Tagged: rtl-sdr

Meteor Logger: A Tool for Counting Meteor Detections with an RTL-SDR

Thanks to Wolfgang Kaufmann for submitting news about his new software called ‘Meteor Logger’. This tool can be used to count the number of meteors entering the atmosphere which have been detected by a meteor scatter setup using an RTL-SDR or similar SDR.

Wolfgang writes about his software:

I have developed a new piece of software “Meteor Logger” to detect and log radio meteors from the digital audio stream of a PC-soundcard. It is based on Python 3. It is addressed to those meteor enthusiasts who want get the most information out of forward scattering of radio waves off meteor trails. “Meteor Logger” do not display spectrograms, it delivers an instantaneous and continuous numerical output of the detected signal with a high time resolution of about 11 ms. Thereby a radio meteor signal is not detected on the basis of an amplitude threshold but on its signature in the frequency domain. “Meteor Logger” has a built in auto notch function that may be helpful in case of a persistent strong interference line. From these data not only hourly count rates can be derived but it is also possible to easily study power profiles of meteors as well as Doppler shifts of head echoes.

As receiving front end a RTL-SDR is fine, if you strive after a very high signal resolution you may use a Funcube Dongle Pro. I employed SDR# to run the RTL-SDR. GRAVES-radar is used as transmitter. The added screenshot shows this setup together with “Meteor Logger”.

Additionally I wrote an also Python 3 based post processing software “Process Data” that allows for clearing the raw data, viewing and analysing them and exporting them in different ways (e.g. as RMOB-file for opening with “Cologramme Lab” of Pierre Terrier, see added screenshot).

Everything else you may find on my website http://www.ars-electromagnetica.de/robs/download.html

Meteor Logger
Meteor Logger

Meteor scatter works by receiving a distant but powerful transmitter via reflections off the trails of ionized air that meteors leave behind when they enter the atmosphere. Normally the transmitter would be too far away to receive, but if its able to bounce off the ionized trail in the sky it can reach far over the horizon to your receiver. Typically powerful broadcast FM radio stations, analog TV, and radar signals at around 140 MHz are used. Some amateur radio enthusiasts also use this phenomena as a long range VHF communications tool with their own transmitted signals. See the website www.livemeteors.com for a livestream of a permanently set up RTL-SDR meteor detector.

Testing the Prototype Outernet Patch Antenna with Built in RTL-SDR

A few months ago satellite data broadcasting company Outernet created a limited number of prototype receivers that combined an L-band satellite patch antenna, LNA and RTL-SDR into a signal unit. This was never produced in bulk as they found it to be too noisy having the RTL-SDR so close to the antenna, but nevertheless it still worked fairly well.

Over on YouTube max30max31 bought one of these prototype units and made a video about using it for receiving and decoding various L-band satellite signals. In the video he first shows an overview of the product and then shows it receiving and/or decoding some signals like Inmarsat STD-C, AERO and Inmarsat MFSK.

Tom’s Radio Room Show Tests the RTL-SDR Blog Broadcast AM Filter

Over on YouTube Tom from Tom’s Radio Radio Room Show (TRRS) has uploaded a video showing the effectiveness of our broadcast AM (BCAM) filters for cleaning up HF reception. In the video he uses an RSP1 to receive the WWV time signal at 5 MHz and shows that there is some AM signals mixing into the audio. After connecting the BCAM filter the AM signal is gone and WWV comes in clearer.

Showing what VOR and ILS Aviation Signals Look like in SDR#

Over on YouTube user RedWhiteandPew has uploaded two videos showing what VOR and ILS signals look like in SDR# with an RTL-SDR dongle. VOR and ILS are both radio signals used for navigation in aviation. 

VOR stands for VHF Omnidirectional Range and is a way to help aircraft navigate by using fixed ground based beacons. The beacons are specially designed in such a way that the aircraft can use the beacon to determine a bearing towards the VOR transmitter. VOR beacons are found between 108 MHz and 117.95 MHz.

RedWhiteandPew writes:

Here I am picking up the VOR beacon from KSJC. The coolest part is at the end of the video. I believe the signal moving back and forth is caused by the Doppler effect, because VORs transmit their signals in a circular pattern. The VOR wiki article has a GIF that shows how it works here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VHF_omn…. If you play and pause the video at different points before I zoom in, you can see that the two signals on the side are the opposite phase.

