bladeRF, your next software defined radio

By now you might have a bit weary of your small and inexpensive TV tuner dongle software defined radio. Yes, using a USB TV dongle is a great introduction to SDR, but it has limited bandwidth, limited frequency range, and can’t transmit. Enter the bladeRF, the SDR that makes up for all the shortcomings of a USB dongle, and also serves as a great wireless development platform.

The bladeRF is able to receive and transmit on any frequency between 300 MHz and 3.8 GHz. This, along with a powerful FPGA, ARM CPU, and very good ADCs and DACs makes it possible to build your own software defined WiFi adapter, Bluetooth module, ZigBee radio, GPS receiver, or GSM and 4G LTE modem.

It’s an impressive bit of kit, but it doesn’t exactly come cheap; the bladeRF is available on the Kickstarter for $400. The folks behind the bladeRF seem to be doing things right, though, and are using their Kickstarter windfall for all the right things like a USB vendor ID.

There’s a video of two bladeRFs being used as a full duplex modem. You can check that out after the break.

73 thoughts on “bladeRF, your next software defined radio

    1. The hardware based on it’s frequency range is probably based on the http://www.limemicro.com/lms6002d.php I’ve been working with one of these + a raspi and a DE0nano FPGA board for a while with GNURadio. For the money, it solves a ton of the RF engineering that would usually complicate such a wideband SDR. Adding the lower frequency would couple all of these problems back into the design.

    1. I agree. I’m just now getting into ham radio as a participant and most of the really good stuff in my area seems to be happening on 2 meter.

          1. All the ham bands below ~8m (10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 30, 40, 60, 80, 160, 600 and 2200 meter) as well as 500kHz experimental, submarine communication, short-wave, cb, low frequency FM, and weather. Also, you’re not dumb, just uninformed, and your willing to change that, so +1 to you!

    2. At 400$ you’d think they could afford just afford a 300 MHz DAC and cover that part of the spectrum without mixing.

    3. Looks like Nuand has already addressed the 300MHz issue (they left a comment that addressed this on their kickstarter page):

      “The usable frequency range of the bladeRF does indeed start at 300MHz but goes up to 3.8GHz. Having one (or even two) front-ends spanning this many octaves is a challenge, however the bladeRF performs exceptionally well over the entire range. That however may not have been the case had we included the circuitry needed to reach those lower frequencies. As a solution, we added an expansion board interface to the bladeRF which allows for expansion boards that can drastically expand the bladeRF’s reach into HF, VHF, SHF, and EHF.”

    4. Yes it has a 300MHz lower limit – but the advantage is being able to cover things such as WiFi, bluetooth HDTV reception etc…

  1. This certainly could complete with the Ettus Research equipment, now owned by National. Semi.
    The educational documentation part of this Kickstarter is very good idea.
    So there really isn’t anything at this price RX/TX that covers up to 3GHz with the documentation and is open source. Well done guys.

    1. Weather satellite & HAM VHF – 144 MHz
      Airport VHF Comms – 110 – 140 MHz
      Commercial FM Radio – 88 – 108 MHz
      HF CB – 30 MHz
      Lower frequencies are becoming LESS cluttered now, the many of the old Shortwave stations are moving into Internet broadcasting. Tough luck for the impoverished third world people relying on HF to keep in touch with the world, hey?

  2. Now this is what i like to see, pro gear with a hacker mentality and at $400 i don’t know how they can even turn a profit. I’m old enough to remember sending images over phone lines and ham radios so seeing hardware like this leaves a taste nostalgia.

  3. @Matthew
    In theory you could use this platform to prototype devices that operate on any band within the 300MHz to 3GHz Bandwidth. IAll you need to do is implement the modulation scheme on an FPGA. And, since FPGAs can be modified very quickly with a software change, we can have a multi-bandwidth radio.

    In other words, it can be a cell phone one minute, an amateur radio the next, or a Low Power TV Transmitter afterwords because we can change the software on the FPGA to do whatever we need it to do.

