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)
In early February we posted news about the release of a program called GridTracker. GridTracker is a live mapping program for WSJT-X which is a software decoder for low power weak signal ham communications modes such as FT8, JT4, JT9, JT65, QRA64, ISCAT, MSK144 and WSPR. Although these are low power modes, the protocols are designed such that even weak signals can potentially be received from across the world. Mapping the received signals can be interesting as it may give you an idea of current HF propagation conditions.
WSPR (pronounced "Whisper") is short for Weak Signal Propagation Reporting, and is a HF ham mode typically run on very low power levels such as 1W. The data from WSPR reception can be used to determine how good or bad HF propagation is currently around the world as each WSPR message contains a callsign, 6-digit locator and the transmit power level used. Received messages are all reported to the internet and can be viewed on an online map at http://wsprnet.org/drupal/wsprnet/map.
With an RTL-SDR V3 running in direct sampling mode it is possible to receive and decode these messages on a Raspberry Pi 3 using the WSPRD software.
Thanks to RTL-SDR.com reader Henry for letting us know about the release of a new piece of Windows software by Tag Loomis (N0TTL) called GridTracker. GridTracker is a live mapping program for WSJT-X which is a software decoder for low power weak signal ham communications modes such as FT8, JT4, JT9, JT65, QRA64, ISCAT, MSK144 and WSPR. Although these are low power modes, the protocols are designed such that even weak signals can potentially be received from across the world. Mapping the received signals can be interesting as it may give you an idea of current HF propagation conditions.
GridTracker is a Windows (XP or above) companion program for WSJT-X. It listens to WSJT-X or JTDX decodes and displays them on a map.
A great way to visualize communicating amateurs around the world!
Display on a large second monitor in your amateur radio club, hamfest or as a demonstration in a classroom. Everyone gets excited when they can see what you’re doing!
You can also load your ADIF log files from WSJT-X, Qrz.com, LoTW, PSKReporter and others to get a visual view of ‘stations worked’, stations that can hear you and more!
It might be an interesting project to set up a permanent GridTracker display using an RTL-SDR V3 in direct sampling mode, or RTL-SDR with upconverter. Low cost x86 single board PCs that can run Windows 10 such as the LattePanda, UP board or Udoo might be possible candidates for host hardware.
Henry warns us that the software is still new, so it may be a little buggy.
If you didn't know already Bitcoin is the top cryptocurrency which in 2017 has begun gaining traction with the general public and skyrocketing to a value of over $19,000 US per coin at one point. In addition to providing secure digital transactions, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are intended to help fight and avoid censorship. But despite this there is no real protection from the Bitcoin internet protocol being simply blocked and censored by governments with firewalls or by large ISP/telecoms companies.
One idea recently discussed by Nick Szabo and Elaine Ou at the "Scaling Bitcoin 2017" conference held at Stanford University is to use the something similar to WSPR (Weak Signal Propagation Reporting Network) to broadcast the Bitcoin network, thus helping to avoid internet censorship regimes. To test their ideas they set up a HackRF One as a transmitter and RTL-SDR and used GNU Radio to create a test system.
Over on YouTube user Veryokay has uploaded a video that shows how he uses the HF direct sampling mode on one of our V3 RTL-SDR’s to receive WSPR signals. WSPR (pronounced “Whisper”) is short for Weak Signal Propagation Reporting, and is a HF ham mode typically run on very low power levels such as 1W. The data from WSPR reception can be used to determine how good or bad HF propagation is currently around the world as each WSPR message contains the callsign, 6-digit locator and the transmit power level used.
For the antenna Veryokay uses a simple random wire antenna directly connected to the SMA port of the V3 up on top of the roof of his apartment building. This gets him reception good enough to receive many WSPR signals. Then together with SDR#, VB Cable and the WSPR-X decoder software, signals can be received and decoded.
He has also uploaded a document detailing the instructions in text and image form at bit.ly/wspr-rtlsdr.
Over on YouTube user Veryokay has uploaded a video showing how he was able to receive WSPR (Weak Signal Propagation Report) signals at 14 MHz with his direct sampling modified RTL-SDR. WSPR is a HF mode designed to be received even if the signal is very weak. It is used to help determine radio propagation conditions. Direct sampling mode allows you to receive HF signals on an RTL-SDR without the need for an upconverter, but it is more difficult to implement and get good results with. To get the best results Veryokay built an add on PCB that fits onto the RTL-SDR which contains and LNA and single ended to differential operational amplifier to amplify and get correct impedance matching on the input.
His video mainly shows how to calibrate the receiver correctly to receive WSPR as incorrect calibration is the most common error when trying to receive WSPR for the first time. In the video he also explains that he is transmitting WSPR himself using his Raspberry Pi and a QRPi WSPR filter shield for use with Rpitx.
Receiving WSPR mode at 20m with RTL-SDR dongle in direct sampling
PiTX works by modulating the GPIO pins on the Pi in such a way that it is able to produce FM modulation. The major problem with using this method of producing radio is that it creates large amounts of harmonics and interference outside of the intended transmit frequency. Interference like this is illegal and could potentially disrupt life critical radio systems such as emergency services, cellphones and air traffic control.
In order to cleanly transmit with PiTX an output RF filter should be used. Recently, the team over at TAPR.org have released a 20M WSPR TX filter shield. WSPR is pronounced “Whisper” and is short for “Weak Signal Propagation Reporter Network“. It is a type of amateur radio signal that can be broadcast and received around the world by using very low transmit power. Radio amateurs use it to see how far their signal can travel when using very low power (QRP) and to investigate signal propagation conditions.