ILS stands for Instrument Landing System and is a radio system that enables aircraft to land on a runway safely even without visual contact. It works by using highly directional antennas to create four directional lobes (two in the horizontal plane, two in the vertical) that are used to try and ensure the aircraft is centered and leveled on the approach correctly. The ILS frequencies are at 108.1 – 111.95 MHz for the horizontal ‘localizer’, and at 329.15-335.0 MHz for the vertical ‘glide slope’.

RedWhiteandPew writes:

Here I have tuned into one of KSJC’s ILS frequencies. You are able to hear the faint identifier beeping transmitting its ISL ID code which is ISJC. For comparison, I used to morse code translator website.

The reason I am hearing ISJC and not ISLV even though they are on the same frequency is because the localizers transmitting the signal are directional along the length of the runway. Since I am located to the south east of the airport, and I am within its transmitting beam, I am able to listen to it on a scanner.

If you’re interested in these signals then this previous post about actually decoding them might be of interest to you.

Visualizing the Traveled Path of a Weather Balloon, Tanker Boat and Gliders with an RTL-SDR and CesiumJS

Over on YouTube user pascal poulain has uploaded a short video that shows a timelapse of the flight path of a weather balloon in Cesiumjs as it rises and falls, as well as a time lapse of a marine tanker docking, with the signals received with an RTL-SDR. In a third video pascal also shows a visualization of glider flights tracked via FLARM and the Open Glider Network which also obtains most of it’s data through RTL-SDR contributors.

Cesiumjs is a tool similar to Google Earth. The main difference is that it works on a wider array of devices through a web browser without the need for any plugins. It is often used for visualizing data on the globe. An example of some of its many demos can be found here.

We’re not sure what tools pascal used, but over on GitHub there is a tool called airtrack which can be used together with dump1090 to display flights in real time on Cesiumjs.

Localizing Transmitters to within a few meters with TDOA and RTL-SDR Dongles

Back in August we posted a number of videos from the Software Defined Radio Academy talks held this year in Friedrichshafen, Germany. One of those talks was by Stefan Scholl, DC9ST and titled Introduction and Experiments on Transmitter Localization with TDOA. This was a very interesting talk that showed how Stefan has been using three RTL-SDR + Raspberry Pi setups to locate the almost exact position of various transmitters with time difference of arrival (TDOA) techniques. TDOA works by setting up at least three receivers spread apart by some distance. Due to the speed of radio propagation, the transmitted signal will arrive at each receiver at a different time allowing the physical origin point of the signal to be calculated.

Now over on his blog Stefan has created a very nice writeup of his work with RTL-SDRs and TDOA that is definitely worth a good read. He first explains the basics of how TDOA actually works, and then goes on to explain how his RTL-SDR based system works. He discusses the important challenges such as transferring the raw data, synchronizing the receivers in time and the signal processing required. 

Stefans TDOA System
Stefans TDOA System

He tested the system on various transmitters including a DMR signal at 439 MHz, a mobile phone signal at 922 MHz, an FM signal at 96.9 MHz and an unknown signal at 391 MHz. The results were all extremely accurate, locating transmitters with an accuracy of up to a few meters.

Stefan has also uploaded all his MATLAB code onto GitHub.

Example localization of a DMR transmitter
Example localization of a DMR transmitter
Localizing the position of a mobile phone base station (Stars indicate known base stations)
Localizing the position of a mobile phone base station (Stars indicate known base stations)

Comparing SSB, NFM, Codec2 and Opus with QRadioLink and an RTL-SDR

Earlier in the month we posted about Adrian M’s video that showed his QRadioLink software running on Android with an RTL-SDR. QRadioLink is a digital amateur radio voice decoder and encoder, that currently supports modern digital voice codecs like Codec2 and Opus. It’s compatible with a wide range of SDRs including the RTL-SDR, as well as TX capable SDRs for transmitting.

Over on YouTube Adrian M has recently uploaded a new video showing a comparison of QRadioLink receiving SSB, NFM, Codec2 and Opus voice signals at the same initial power levels. The results show that the digital modes are generally much clearer and static free even at low TX levels. He writes:

The Linux SDR transceiver application QRadioLink uses here an RTL-SDR dongle for reception. The QRadioLink transmit chain is using an USRP B200 with output power set at about half the maximum. The Codec2 digital mode works down to a low CNR (6 dB) where even SSB is hard to copy. The Opus mode provides good voice quality at a level where analog narrow FM is noisy.
The code for QRadioLink is fully open-source, licensed under GPLv3, and can be found on Github, where it’s undergoing development. Bug reports, patches and suggestions are welcome.

