You'll find as you set up the base station your focus quickly moves to antennas. And then you become obsessed with antennas.
Definitely get into amateur satellites. http://amsat.org/status/
Go get a cheap handheld arrow dual band antenna with built-in diplexer to get started. I use macdoppler and also Ham Radio Deluxe's Satellite module. They are Mac and Windows respectively - I use them both for different things. Mostly I use macdoppler to make the doppler corrections automatically on my Yaesu 817ND and I use HRD for my TS-2000.
Also, build yourself a HF monoband dipole antenna tuned to 14.3MHZ and then listen in to the ham band from 14.00 to 14.150 for digital/cw and from 14.150 to 14.300 for voice. It'll cost you about 20 bucks for the coax and a few bucks for the wire. You don't need a balun if you're using low enough power for TX.
If you want to be a bit naughty (this is HN afterall) google around and learn about FLTSATCOM 7 and 8. It's an old US milsat that is basically an open repeater. They're geosynchronous birds that are used for encrypted comms but Brazilian criminal gangs periodically use them for free communication. They build antennas out of spare parts and use down-converters/up-converters to deal with the 250mhz frequency which is outside normal VHF/UHF. With your SDR you can build your own cheap home depot antenna and listen in without a converter. Just do absolutely not broadcast because you'll get arrested - someone already has. You can sometimes pick up used special forces directional portable antennas for a reasonable price on ebay for 250mhz.
I'm a radio amateur, callsign WT1J. If you're into this stuff and find yourself able to TX on HF or satellite, drop me a line and we can set up a schedule.
I've only heard casual conversation between truckers and families on UHF Satcom.
Basically, making your own radar system with Coffee cans. As a newbie, I'm a bit surprised by all the modular components that were just fitted together. I knew about Amps and attenuators but didn't know you could get VCOs and mixers like that too. Any books/website recommendations/beginner projects would be appreciated!
A reply comment says that truckers are using it - what's their legal status?
or unregistered companies operating under hostile conditions created by the government?
...We're far too privacy and security conscious in the UK to allow plaintext personal data go over the airwaves...
So what you're saying is that, in the UK, your water meter and electrical appliances are required to have a higher level of security than your online browsing is allowed to have?
You have to consider tho, that the smart meters don't operate on the public internet, its all on a proprietary WAN (government specified).
There are many, many wacky design decisions regarding the UKs smart metering design but they do at least make an effort regarding security and robustness.
From that project you linked, it decodes "Oregon Scientific Weather Sensor" protocol - but there's several different versions of that. I'll have to have a play with it one day - thanks!
You can send data over radio links and do other very interesting things... All without using a network! Just two nodes transmitting and receiving data via antennas at the speed of light. You don't have to talk at all. A lot of people don't get this when they think about radio.
Radio is not just old, retired guys talking about health problems on VHF/UHF repeaters. Rather, it's a world-wide network, that has no infrastructure dependencies, transmitting data at the speed of light.
The problem with this though is security. We tend to focus as security engineers too much on stuff riding on top of IP and forget about the underlying layer 1 protocols. And so that's for me what makes radio really interesting - especially dark corners that haven't been looked at for some time because they've been forgotten about.
Being able to monitor encrypted traffic on the wire or air can yield other useful and potentially compromising metadata.
...and can be quite easily sniffed with the right equipment.
Heck you can pick up a Mobilinkd for ~$60 if you just want to stick with KISS/AX.25 over Bluetooth. They're really awesome little devices for what they do.
 - http://www.mobilinkd.com/
The chip itself covers 119–1050 MHz, but the modules I have, have filters on to allow only narrower ranges.
I've also ordered some 433mhz wall/light switches, I hope to be able to receive/transmit and log all of that stuff, from what I can see, with a bit of tweaking you can integrate quite a few vendor's kit, and even integrate it with amazon Alexa for voice control.
Also started to 'explore' the spectrum using gqrx/gnuradio, I can see how it could become addictive :-)
: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00SIZZBDK [ whoops sorry went up in price, cyber week is over :( ]
As much as the HAM radio is traditionally an HF affair, the easiest to obtain licence (Technician class) actually pretty much only allows for VHF and UHF transmission. Not only that, but even among Generals and Extras, 10, 6, and 2 are very popular, especially for local communication (usually through a repeater), whereas HF is more commonly used for DXing.
You can even listen in to APRS, which is message stream that carries a lot of interesting data (mostly GPS stuff, but you'll catch a few text, email, or general messages through it every once in a while).
Also I would love some solution to nicely expose the ufl connectors. expresscard would seem a better choice to me that mini PCIe, to connect antennas on the side of the laptop or the back of the desktop when using a PCIe to expresscard adapter.
Do they think it's interesting and cool, or do they reject it for being different and inferior vs. more expensive and sensitive equipment?
The younger generation who have ECE/CS degrees love SDR. So does the military and the commercial/corporate radio industry. Some of the older generation frown upon SDR as voodoo magic with too many computer/network dependencies.
There is a general distrust (among older hams) of computer/network technology and especially anything that depends on a non-human (computer program) to modulate or demodulate a message.
For example, you can send Morse Code with a Carrier Wave and a simple switch (on and off) that you built from wood scraps and copper. You don't need an external thing (program, software, device, etc.) to do that for you. So there are less dependencies and in general it is much simpler to reason about and use. When the shit hits the fan, you want simple, reliable things.
The problem is, most humans don't know Morse Code. So they can't decode a message anymore. Thus the reliance on computers and software.
