SDR Transmitting Gets The Power

Most hobby-grade software defined radio setups don’t transmit. Of the few that do, most of them put out anemic levels around one milliwatt or so. If you want to do something outside of the lab, you’ll need an amplifier and that’s what [Tech Minds] shows how to do in a recent video. (Embedded below.)

The video covers LimeSDR, HackRF, and the Pluto SDR, although the amplifiers should work with any transmitter. The SPF5189Z module is quite cheap and covers 50 MHz to 4 GHz, amplifying everything you throw at it. The downside is that it will amplify everything you throw at it, even parts of the signal you don’t want, such as spurs and harmonics.

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Virtual Software Defined Radio

Software defined radio or SDR has changed the radio landscape forever. But to use one you need to buy some kind of hardware right? Maybe not. As [Tech Minds] shows in a recent video there are plenty of SDRs publically available on the Internet. We know that isn’t news, but the video does cover several different methods of finding and using SDR receivers including many that run totally in the browser.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons you might want to borrow an alien radio receiver, even if you have your own hardware. Maybe you don’t have a great antenna or maybe you want to hear a signal — maybe even your own — from a different location.

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Stop Bad Laws Before They Start

With everything else going on this summer, you might be forgiven for not keeping abreast of new proposed regulatory frameworks, but if you’re interested in software-defined radio (SDR) or even reflashing your WiFi router, you should. Right now, there’s a proposal to essentially prevent you from flashing your own firmware/software to any product with a radio in it before the European Commission. This obviously matters to Europeans, but because manufacturers often build hardware to the strictest global requirements, it may impact everyone. What counts as radio equipment? Everything from WiFi routers to wearables, SDR dongles to shortwave radios.

The idea is to prevent rogue reconfigurable radios from talking over each other, and prevent consumers from bricking their routers and radios. Before SDR was the norm, and firmware was king, it was easy for regulators to test some hardware and make sure that it’s compliant, but now that anyone can re-flash firmware, how can they be sure that a radio is conformant? Prevent the user from running their own firmware, naturally. It’s pretty hard for Hackaday to get behind that approach.

The impact assessment sounds more like advertising copy for the proposed ruling than an honest assessment, but you should give it a read because it lets you know where the commission is coming from. Reassuring is that they mention open-source software development explicitly as a good to be preserved, but their “likely social impacts” include “increased security and safety” and they conclude that there are no negative environmental impacts. What do you do when the manufacturer no longer wants to support the device? I have plenty of gear that’s no longer supported by firmware updates that is both more secure and simply not in the landfill because of open-source firmware.

Similarly, “the increased capacity of the EU to autonomously secure its products is also likely to help the citizens to better protect their information-related rights” is from a bizarro world where you can trust Xiaomi’s home-automation firmware to not phone home, but can’t trust an open-source replacement.

Public comment is still open, and isn’t limited to European citizens. As mentioned above, it might affect you even if you’re not in the EU, so feel free to make your voice heard. You have until September, and you’ll be in some great company if you register your complaints. Indeed, reading through the public comments is quite heartening: Universities, researchers, and hackers alike have brought up reasons to steer clear of the proposed approach. We hope that the commission hears us.

Software Defined Radio Academy Goes Virtual

They say every cloud has a silver lining. It’s hard to find a positive among all the bad news about the current global pandemic, but it has pushed more conferences and events to allow online participation either live or after the fact. A case in point: The Software Defined Radio Academy’s annual event is all on a YouTube channel so you can attend virtually.

Not all the videos are there yet, but the keynote along with some very technical talks about techniques ranging from FPGAs to spectrum monitoring and spectral correlation density — you can see that video, below. We presume you’ll eventually be able to watch all the presentations listed in the program.

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Tackling Trunked Radio With Software

For those starting to wade into radio as a hobby, one of the first real technical challenges is understanding trunked radio systems. On the surface, it seems straightforward: A control channel allows users to share a section of bandwidth rather than take up one complete channel, allowing for greater usage of the frequency range. In practice though it can be difficult to follow along, but now it’s slightly easier thanks to software defined radio.

This guide comes to us from [AndrewNohawk], who is located in San Francisco and is using his system to monitor police, fire, and EMS activity. These groups typically used trunked radio systems due to the large number of users. For listening in, nothing more than an RTL-SDR setup is needed, and the guide walks us through using this setup to find the control channels, the center frequency, and then identifying the “talk groups” for whichever organization you want to listen in on.

The guide goes into great detail, including lists of software needed to get a system like this started up, and since [AndrewNohawk] is a self-identified “radio noob” the guide is perfectly accessible to people who are new to radio and specifically new to trunked systems like these. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not too hard to scale up, either.

Receive Analog Video Radio Signals From Scratch

If you’ve been on the RTL-SDR forums lately you may have seen that a lot of work has been going into the DragonOS software. This is a software-defined radio group that has seen a lot of effort put into a purpose-built Debian-based Linux distribution that can do a lot of SDR out of the box. The latest and most exciting project coming from them involves a method for using the software to receive and demodulate analog video.

[Aaron]’s video (linked below) demonstrates using a particular piece of software called SigDigger to analyze an incoming analog video stream from a drone using a HackRF. (Of course any incoming analog signal could be used, it doesn’t need to be a drone.) The software shows the various active frequency ranges, allows a user to narrow in on one and then start demodulating it. While it has to be dialed in just right to get anything that doesn’t look like snow, [Aaron] is able to get recognizable results in just a few minutes.

Getting something like this to work completely in software is an impressive feat, especially considering that all of the software used here is free. Granted, this wouldn’t be as easy for a digital signal like most TV stations broadcast, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had. In case you missed the release of DragonOS, we covered it a few weeks ago and it’s only gotten better since then, with this project just as one example.

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Pluto Might Not Be A Planet, But It Is An SDR Transceiver

Many of the SDR projects we see use a cheap USB dongle. They are great, but sometimes you want more and — especially — sometimes you want to transmit. The Analog Devices ADALM-Pluto SDR is easily available for $200 and sometimes as low as $100 and it both transmits and receives using an Analog AD9363 and a Zynq FPGA. Although you normally use the device to pipe IQ signals to a host computer, you can run SDR applications on the device itself. That requires you to dig into the Zynq tools, which is fun but a topic for another time. In this post, I’m going to show you how you can use GNU Radio to make a simple Morse code beacon in the 2m ham band.

I’ve had one on my bench for quite a while and I’ve played with it a bit. There are several ways to use it with GNU Radio and it seems to work very well. You have to hack it to get the frequency range down a bit. Sure, it might not be “to spec” once you broaden the frequency range, but it seems to work fine. Instead of working from 325 MHz to 3,800 MHz with a 20 MHz bandwidth, the hacked device transceives 70 MHz to 6,000 MHz with 56 MHz bandwidth. It is a simple hack you only have to do once. It tells the device that it has a slightly better chip onboard and our guess is the chips are the same but sorted by performance. So while the specs might be a little off, you probably won’t notice.

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