QRadioLink is available over on GitHub.

Using our new Dipole Antenna Kit

Over on our store we’ve recently released our new receive only dipole antenna kit which now replaces the older magnetic whip style antennas from the previous kit. This was done for a few reasons including 1) We believe that the dipole kit is much more versatile and will enable beginners to get better reception right of the bat, 2) magnets of any type are no longer welcome on most airmail parcel carriers (though they still get through for now). While the magnetic whip still works perfectly fine, the dipole kit should make it easier to get the antenna outside, and it also allows for a simple v-dipole configuration for satellite reception.

The units are currently in stock at our Chinese warehouse either bundled with an RTL-SDR or as an individual antenna set. The individual antenna set only has a small quantity at the moment, so get in quick if you want them as they’re only $9.95 USD shipped. We expect more stock to be ready in 1-2 months. Amazon USA should also be stocked with these units in about ~2 weeks from this post date. ALSO, please note that there is a large Chinese holiday between 1 – 7 October, and during this time parcels will not ship out.

www.rtl-sdr.com/store

This post is a guide on how to use the dipole antenna set in various configurations. First we’ll show and explain about what’s included in the set:

  • 1x dipole antenna base with 60cm RG174 cable and SMA Male connector. This is the dipole base where the telescopic antennas connect to. The short run of RG174 is decoupled from the base elements with a ferrite choke. This helps to prevent the feed line from interfering with the dipole radiation pattern. On the inside of the base the two dipole element sides are connected with a 100 kOhm resistor to help bleed off any static. The dipole has a 1/4 inch female screw on the bottom, which allows you to use standard camera mount products for mounting.
  • 1x 3 meter RG174 coax cable extension. This coax cable extension allows you to place the antennas in a place that gets better reception. E.g. outside on a window, or higher up.
  • 2x 23cm to 1 m telescopic antennas. The telescopic dipoles are detachable from the dipole base via a M5 thread which allows for greater portability and the ability to swap them out. These long telescopic antennas cover VHF and to UHF.
  • 2x 5cm to 13cm telescopic antennas. These smaller antennas cover UHF to 1090 MHz ADS-B, and even still work decently up to L-band 1.5 GHz frequencies.
  • 1x flexible Tripod mount with 1/4″ male screw. This mount allows you to mount the dipole on a variety of different locations. E.g. a pole, tree branch, desk, door, window sill. The legs of the tripod are bendy and rubberized so can wrap securely around many objects.
  • 1x suction cup mount with 1/4″ male screw. With this mount you can mount the dipole on the outside of a window, on a wall, car roof/window, or on any other smooth surface. To use first clean the surface with window cleaner or isopropyl alochol. Then place the suction cup on the cleaned surface and close the lever to activate the suction.
What's included in the new Dipole kit
What’s included in the new Dipole kit

Dipole Orientation

Signals are normally transmitted with either horizontal, vertical or right hand/left hand circular polarization (RHCP/LHCP). This is essentially the ‘orientation’ of a signal, and an antenna with the same polarization should be used too for best performance. A dipole can be used in either vertical or horizontal polarization, just by orienting it either vertically or horizontally.

If you mismatch vertical and horizontal polarization or RHCP and LHCP you’ll get an instant 20dB loss. If you mismatch vertical/RHCP, vertical/LHCP, horizontal/RHCP, horizontal/LHCP you’ll only get a 3dB loss.

There are also ways to optimize the radiation pattern with dipoles. For example for LEO VHF satellites you can use a V-dipole configuration. You can also make a somewhat directional antenna by using a bent dipole configuration. Some more examples of dipole configurations can be found on KK4OBI’s page on bent dipoles.

Terrestrial Signal Reception

Most signals broadcast terrestrially (on Earth) are vertically polarized.

To use the dipole for vertically polarized signals, all that you need to do is orient the elements vertically (up and down).

Satellite Reception

The dipole can be used in a V-Dipole configuration for polar orbiting satellite reception. See Adam 9A4QV’s post where he wrote about how he discovered that it was possible to use dipoles in this configuration for excellent satellite reception. The idea is to use the dipole in horizontal polarization. This gives 3dB loss on the RHCP satellite signals, but also nicely gives 20dB loss on terrestrial signals which could be overloading your RTL-SDR.

