Trunked radio systems for voice communications can be easily found when browsing the spectrum with an SDR. Listening to a voice communication is easy, but actually following a conversation along is almost impossible to do manually. This is because in a trunking system the frequency in use during a conversation can change often. The frequency of the voice is dictated by a control channel that all radios listen to. This allows multiple talk groups (Police, EMS, business etc) to share one chunk of the spectrum without having to allocate fixed channels for each user.
Over on his blog Andrew Nohawk has uploaded an excellent guide that explains trunked radio, how it works, how to use radioreference to look up trunked radio frequencies in your area, and how to use an RTL-SDR to listen in. He then shows how to use a program called "trunk-recorder" which will automatically record and upload trunked radio conversations to a site like openmhz.com for sharing.
You may recall that a few years ago we released a tutorial on how to set up and use [SDRTrunk]. Fast forward a few years and the software has seen numerous changes. This application was designed primarily for tracking trunking radio systems but also has the ability to decode things like MDC-1200, LoJack and more.
The software is compatible with many Software Defined Radios such as our RTL-SDR v3, HackRF and the Airspy. Some of the newer improvements include a bundled copy of java so that an installation of java is not required on the host computer, as well as decoding improvements for P25 among other digital voice modes. You can find a full list of improvements along with the latest release on [GitHub]
The biggest feature many have been waiting for is the ability to import talk groups for their radio system into the application from radio reference. While this has not yet been implemented, user [Twilliamson3] has created a [web application] that will convert table data from radio reference into a format that is supported by SDRTrunk.
Over on his blog John Hagensieker has uploaded a tutorial that shows how to set up SDRTrunk with RTL-SDR dongles. SDRTrunk is an application that allows you to follow trunked radio conversations, and decode some digital voice protocols such as P25 Phase 1. It is similar to Unitrunker and DSDPlus combined into one program. It is also Java based so it is cross platform and so can be used on Linux and MacOS systems as well.
John’s tutorial contains many useful screenshots, so it should be great for a beginner. He starts from the beginning, with finding trunking frequencies over on radioreference.com, then goes on to the installation and use on Linux. He also later explains how the Airspy can be used instead of multiple RTL-SDR to cover 10 MHz of bandwidth so that multiple systems can be monitored.
SDRTrunk is a cross platform Java based piece of software that can be used for following trunked radio conversations. In addition to trunk tracking it also has a built in P25 Phase 1 decoder. Compared to Unitrunker SDRTrunk is an all-in-one package, and currently it supports most trunking system control channels, but unlike Unitrunker it still misses out on some systems EDACS and DMR.
Over on his YouTube channel AVT Marketing has uploaded an excellent 6-part video series that shows how to install SDRTrunk and the Java runtime environment on Ubuntu Linux. The sections covered include, installing Java, setting the Java environment variables, installing other SDRTrunk prerequisites such as Apache Ant and the JMBE audio codec for decoding P25, and finally actually using and setting up SDRTrunk. Like all of AVT’s other videos, this is an excellent tutorial that takes you through the entire process from the very beginning so is useful for beginners as well.
Installing SDRTrunk & Java JRE on Ubuntu Linux
If you’re new to trunking: Trunking systems are typically used with handheld radio systems (e.g. those that police, security guards, workmen etc carry around). The basic idea is that each radio constantly listens to a digital control channel which tells it what frequency to switch to if a call is being made. This allows the frequency spectrum to be shared, instead of designating one fixed frequency per user which would be very inefficient. But this system makes it difficult for scanner radios to listen in to, because the voice frequency could change at any time. Therefore software like Unitrunker and SDRTrunk which can decode the control channel is required. In addition many new systems use digital audio like P25 or DMR which requires digital decoders like SDRTrunk or DSDPlus.
Over on YouTube user AVT Marketing has uploaded a five part video series that very clearly and slowly shows how to use an RTL-SDR to set up trunking and digital voice monitoring. In the videos he uses SDR#, Unitrunker, DSD+ and VBCable for the monitoring.
The first video in the series shows a brief overview of the digital trunking voice set up, and explains a bit about digital voice communications. The second video shows how to install an RTL-SDR, and walks you through downloading Unitrunker and DSD+. The third video is a tutorial about SDR# and also explains how trunking radio systems works. The fourth video shows how to install Unitrunker, DSD+, VBCable, and how to configure each program. Finally the fifth and last video in the series shows the final steps in using Unitrunker and DSD+.
This looks like a very good video series, especially for those that like to see every step in the process played out in full.