    @All
    Check out the bands here.

    http://reboot.fcc.gov/spectrumdashboard/searchSpectrum.seam

  4. This is rather amazing. I used to work as a factory tech on some communications monitors that covered 10 KHz to 1 GHz, and it ran about $12K. It did have a 10 MHz crystal timebase, O’scope, Spec Analyzer, function gen, and power meter. It had additional options for analog cell phone testing and beeper testing. Did I mention that this was quite a while back?

  5. What a bargain — blows Ettus Research devices out of the water in terms of price/performance. I’ll have to add a PA after this product though…

  6. Yes the 300 MHz Lower band limit, is bit of a bummer, but equipment as this could be a positive for amateur radio. While I haven’t done the math, I belief it’s safe to say Amateur radio has more bandwidth allocated for exclusive/primary use above 300, than it has below 300. Bandwidth we are likely to loose if we don’t start using it. As for there not being anything interesting below 300MHz, hell there is interesting things happening below 30 MHz, interesting being relative. I don’t have a clue, if this can be made operational with a USB 2, but USB 3 is likely to lock out many computers from the play ground. Do hope they meet their goal, but I don’t know when I’d be able to purchase the product.

    1. n0lkk: They claim the board is supported by the Rasberry Pi, which is not USB 3.0 capable. I would assume it can operate using USB 2.0 albeit perhaps with a lower sampling rate, or bandwidth.

    2. USB 3 is the very right direction because it would open up more bandwidth than Gigabit Ethernet (Ettus is stupid to not offer this feature).

      As you can see on their (other) picture, they have connected it with Raspberry Pi that does not have USB3 interface meaning that the USB3 is not mandatory.

      In addition if you have a PC then you can buy an USB3 extension board to open up all the bandwidth.

      1. >they have connected it with Raspberry Pi

        its for wank factor. There is probably a full blown linux running on that FPGA (nios) at speed comparable to rasspi.

        1. You can not run Nios on that FPGA, it does not heave enough reousrces. The FPGA is only used for data interface between the LimeMicro LMS6002D and the Cypress USB 3.0.

          1. Well it depends on how many resources are left. I’d say if they can run it on the default 15kLE FPGA, the 115kLE one will have plenty of room for the ~2500LE (700LE minimum) NIOS.

  7. It would be nice if we could attach come fast ADC to GPU via PCI-Express bridge. I saw gtx460 decoding simultaneously 150 5MHz channels.

  8. Hey guys, I’m John (the guy from the video). We are very excited to have made it here on Hackaday! We just wanted to post up a comment that we also left on the Kickstarter page addressing the concerns of those interested in frequencies under 300mhz. The usable frequency range of the bladeRF does indeed start at 300MHz but goes up to 3.8GHz. Having one (or even two) front-ends spanning this many octaves is a challenge, however the bladeRF performs exceptionally well over the entire range. That however may not have been the case had we included the circuitry needed to reach those lower frequencies. As a solution, we added an expansion board interface to the bladeRF. One of our first expansion boards will be a block up/down converter. We wanted to wait a little bit to get some feedback from people to see what frequency ranges people were interested in seeing. As of now it seems very likely that we will look at going from as close to DC as possible up to a minimum of 11GHz. So as soon as we do our engineering homework and see what’s possible we will make an official announcement about this on the Kickstarter page.

  9. To transmit fast RF, I would recommend the MAX5879 from Maxim. Kick ass part, beats ADI in performance and cost. Gotta’ like that.

    1. you can’t even see a datasheet without registering and requesting it, it say custom order and restrictions apply. I’m sure that will be real hacker friendly and easy to buy ….

    1. They are trying to sell a good product. I do not know why they should give it away for free.

      Beside of that, it is an unique product that does not exist currently in the market.

      1. 1 Because its on kickstarter and they are taking donations.
        2 There is plenty of products like that, just at different price points.

        They are taking donations to start closed source product – clearly most hackers are against this.