For 137 MHz satellites like NOAA and Meteor M2 extend the larger antenna elements out to about 53.4 cm each (about 2.5 sections). Angle the dipole so it is horizontal and in a ‘Vee’ shape, at about 120 degrees. Place the dipole in the North-Source direction.

With an appropriate L-band LNA like the Outernet LNA the dipole can also somewhat work to receive L-band satellites. Using the smallest antenna collapsed, use a V-dipole configuration and point it towards the L-band satellite. Ideally use a reflector too. In the image below we used a simple cookie tin as a reflector. A hole was drilled into the center and the mount used to clamp in the antenna. This together with the Outernet LNA was enough to receive AERO and STD-C.

L-band v-dipole with reflector tin

L-band v-dipole with reflector tin

Receiving Inmarsat signals with the Outernet LNA

Receiving Inmarsat signals with the Outernet LNA

Choosing the Antenna Element Length

Like with the whip you can use an online calculator to calculate the optimal length for your frequency of interest. We recommend this dipole calculator. The exact length does not matter too much, but try to get the lengths as close to what the calculator says as you can. With the dipole you want both elements to be the same length.

In reality extending the antenna to almost any random length will work just fine for most strong signals. But if you’re really trying to optimize those weak signals you’ll want to fine tune the lengths.

Basically the longer the antenna, the lower it’s resonant frequency. The shorter the antenna, the higher the resonant frequency. You want to be close to the resonant frequency. Remember that there is about 2cm of metal inside the antenna itself which needs to be added on. Below is a cheat sheet for various lengths and frequencies. Note that the length refers to the length of one side only.

  • Large Antenna, 5 Sections, 100cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~70 MHz
  • Large Antenna, 4 Sections, 80cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~87MHz
  • Large Antenna, 3 Sections, 60cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~115 MHz
  • Large Antenna, 2 Sections, 42cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~162 MHz
  • Large Antenna, 1 Section, 23cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~ 285 MHz
  • Small Antenna, 4 Sections, 14cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~445 MHz
  • Small Antenna, 3 Sections, 11cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~550 MHz
  • Small Antenna, 2 Sections, 8cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~720MHz
  • Small Antenna, 1 Section, 5cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~1030 MHz.

See the SWR plots at the end for a more accurate reading of the resonance points. But in most cases no matter what you extend the length to the SWR should be below 5 at most frequencies which results in 2.5 dB loss or less. More accurate info on VSWR loss graphs can be found in this document from the ARRL “Understanding SWR by Example” (pdf).

Using the Mounts

The mounts and RG174 extension allow you to more easily use the dipole antennas outside. But please note that like our older magnetic whip we do not recommend permanently mounting this antenna outdoors. This antenna is designed to be a portable antenna that you put up and take down at the end of the day – not for permanent outdoor mounting. It is not protected against water, not grounded so cannot handle a lightning strike and could be damaged with dirt and grime build up. For permanent mounting you could conceivably fill the inside and hinges of the dipole with silicon putty or maybe even hot glue and ground the antenna yourself, but we have not tested this. The stainless steel antennas won’t rust, but dirt and grime could gum up the collapsing mechanism.

The suction cup mount allows you to easily place the antenna on a window, or any smooth surface. To use it first clean the surface thoroughly with isopropyl alcohol or glass cleaner. Then apply the suction cup and close the lever to lock it in place. The lever requires some force to push down, and this ensures a strong grip. You can then angle the antenna in the orientation that you need using the ball socket. Once in place close the ring to lock the ball socket in place.

The flexible tripod mount is useful to mounting the dipole to almost everything else. Including tables, doors, poles, trees etc. The legs of the tripod have a flexible wire inside and rubber sheath so they can be bent into a position to grip almost anything.

Some examples of how to use the mounts.
Some examples of how to use the mounts.

Tightening the hinge

Once you’ve got the orientation of the dipoles the way you want, you might want to tighten the hinge so the elements don’t move so easily anymore. To do this simply take a small screwdriver and tighten the screw on the hinge.

Sample VSWR Plots

Small Antenna Collapsed

Small Antenna Collapsed

Small Antenna Extended

Small Antenna Extended

Large Antenna Collapsed

Large Antenna Collapsed

Large Antenna Extended

Large Antenna Extended

RG174 Cable Loss

RG174 Cable Loss

Other Notes

Note that this is NOT an antenna designed for TXing. It is an RX antenna only. So please do not TX with it unless you really know what you are doing as you could damage your TX radio. You’ll probably need to remove the 100kOhm static bleed resistor to TX anyway.

