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.
Decoding FT8 with a RTL-SDR (Software defined Radio)
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)
Band filter (optional but recommended)
HF antenna (this could be as simple as a long wire)
QRSS is a ham communications mode that is essentially just very slow CW (morse code), with each dash/dot being broadcast for a number of seconds. With QRSS instead of audibly decoding the morse code signal, it is decoded visually via a spectrum display (or automatically by software). It is designed to be a QRP mode, which means that hams transmitting QRSS can be heard all over the world even though very low transmit power is used.
QrssPiG is a QRSS grabber program that runs headless on a Raspberry Pi and can interface with an RTL-SDR. It automatically generates the waterfall graphs of received QRSS images, and supports uploading them via SCP or FTP. The software can also run with a HackRF, or via audio piping from another SDR or standard hardware radio.
Recently on Twitter @ON4CDJ has been trying QrssPiG with an RTL-SDR V3 and has been having good results.