    2. Here is my take on closed PCB design.
      Firstly, they used BGAs. That SEVERELY limits the ability of anyone without professional equipment to assemble let alone modify the board. You almost have to go to that kind of packages these days if you want the leading edge stuff. Plus it saves a ton of board space. I totally support this.
      The schematics are all you need to understand the design. Unless you are an RF PCB designer, having the gerbers won’t do you any good anyway since you won’t be able to understand them. That’s a true art right there. I would say there is no way they used Eagle or KiCad here either so unless you feel like spending 5K+USD on a cad package, you can’t look at the design files anyway.

      So seriously, closed PCB doesn’t detract from this at all as far as I’m concerned. I bet all you people who are complaining about the closed PCB would never even look at the layout even if they were available. It’s just something to complain about. That’s the case for most hardware products. Realistically, how many of you would even be able to produce something as simple as an Arduino on your own from scratch given only the design files? I’m guessing most of the people who go crazy over the newest cardboard case for the raspberry pi have no idea about this kind of stuff, which is fine.

      I’m actually super excited about this board and plan on getting one when they start selling them through something other than kickstarter. Good job guys.

  10. The RF front end alone is a $50 IC. The FPGA isn’t cheap, and they’re selling it on a nice little pcb (with proper rf design I assume) with rf performance validation. This is a steal at $400.

  11. The RF front end alone is a $50 IC. The FPGA isn’t cheap, and they’re selling it on a nice little pcb (with proper rf design I assume) with rf performance validation. This is a steal at $400. You could argue they should have designed it differently and somehow made it cheaper but the closest thing on the market is the Per Vices Noctar and it’s twice as expensive.

  12. This is an interesting project, but they sound a bit scamy to me. 28MHz bandwidth with a 40MS/s ADC is just too much to believe and the image they have powering this board using a RasPi is just a BS marketing ploy.

  13. This is an interesting project, but they sound a bit scamy to me. 28MHz bandwidth with a 40MS/s ADC is just too much to believe and the image they have powering this board using a RasPi is just a BS marketing ploy.
    The FPGA they are using is really not made for any kind of signal processing, it can only be used for really simple buffering, the price of the FPGA they use is $25, so it is not as expensive and people think they are. This FPGA is even smaller than the one used on USRP1, so they will mainly use it for data trancfer only.
    And for the ARM9 processor on board, it is another half truth, they ARM9 is inside the USB3 device, it will be 100% loadded with USB3 transfer and will not have time to do anything else if one wants to use the full capacity of USB3 5Gb/s speed.

    It is amazing that people who know electronics don’t react to this kind of half truths.

    The total BOM of this device is less than a $100, selling it on KickStarter is an excellent way of getting free publicity.

    1. @kk5711, you hit this nail on the head. My thoughts also before spewing my $400 = Fail comment. The only thing I can see as possible contributors to the high price are (1) multi-layer PCB with special substrates? (2) large license or NRE fees associated with the RF transceiver part? (3) Intellectual property (IP) licensing costs for FPGA cores, or something to do with the USB3.0 interface software? But I doubt it.At $200 bucks, I “might bite” if it was truly open-source. At $400 and non-open, nah.

      I also would question the phase noise performance of the on-board L.O.’s in that RF transceiver part. They may be suitable for sniffing around the microwave bands, but add the noise of an upconverter stage and the typical narrow band weak signals you work with at VHF/HF and you might end up with a relatively poor performer (not to mention difficulty in tuning over small steps like 10Hz). A better approach is to divide the L.O. frequencies to lower phase noise in the first place, but this may not be possible with the part they’re chosen..

  14. HF bands (<30MHz) is still very popular. I just capture small part of radio spectrum ~90kHz @3.5MHz.

    You will see more active station than comments in this post, and all of them using the simplest possible CW communication and at the right side of waterfall spectrum, modern BPSK digital modes. This is captured with my hand-build ZMSDR (0.1 – 30MHz) SDR receiver.

  15. nice pice of kit but as much use as a chocolate fire guard, Most of the interesting stuff is transmited below 450Mhz

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