Retrotechtacular: 934 MHz CB Radio

The radio spectrum is carefully regulated and divided up by Governments worldwide. Some of it is shared across jurisdictions under the terms of international treaties, while other allocations exist only in individual countries. Often these can contain some surprising oddities, and one of these is our subject today. Did you know that the UK’s first legal CB radio channels included a set in the UHF range, at 934 MHz? Don’t worry, neither did most Brits. Behind it lies a tale of bureaucracy, and of a bungled attempt to create an industry around a barely usable product.

Hey, 2019, Got Your Ears On?

Did this car make you want a CB radio? Stuurm [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Did this car make you want a CB radio? Stuurm [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Mention CB radio in 2019 it’s likely that the image conjured in the mind of the listener will be one from a previous decade. Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed in Smokey and the Bandit perhaps, or C. W. McCall’s Convoy. It may not be very cool in the age of WhatsApp, but in the 1970s a CB rig was the last word in fashionable auto accessories and a serious object of desire into which otherwise sane adults yearned to speak the slang of the long-haul trucker.If you weren’t American though, CB could be a risky business. Much of the rest of the world didn’t have a legal CB allocation, and correspondingly didn’t have access to legal CB rigs. The bombardment of CB references in exported American culture created a huge demand for CB though, and for British would-be CBers that was satisfied by illegally imported American equipment. A vibrant community erupted around UK illegal 27 MHz AM CB in the late 1970s, and Government anger was met with campaigning for a legal allocation. Brits eventually got a legal 27 MHz allocation in November 1981, but the years leading up to that produced a few surprises.

Governments tend to be their happiest when in the driver’s seat, and thus they were reluctant to simply licence the same CB allocation as the American one. During the protracted period of campaigning by CBers over the end of the decade it became obvious that there was a very significant demand for an allocation but they could not be seen to let the illegal CBers win. Their first tactic was to propose a 928 MHz UHF allocation with a 500mW power limit which was rejected by the CB lobbyists, so the final allocation became a 27 MHz one with a 4W limit on an odd set of frequencies incompatible with the American ones, and using FM rather than the American AM. Alongside this they clung to a UHF allocation, which was finally given at 934 MHz.

The result was that Brits had two CB allocations, one of which on 27 MHz that worked even if it wasn’t as good as the American sets, and one on 934 MHz that didn’t work very well at all and had eye wateringly expensive equipment. All the wannabe Rubber Ducks gravitated towards 27 MHz, but 934 MHz became an exclusive pursuit for enthusiasts; essentially another amateur band in which propagation and DX chasers plied their craft.

The Government hoped that having two CB allocations unique to the UK would create a home-grown industry supplying British-made CB rigs, a seductive idea for politicians with little knowledge of how the electronic hardware industry works. For example, the same idea has been touted in recent years as a reason behind drone licencing laws. But in reality, the market was soon flooded with UK-spec 27 MHz radios from Far Eastern manufacturers. By contrast 934 MHz rigs were rare, with only one or two models being brought to market. The object of desire was the Cybernet Delta One, a video review of which we’ve placed at the bottom of the page.

Christmas 1981, The Day The Dream Ended

If you were an AM CBer who bought a legal UK 27 MHz FM rig in November 1981, then life continued as usual as the community moved to the new band. They had a triumphant couple of months as victors savouring their spoils, but then Christmas came around, and everyone who’d sat in the cinema watching Convoy and fantasised about CB lingo got a rig of their own. Overnight the dream was shattered, followed swiftly by the UK CB bubble bursting as the novelty wore off. 27 MHz CB continues in the UK with a set of European channels now added to the UK ones, but never again will it be anything approaching cool.

Meanwhile the 934 MHz channels continued to provide an experimentation ground for enthusiasts, and every month in Practical Wireless there was a column devoted to its propagation. In 1988 as the mobile phone industry began to expand, there was a demand for UHF frequencies, and the Government stopped the sale of new 934 MHz equipment. A decade later the allocation was officially removed, and those 934 MHz rigs are now illegal to use, though they do still appear in radio rallies from time to time.

The UK CB boom had a surprising effect, in that it brought a whole new audience into radio as a hobby and caused a corresponding boom throughout the 1980s as many of those people went on to obtain their amateur licences. If you meet someone with a G1 callsign there’s a good chance that’s the generation they came from, so ask them if they had a 934 MHz radio. Even if they didn’t, they’ll probably be able to tell you more about this interesting side chapter in radio history.

Now, sit back and enjoy M0OGY’s review of a 934 MHz radio.

 

Well-Engineered RF Amplifier Powers Ham Radio Contacts

Typically, amateur radio operators use the minimum power needed to accomplish a contact. That’s just part of being a good spectrum citizen, and well-earned bragging rights go to those who make transcontinental contacts on the power coming from a coin cell. But sometimes quantity has a quality all its own, and getting more power into the ether is what the contact requires. That’s where builds such as this well-engineered 600W broadband RF amplifier come into play.