Meteor Logger: A Tool for Counting Meteor Detections with an RTL-SDR

Thanks to Wolfgang Kaufmann for submitting news about his new software called ‘Meteor Logger’. This tool can be used to count the number of meteors entering the atmosphere which have been detected by a meteor scatter setup using an RTL-SDR or similar SDR.

Wolfgang writes about his software:

I have developed a new piece of software “Meteor Logger” to detect and log radio meteors from the digital audio stream of a PC-soundcard. It is based on Python 3. It is addressed to those meteor enthusiasts who want get the most information out of forward scattering of radio waves off meteor trails. “Meteor Logger” do not display spectrograms, it delivers an instantaneous and continuous numerical output of the detected signal with a high time resolution of about 11 ms. Thereby a radio meteor signal is not detected on the basis of an amplitude threshold but on its signature in the frequency domain. “Meteor Logger” has a built in auto notch function that may be helpful in case of a persistent strong interference line. From these data not only hourly count rates can be derived but it is also possible to easily study power profiles of meteors as well as Doppler shifts of head echoes.

As receiving front end a RTL-SDR is fine, if you strive after a very high signal resolution you may use a Funcube Dongle Pro. I employed SDR# to run the RTL-SDR. GRAVES-radar is used as transmitter. The added screenshot shows this setup together with “Meteor Logger”.

Additionally I wrote an also Python 3 based post processing software “Process Data” that allows for clearing the raw data, viewing and analysing them and exporting them in different ways (e.g. as RMOB-file for opening with “Cologramme Lab” of Pierre Terrier, see added screenshot).

Everything else you may find on my website http://www.ars-electromagnetica.de/robs/download.html

Meteor Logger
Meteor Logger

Meteor scatter works by receiving a distant but powerful transmitter via reflections off the trails of ionized air that meteors leave behind when they enter the atmosphere. Normally the transmitter would be too far away to receive, but if its able to bounce off the ionized trail in the sky it can reach far over the horizon to your receiver. Typically powerful broadcast FM radio stations, analog TV, and radar signals at around 140 MHz are used. Some amateur radio enthusiasts also use this phenomena as a long range VHF communications tool with their own transmitted signals. See the website www.livemeteors.com for a livestream of a permanently set up RTL-SDR meteor detector.

Testing the Prototype Outernet Patch Antenna with Built in RTL-SDR

A few months ago satellite data broadcasting company Outernet created a limited number of prototype receivers that combined an L-band satellite patch antenna, LNA and RTL-SDR into a signal unit. This was never produced in bulk as they found it to be too noisy having the RTL-SDR so close to the antenna, but nevertheless it still worked fairly well.

Over on YouTube max30max31 bought one of these prototype units and made a video about using it for receiving and decoding various L-band satellite signals. In the video he first shows an overview of the product and then shows it receiving and/or decoding some signals like Inmarsat STD-C, AERO and Inmarsat MFSK.

Tom’s Radio Room Show Tests the RTL-SDR Blog Broadcast AM Filter

Over on YouTube Tom from Tom’s Radio Radio Room Show (TRRS) has uploaded a video showing the effectiveness of our broadcast AM (BCAM) filters for cleaning up HF reception. In the video he uses an RSP1 to receive the WWV time signal at 5 MHz and shows that there is some AM signals mixing into the audio. After connecting the BCAM filter the AM signal is gone and WWV comes in clearer.

Showing what VOR and ILS Aviation Signals Look like in SDR#

Over on YouTube user RedWhiteandPew has uploaded two videos showing what VOR and ILS signals look like in SDR# with an RTL-SDR dongle. VOR and ILS are both radio signals used for navigation in aviation. 

VOR stands for VHF Omnidirectional Range and is a way to help aircraft navigate by using fixed ground based beacons. The beacons are specially designed in such a way that the aircraft can use the beacon to determine a bearing towards the VOR transmitter. VOR beacons are found between 108 MHz and 117.95 MHz.

RedWhiteandPew writes:

Here I am picking up the VOR beacon from KSJC. The coolest part is at the end of the video. I believe the signal moving back and forth is caused by the Doppler effect, because VORs transmit their signals in a circular pattern. The VOR wiki article has a GIF that shows how it works here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VHF_omn…. If you play and pause the video at different points before I zoom in, you can see that the two signals on the side are the opposite phase.