Cheap Digital Trunked Scanning Using SDR for the Absolute Beginner
TETRA is a type of digital voice and trunked radio communications system that stands for “Terrestrial Trunked Radio”. It is used heavily in many parts of the world, except for the USA. Telive is a decoder for TETRA which is compatible with RTL-SDR dongles, and has been around and in use for almost 2 years now. If you have unencrypted TETRA signals available in your area it can be used to listen in on them.
However, now a TETRA experimenter by the handle of “cURLy bOi” has released a new prototype of a telive modification that works on Windows systems. It makes use of the GNU Radio for Windows development. The telive Windows file can be downloaded from curly’s webserver. His reademe file shows how to install and use the software and it reads:
This has been put together as lowest-effort configuration to run telive on Windows system. I have also optimized to process (for example adding the CQPSK block to GRC since the python code in the original telive package is IN FACT some unused part of GNU Radio)
Warning: ——— This package contains pre-compiled binaries that work on my 64-bit system. I have compiled them inside the M-SYS2 package. If you don’t trust me, you can follow the installation guide from telive docs, just be prepared you are going to need a lot of packages for the M-SYS2 (pacman -S gcc automake git wget, etc.)
Install: ——— 1) Download GNU Radio for Windows from http://www.gcndevelopment.com/gnuradio/downloads.htm and install 2) Copy contents of gnuradio_mod to c:\Program Files\GNURadio-3.7\ 3) Download and install M-SYS2 from https://sourceforge.net/projects/msys2/ and install 4) Copy contents of msys_root to your M-SYS2 installation directory 5) Download FFmpeg for Windows (64-bit Shared) from https://ffmpeg.zeranoe.com/builds/ and extract everything from bin to usr\bin in your M-SYS2 installation directory 6) In M-SYS2 shell execute “pacman -S socat” 7) Get GNU Radio Companion (GRC) projects from original telive package at https://github.com/sq5bpf/telive/tree/master/gnuradio-companion (only udp or xmlrpc, pipes won’t work) 8) Open whatever GRC project you want to use and edit it: – Delete the link between (all) Fractional Resampler and UDP Sink – From the modules on the right (ctrl-f to search) drag CQPSK Demod to project (If you don’t see CQPSK Demod then you have messed up #2) – Connect Fractional Resampler -> CQPSK Demod -> UDP Sink – Change UDP Sink Input Type to Float in its properties – Save
Use: —— 1) Open GRC project of your choice (already with the CQPSK Demod box) 2) Use the Project/Execute to run the project from the GRC – OR – If you had headless (without GUI) project, use Project/Generate option to generate top_block.py file in the GRC project directory. Then open GNURadio Command Prompt from Start menu, the use this command c:\Program Files\GNURadio-3.7\gr-python27\python.exe -u c:\path\to\grc\project\top_block.py This will enhance performance. 3) Open new M-SYS2 shell for every channel in that project and execute command “receiver1udp X” where X is the number of each channel in GRC project 4) Open new M-SYS2 shell, resize it to 203×60 and execute: – cd /tetra/bin – ./rxx OR ./rxx_xmlrpc (if you are using XMLRPC GRC project) You can edit these files to match your preferences 5) That’s it, should work.
Note that we have not tested this out ourselves yet and can’t guarantee the file safety or that it works, but we have no reason to believe that it wouldn’t be safe or not work.
Luke uses his own Trunk Recorder software and writes that he has modified it to support multiple SDR’s. His software has the following description:
Trunk Recorder is able to record the calls on a trunked radio system. It uses 1 or more Software Defined Radios (SDRs) to do. The SDRs capture large swatches of RF and then use software to process what was recieved. GNURadio is used to do this processing and provides lots of convienent RF blocks that can be pieced together to do complex RF processing. Right now it can only record one Trunked System at a time.
Trunk Recorder currently supports the following:
P25 & SmartNet Trunking Systems
SDRs that use the OsmoSDR source ( HackRF, RTL – TV Dongles, BladeRF, and more)
P25 Phase 1 & Analog voice
Luke also mentions that using three RTL-SDRs like this seems to be more efficient on the CPU than using a single SDR that has 8 MHz of bandwidth due to the amount of down sampling that needs to be done on larger bandwidth SDRs.
When I was using a single SDR, each Recorder had to take in the full 8MHz and pull out the small 12.5KHz that was interesting. The end results is that I could only record about 3 channels at once before the CPU got overloaded. Since that control channel was going at the same time, that was the equivalent of about 32MHz of bandwidth to process.
With the RTL-SDR, each Recorder only has to look at 2MHz, which puts a lot lighter load on the CPU. Roughly speaking, having 3 Recorders active, plus the control channel would mean that only a total of 8MHz was being processed. As you can see, this means that it scales much more efficiently.