The efficiency gains are hard to argue with as well. You can do things with SDR that would be impossible or far too costly in hardware... Like resurrecting and communicating with a 36 year-old satellite http://www.rtl-sdr.com/rebooting-isee-3-usrp-software-define...
And relying on the internet for anything is an absolute no-no, at least among the emergency people.
Some amateur SDRs are essentially computer peripherals, but they increasingly look just like traditional transceivers. The Icom IC-7300 was the most talked-about transceiver of 2016; It operates like a traditional transceiver and costs about the same, but has exceptional receiver performance and a host of DSP-based bells and whistles. I expect that many Elecraft customers are completely unaware that they bought an SDR rather than an analog transceiver.
Personally, I would never go back to a superhet receiver. If you use a good SDR for half an hour, you're spoiled for life. Superhet receivers still have a place at the low-end of the market, but they're being slowly squeezed out.
Old-time hams would never have a computer in the same room as their radios because of this interference.
FWIW, I was designing and building my own SDRs ten years ago, and am currently running one of the high-end SDRs.
I found another site that reviews some units, and mentions the issues you noted: http://www.rtl-sdr.com/tag/sensitivity/
Yes. The FlexRadio and Apache Labs SDRs are equipped with ethernet. There are numerous standalone SDRs that can be used without a computer.
The rtl-sdr isn't really comparable to a proper radio. It is, after all, just a repurposed TV tuner. It's a great little toy for exploring radio, but the performance is exactly what you'd expect for a $20 dongle.
I have a RF Space NetSDR+, and it's wonderful below about 30 Mhz, but there's a horrifying racket on 6m and 2m, and the FM broadcast band is pretty much unusable for weak signal work.
I'm playing with a optical link to the top of the hill behind my place. We shall see.
I'm surprised that the computer interference issue isn't more widely discussed. I suspect that it's because newbies have no idea of how much of the junk they see on their screens doesn't actually exist. Plus living in city environments they are so swamped by RFI that they think it is normal.
Just looking at the screen on the OP's web page makes me shudder. It's a whole mess of computer interference.
Never heard of it. That's crazy. I think its interesting or it'll be the death of the hobby (depending solely on if the participant is personally involved). Its the same stuff looked at differently. We've always all been a fan of that since its start. So obviously I've dropped the docs on me being eligible for QCWA and 3rd gen ham.
I will say as having fooled around with it, latency can sometimes be truly awful which has quite an impact on your normal half duplex operation, ops almost willfully don't understand scalability of the software with bandwidth or real time RTOS desires. Nothing funnier than a PC crash in the middle of a QSO. Ability to "do ham radio stuff" does not necessarily come with basic computer competence, although it often does...
There's a big impedance jump going from "I downloaded HPSDR and it worked" to "I pkg install'd gnuradio and made my own broadcast FM receiver and it worked". Its like using Scratch to write hello world vs porting Emacs to Haskell. The first time you get gnuradio to work its a rush. I imagine the jump from gnuradio to FPGA based boards is similar rush if you can do it. In my infinite spare time...
As far as I can tell the average user doesn't tinker with them much however.
It will be a long time before an A/D converter chip can equal the performance of a high-level mixer. In fact it will probably never happen, as any advances will apply equally to both technologies.
But yes, I agree with you that few hams are building SDRs. This was my biggest disappointment with SDR. Five years ago I thought that SDRs would usher in a new area of home-brew, but it's evolved into yet another bunch of appliance operators who have little interest in writing the software. So sad, because it's such a fascinating field..
I have no problem with SDR, it just doesn't interest me. You need a physical connection with the universe sometimes.
It really depends what you're doing. If you're contesting on RF for example, you'll find younger european hams that have HUGE budgets and build enormous multi-band yagi antenna towers and use very expensive SDR's to monitor the whole band and for excellent RX and signal discrimination capability.
Then you've got the SIGINT crowd that hang out at defcon and they'll generally use cheaper SDR's with bleeding edge software.
The HF band ragchew crowd tend to use boat anchors (old ham radios) with big amplifiers up to legal limit (1.5kw) and hang out especially on the lower frequencies like 7mhz, 3mhz and 1.8mhz. (40m, 80m, 160m in ham speak).
But generally once you get into radio you realize it's less about the base station and more about the antenna.
 Be sure to get one with a TCXO (Temperature Compensated Crystal Oscillator) which reduces frequency drift.
 His link actually goes to the newer, improved, Mini 2+.
I am thinking of starting decoding FM radio by myself to understand the basics.I do not want to use GNU radio except for better understanding. I would like to learn and have an understanding of things from scratch so that I get an intuitive feel when I am developing sniffers. Is this a good way to start? I really love wireless protocols but have worked from link layer upwards and would love to understand wireless PHY implementations.
SDR# has a bit of a messy history and at one time was completely open source but was later closed after some dispute between the developers (to the best of my knowledge).
If you look hard enough you can still find the source code of the older versions of SDR# and ADSB# which is handy if you want to learn how they work, although its all C# .NET and there is some wild stuff going on to try and squeeze enough performance out of the code. This is where I started learning though being a .NET developer, and from there moved on to GNU Radio and now learning C++.
The flexibility offered by doing all the work in software is ground-breaking... really only limited by imagination.
Google started blocking the mechanism used by the dump1090 map display. It might work if you have used it previously but not for new users:
The FlightAware fork now uses an OpenLayers map instead:
Make sure to use it with a supported device. The device in the article is supported I think (by the SoapyRTLSDR module).
Also wrote a GNU Radio based scanner that will work with the SDR dongles:
Nonetheless, you can receive TV with a higher-end SDR, ala https://medium.com/@rxseger/receiving-atsc-digital-televisio...