ILS stands for Instrument Landing System and is a radio system that enables aircraft to land on a runway safely even without visual contact. It works by using highly directional antennas to create four directional lobes (two in the horizontal plane, two in the vertical) that are used to try and ensure the aircraft is centered and leveled on the approach correctly. The ILS frequencies are at 108.1 – 111.95 MHz for the horizontal ‘localizer’, and at 329.15-335.0 MHz for the vertical ‘glide slope’.

RedWhiteandPew writes:

Here I have tuned into one of KSJC’s ILS frequencies. You are able to hear the faint identifier beeping transmitting its ISL ID code which is ISJC. For comparison, I used to morse code translator website.

The reason I am hearing ISJC and not ISLV even though they are on the same frequency is because the localizers transmitting the signal are directional along the length of the runway. Since I am located to the south east of the airport, and I am within its transmitting beam, I am able to listen to it on a scanner.

If you’re interested in these signals then this previous post about actually decoding them might be of interest to you.

Visualizing the Traveled Path of a Weather Balloon, Tanker Boat and Gliders with an RTL-SDR and CesiumJS

Over on YouTube user pascal poulain has uploaded a short video that shows a timelapse of the flight path of a weather balloon in Cesiumjs as it rises and falls, as well as a time lapse of a marine tanker docking, with the signals received with an RTL-SDR. In a third video pascal also shows a visualization of glider flights tracked via FLARM and the Open Glider Network which also obtains most of it’s data through RTL-SDR contributors.

Cesiumjs is a tool similar to Google Earth. The main difference is that it works on a wider array of devices through a web browser without the need for any plugins. It is often used for visualizing data on the globe. An example of some of its many demos can be found here.

We’re not sure what tools pascal used, but over on GitHub there is a tool called airtrack which can be used together with dump1090 to display flights in real time on Cesiumjs.

Localizing Transmitters to within a few meters with TDOA and RTL-SDR Dongles

Back in August we posted a number of videos from the Software Defined Radio Academy talks held this year in Friedrichshafen, Germany. One of those talks was by Stefan Scholl, DC9ST and titled Introduction and Experiments on Transmitter Localization with TDOA. This was a very interesting talk that showed how Stefan has been using three RTL-SDR + Raspberry Pi setups to locate the almost exact position of various transmitters with time difference of arrival (TDOA) techniques. TDOA works by setting up at least three receivers spread apart by some distance. Due to the speed of radio propagation, the transmitted signal will arrive at each receiver at a different time allowing the physical origin point of the signal to be calculated.

Now over on his blog Stefan has created a very nice writeup of his work with RTL-SDRs and TDOA that is definitely worth a good read. He first explains the basics of how TDOA actually works, and then goes on to explain how his RTL-SDR based system works. He discusses the important challenges such as transferring the raw data, synchronizing the receivers in time and the signal processing required. 

Stefans TDOA System
Stefans TDOA System

He tested the system on various transmitters including a DMR signal at 439 MHz, a mobile phone signal at 922 MHz, an FM signal at 96.9 MHz and an unknown signal at 391 MHz. The results were all extremely accurate, locating transmitters with an accuracy of up to a few meters.

Stefan has also uploaded all his MATLAB code onto GitHub.

Example localization of a DMR transmitter
Example localization of a DMR transmitter
Localizing the position of a mobile phone base station (Stars indicate known base stations)
Localizing the position of a mobile phone base station (Stars indicate known base stations)

Comparing SSB, NFM, Codec2 and Opus with QRadioLink and an RTL-SDR

Earlier in the month we posted about Adrian M’s video that showed his QRadioLink software running on Android with an RTL-SDR. QRadioLink is a digital amateur radio voice decoder and encoder, that currently supports modern digital voice codecs like Codec2 and Opus. It’s compatible with a wide range of SDRs including the RTL-SDR, as well as TX capable SDRs for transmitting.

Over on YouTube Adrian M has recently uploaded a new video showing a comparison of QRadioLink receiving SSB, NFM, Codec2 and Opus voice signals at the same initial power levels. The results show that the digital modes are generally much clearer and static free even at low TX levels. He writes:

The Linux SDR transceiver application QRadioLink uses here an RTL-SDR dongle for reception. The QRadioLink transmit chain is using an USRP B200 with output power set at about half the maximum. The Codec2 digital mode works down to a low CNR (6 dB) where even SSB is hard to copy. The Opus mode provides good voice quality at a level where analog narrow FM is noisy.
The code for QRadioLink is fully open-source, licensed under GPLv3, and can be found on Github, where it’s undergoing development. Bug reports, patches and suggestions are welcome.