We’re really impressed with the work that [Razvan] put into this power amp. One of the great joys of being a ham is being able to build your own gear, and to incorporate the latest technology long before the Big Three manufacturers start using it. While LDMOS transistors aren’t exactly new – laterally-diffused MOSFETs have been appearing in RF power applications for decades – the particular parts used for the amp, NXP’s MRF300 power transistors, are pretty new to the market. A pair of the LDMOS devices form the heart of the push-pull amp, as do an array of custom-wound toroids and transformers including a transmission line transformer wound with 17-ohm coax cable. [Razvan] paid a lot of attention to thermal engineering, too, with the LDMOS transistors living in cutouts in the custom PCB so they can mate with a hefty heatsink. Even the heatsink compound is special; rather than the typical silicone grease, he chose a liquid metal alloy called Gallinstan. The video below gives a tour of the amp and shows some tests with impressive results.

Raspberry Pi Ham Radio Remote Reviewed

One problem with ham radio these days is that most hams live where you can’t put a big old antenna up due to city laws and homeowner covenants. If you’re just working local stations on VHF or UHF, that might not be a big problem. But for HF usage, using a low profile antenna is a big deal. However, most modern radios can operate remotely. Well-known ham radio company MFJ now has the RigPi Station Server and [Ham Radio DX] has an early version and did a review.

As the name implies, the box contains a Raspberry Pi. There’s also an audio interface. The idea is to consolidate rig control along with other station control (such as rotators) along with feeding audio back and forth to the radio. It also sends Morse code keying to the radio. The idea is that this box will put your radio on the network so that you operate it using a web browser on a PC or a mobile device.

According to MFJ, you can operate voice, Morse code, or digital modes easily and remotely. The box uses open source software that can control over 200 different radios and 30 rotors. Of course, you could build all this yourself and use the same open source software, but it is nicely packaged. [Ham Radio DX] says you don’t need to know much about the Pi or Linux to use the box, although clearly you can get into Linux and use the normal applications if you’re so inclined.

Even if you don’t want to transmit, we could see a set up like this being used for remote monitoring. We’d like to see a companion box for the remote end that had the audio hardware, a keyer, and perhaps a knob to act as a remote control of sorts. Of course, you could probably figure out how to do that yourself. We wonder if some ham clubs might start offering a remote radio via an interface like this — we’ve seen it done before, but not well.

Your $50 radio probably isn’t going to work with this, and if you use FT8, you could argue you don’t need to be there anyway.

 

Take A Break From Arduinos, And Build A Radio Transmitter

When you start watching [learnelectronic’s] two-part series about making a radio transmitter, you might not agree with some of his history lessons. After all, the origin of radio is a pretty controversial topic. Luckily, you don’t need to know who invented radio to enjoy it.

The first transmitter uses a canned oscillator, to which it applies AM modulation. Of course, those oscillators are usually not optimized for that service, but it sort of works. In part two he reduces the frequency to 1 MHz at which point it can be listened to on a standard AM radio, before adding an amplifier so any audio source can modulate the oscillator. There’s a lot of noise, but the audio is clearly there.

This is far from practical of course, but combined with a crystal radio it could make an awesome weekend project for a kid you want to hook on electronics. The idea that a few simple parts could send and receive audio is a pretty powerful thing. If you get ready to graduate to a better design, we have our collection.

 

Hams In Space: Gearing Up For The Lunar Gateway

Humanity had barely taken its first tentative steps into space with primitive satellites when amateur radio operators began planning their first satellites. Barely four years after Sputnik’s brief but momentous launch and against all odds, OSCAR 1 was launched as a secondary payload from an Air Force missile taking a spy satellite into orbit. Like Sputnik, OSCAR 1 didn’t do much, but it was a beginning.

Since then, amateur radio has maintained a more or less continuous presence in space. That first OSCAR has been followed by 103 more, and hams have flown on dozens of missions from the Space Shuttle to the ISS, where pretty much everyone is a licensed amateur. And now, as humans prepare once again to journey into deep space via the stepping stone of the proposed Lunar Gateway, amateur radio is planning on going along for the ride.

A Gateway to Deep Space

More properly known at the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway or LOP-G, the Lunar Gateway is intended to be a way-station between the Earth and the Moon, and thence to the deeper parts of the solar system and beyond. Like the ISS, the Gateway will consist of multiple modules serving specific purposes, all docked together into a space station that will serve as a staging area for both crewed and robotic missions. The Gateway will also be a collaborative station, with corporations and agencies from multiple nations contributing hardware

Unlike the ISS, though, the Gateway will be fairly limited in size and therefore in the scope of missions it will host. Although it will have room to accommodate small crews for up to three months at a time, there is no intention to keep the Gateway permanently crewed like the ISS is. The Gateway will serve mainly as a cosmic rest stop, a place where astronauts and hardware can meet up before the final push to the moon.

