably some complex math that could applied to these measurements that could be calibrated).  So for this project these inexpensive receivers are really just fine.

While rtl_power is scanning, the Odroid uses a GPS receiver to tag the timestamped noise readings with GPS coordinates. Then by driving around with the system and combining the GPS coordinates with the noise floor readings from rtl_power he is able to create a heatmap showing exactly where in his neighbourhood noise levels peak, indicating a power line RF noise problem to be fixed by the power company.

Some more information about the hardware build of his system can be found on a previous post.

Powerline Noise Mapped with RTL-SDRs and GPS
Powerline Noise Heat Mapped with RTL-SDRs and GPS Logging
The Insides of the Driveby System
The insides of the driveby system

Tim also has uploaded a video to YouTube showing his system running a stationary test demonstrating the hardware and some of his custom software before everything was boxed up.

Driveby App stationary test