QRadioLink is available over on GitHub.

Using our new Dipole Antenna Kit

Over on our store we’ve recently released our new receive only dipole antenna kit which now replaces the older magnetic whip style antennas from the previous kit. This was done for a few reasons including 1) We believe that the dipole kit is much more versatile and will enable beginners to get better reception right of the bat, 2) magnets of any type are no longer welcome on most airmail parcel carriers (though they still get through for now). While the magnetic whip still works perfectly fine, the dipole kit should make it easier to get the antenna outside, and it also allows for a simple v-dipole configuration for satellite reception.

The units are currently in stock at our Chinese warehouse either bundled with an RTL-SDR or as an individual antenna set. The individual antenna set only has a small quantity at the moment, so get in quick if you want them as they’re only $9.95 USD shipped. We expect more stock to be ready in 1-2 months. Amazon USA should also be stocked with these units in about ~2 weeks from this post date. ALSO, please note that there is a large Chinese holiday between 1 – 7 October, and during this time parcels will not ship out.

www.rtl-sdr.com/store

This post is a guide on how to use the dipole antenna set in various configurations. First we’ll show and explain about what’s included in the set:

  • 1x dipole antenna base with 60cm RG174 cable and SMA Male connector. This is the dipole base where the telescopic antennas connect to. The short run of RG174 is decoupled from the base elements with a ferrite choke. This helps to prevent the feed line from interfering with the dipole radiation pattern. On the inside of the base the two dipole element sides are connected with a 100 kOhm resistor to help bleed off any static. The dipole has a 1/4 inch female screw on the bottom, which allows you to use standard camera mount products for mounting.
  • 1x 3 meter RG174 coax cable extension. This coax cable extension allows you to place the antennas in a place that gets better reception. E.g. outside on a window, or higher up.
  • 2x 23cm to 1 m telescopic antennas. The telescopic dipoles are detachable from the dipole base via a M5 thread which allows for greater portability and the ability to swap them out. These long telescopic antennas cover VHF and to UHF.
  • 2x 5cm to 13cm telescopic antennas. These smaller antennas cover UHF to 1090 MHz ADS-B, and even still work decently up to L-band 1.5 GHz frequencies.
  • 1x flexible Tripod mount with 1/4″ male screw. This mount allows you to mount the dipole on a variety of different locations. E.g. a pole, tree branch, desk, door, window sill. The legs of the tripod are bendy and rubberized so can wrap securely around many objects.
  • 1x suction cup mount with 1/4″ male screw. With this mount you can mount the dipole on the outside of a window, on a wall, car roof/window, or on any other smooth surface. To use first clean the surface with window cleaner or isopropyl alochol. Then place the suction cup on the cleaned surface and close the lever to activate the suction.
What's included in the new Dipole kit
What’s included in the new Dipole kit

Dipole Orientation

Signals are normally transmitted with either horizontal, vertical or right hand/left hand circular polarization (RHCP/LHCP). This is essentially the ‘orientation’ of a signal, and an antenna with the same polarization should be used too for best performance. A dipole can be used in either vertical or horizontal polarization, just by orienting it either vertically or horizontally.

If you mismatch vertical and horizontal polarization or RHCP and LHCP you’ll get an instant 20dB loss. If you mismatch vertical/RHCP, vertical/LHCP, horizontal/RHCP, horizontal/LHCP you’ll only get a 3dB loss.

There are also ways to optimize the radiation pattern with dipoles. For example for LEO VHF satellites you can use a V-dipole configuration. You can also make a somewhat directional antenna by using a bent dipole configuration. Some more examples of dipole configurations can be found on KK4OBI’s page on bent dipoles.

Terrestrial Signal Reception

Most signals broadcast terrestrially (on Earth) are vertically polarized.

To use the dipole for vertically polarized signals, all that you need to do is orient the elements vertically (up and down).

Satellite Reception

The dipole can be used in a V-Dipole configuration for polar orbiting satellite reception. See Adam 9A4QV’s post where he wrote about how he discovered that it was possible to use dipoles in this configuration for excellent satellite reception. The idea is to use the dipole in horizontal polarization. This gives 3dB loss on the RHCP satellite signals, but also nicely gives 20dB loss on terrestrial signals which could be overloading your RTL-SDR.

For 137 MHz satellites like NOAA and Meteor M2 extend the larger antenna elements out to about 53.4 cm each (about 2.5 sections). Angle the dipole so it is horizontal and in a ‘Vee’ shape, at about 120 degrees. Place the dipole in the North-Source direction.

With an appropriate L-band LNA like the Outernet LNA the dipole can also somewhat work to receive L-band satellites. Using the smallest antenna collapsed, use a V-dipole configuration and point it towards the L-band satellite. Ideally use a reflector too. In the image below we used a simple cookie tin as a reflector. A hole was drilled into the center and the mount used to clamp in the antenna. This together with the Outernet LNA was enough to receive AERO and STD-C.

L-band v-dipole with reflector tin

L-band v-dipole with reflector tin

Receiving Inmarsat signals with the Outernet LNA

Receiving Inmarsat signals with the Outernet LNA

Choosing the Antenna Element Length

Like with the whip you can use an online calculator to calculate the optimal length for your frequency of interest. We recommend this dipole calculator. The exact length does not matter too much, but try to get the lengths as close to what the calculator says as you can. With the dipole you want both elements to be the same length.

In reality extending the antenna to almost any random length will work just fine for most strong signals. But if you’re really trying to optimize those weak signals you’ll want to fine tune the lengths.

Basically the longer the antenna, the lower it’s resonant frequency. The shorter the antenna, the higher the resonant frequency. You want to be close to the resonant frequency. Remember that there is about 2cm of metal inside the antenna itself which needs to be added on. Below is a cheat sheet for various lengths and frequencies. Note that the length refers to the length of one side only.

  • Large Antenna, 5 Sections, 100cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~70 MHz
  • Large Antenna, 4 Sections, 80cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~87MHz
  • Large Antenna, 3 Sections, 60cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~115 MHz
  • Large Antenna, 2 Sections, 42cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~162 MHz
  • Large Antenna, 1 Section, 23cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~ 285 MHz
  • Small Antenna, 4 Sections, 14cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~445 MHz
  • Small Antenna, 3 Sections, 11cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~550 MHz
  • Small Antenna, 2 Sections, 8cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~720MHz
  • Small Antenna, 1 Section, 5cm + 2cm is resonant @ ~1030 MHz.

See the SWR plots at the end for a more accurate reading of the resonance points. But in most cases no matter what you extend the length to the SWR should be below 5 at most frequencies which results in 2.5 dB loss or less. More accurate info on VSWR loss graphs can be found in this document from the ARRL “Understanding SWR by Example” (pdf).

Using the Mounts

The mounts and RG174 extension allow you to more easily use the dipole antennas outside. But please note that like our older magnetic whip we do not recommend permanently mounting this antenna outdoors. This antenna is designed to be a portable antenna that you put up and take down at the end of the day – not for permanent outdoor mounting. It is not protected against water, not grounded so cannot handle a lightning strike and could be damaged with dirt and grime build up. For permanent mounting you could conceivably fill the inside and hinges of the dipole with silicon putty or maybe even hot glue and ground the antenna yourself, but we have not tested this. The stainless steel antennas won’t rust, but dirt and grime could gum up the collapsing mechanism.

The suction cup mount allows you to easily place the antenna on a window, or any smooth surface. To use it first clean the surface thoroughly with isopropyl alcohol or glass cleaner. Then apply the suction cup and close the lever to lock it in place. The lever requires some force to push down, and this ensures a strong grip. You can then angle the antenna in the orientation that you need using the ball socket. Once in place close the ring to lock the ball socket in place.

The flexible tripod mount is useful to mounting the dipole to almost everything else. Including tables, doors, poles, trees etc. The legs of the tripod have a flexible wire inside and rubber sheath so they can be bent into a position to grip almost anything.

Some examples of how to use the mounts.
Some examples of how to use the mounts.

Tightening the hinge

Once you’ve got the orientation of the dipoles the way you want, you might want to tighten the hinge so the elements don’t move so easily anymore. To do this simply take a small screwdriver and tighten the screw on the hinge.

Sample VSWR Plots

Small Antenna Collapsed

Small Antenna Collapsed

Small Antenna Extended

Small Antenna Extended

Large Antenna Collapsed

Large Antenna Collapsed

Large Antenna Extended

Large Antenna Extended

RG174 Cable Loss

RG174 Cable Loss

Other Notes

Note that this is NOT an antenna designed for TXing. It is an RX antenna only. So please do not TX with it unless you really know what you are doing as you could damage your TX radio. You’ll probably need to remove the 100kOhm static bleed resistor to TX anyway.