The Gateway has met with a fair amount of criticism from a wide range of commentators, from former astronauts to space agency administrators to journalists and academicians. Most of the criticism seems to be based on the feeling that humanity’s push back into deep space is not nearly bold enough, and that instead of going on a “been there, done that” mission to the Moon, we should instead just head to Mars. And those who feel that returning to the Moon is a valid goal seem to think that a space station waypoint would just be an unnecessary expense that would hinder investment in the technologies needed for a direct-to-Moon mission.

But as is often the case, all of this criticism is trumped by the realities of orbital mechanics. As Brian Benchoff recently explained, the Lunar Gateway opens up nearly the entire surface of the Moon to our exploration, including the interesting bits near the poles that hold all the water. Without the Lunar Gateway and it’s extremely weird orbit – more on that in a second – all we would have access to on the Moon is basically the same mid-latitude areas pretty much every mission has visited for the last sixty years. Sure, we could land a mission at the equator and take a MoonMobile to the poles, but that seems pretty foolish – why drive when you can fly?

Weird for a Reason

A little detail about the weird orbit the Lunar Gateway will use is in order, as it will tie into the ham aspect of all this. As Brian pointed out, the orbit is referred to as a “near-rectilinear halo orbit”, or NRHO. A glance at the orbital path shown most often in media packs and other supporting information for the Lunar Gateway appears to show the space station in a polar orbit around the Moon, but with occasional mid-orbit reversals, seemingly in opposition to the laws of physics. What exactly is going on here?

To understand the NRHO and how it will affect Lunar Gateway operations, including amateur radio access, you got to look at the orbit from another angle. All those loopy looking animations mentioned before represent the orbit when viewed from a Moon-centered inertial frame. That makes the Lunar Gateway appear to regularly move retrograde, in much the same way that the combined orbits of Earth and Mars make the Red Planet seem to move “backward” in the night sky. The NRHO from the Moon’s frame of reference can be seen in the bottom right of the video below.

However, when looked at from an Earth-centered frame of reference, the NRHO starts to make more sense. The Lunar Gateway is actually in orbit around the Earth, or more correctly, around the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange Point. The Lunar Gateway will be in a constant game of follow-the-leader with the Moon, catching up with it every week or so only to flung back down below the orbital plane to repeat the cycle.

Decisions, Decisions

The unusual orbit the Lunar Gateway will follow is inherently unstable, and will require the occasional boost to maintain it. NASA has specified ion thrusters for station-keeping, which contribute to the need for 60 kilowatts of solar power. This should mean that whatever ham gear makes it aboard the first module of the station, the Power and Propulsion Element, or PPE, will not have to compete for power, at least initially.

So what gear is actually going to make it to the Gateway? For now, that’s mostly an open question. Planning for the ham station aboard the Gateway is the job of AMSAT, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, which is the outfit behind the OSCAR satellites. They’ve formed a working group called AREx, or Amateur Radio Exploration, which has been meeting twice a month to decide which bands and modes will be supported; this in turn will help define the equipment needed.

Whatever gear ends up flying, we can assume that making contact with the Gateway will be at least moderately challenging. For comparison, contacting the hams aboard the ISS is fairly easy, needing little more than a simple homebrew antenna and a mobile transceiver or even a decent handheld. On the other end of the scale, it’s tempting to assume that since the Lunar Gateway will be most of the way to the Moon, making contact will be about as difficult as Earth-Moon-Earth, or EME, contacts. EME is uber-ham stuff, often using huge, steerable antennas and powerful transmitters to blast the Moon with signals so that a weak echo will come back down for another ham to receive. The path loss for EME is on the order of 250 dB or more depending on frequency, and the technical challenges of digging a signal out of the galactic noise are significant.

Luckily, hams won’t be relying on passive reflections from the Moon’s surface to make contacts, so contacts should be easier. Chances are good that a tracking antenna will still be needed, but the antenna required will probably be far more modest than some of the elaborate EME antennas in use today. The 2-meter band (144-146 MHz) is often used for EME, so it’s quite likely that it’ll be used for the Lunar Gateway too. We can also guess that weak-signal digital modes like JT65, with its powerful error correction, will be supported. Also, since the Lunar Gateway will not be permanently crewed, chances are good that some automatic stations will be up there, perhaps a packet digipeater, or digital repeater, like the ISS has.

Almost all of the details of the amateur radio presence on the Lunar Gateway remain to be seen, but given how early in the design process hams were looped in, the design of the spacecraft, its orbital dynamics, and the proven record of ham radio in near-space, chances are excellent that hams be able to talk to someone in deep space within the next five years or so.

 

PA75LIMBURG: 75 years freedom in Limburg

After D-Day in june 1944 the allied forces liberated vast sections of France and Belgium before arriving in the most southern part of Limburg on 12 September 1944. Only 2 days later the first city in the Dutch province was liberated.

After the liberation of Maastricht, the whole south of the province was quite quickly liberated as well. In the meantime parts of some other Dutch provinces were liberated and operation market garden took place in the East part of the country. The North-West of the Netherlands, Holland, was still occupied by Nazi-Germany.

The liberation of Limburg was halted in the fall of 1944 with the south and west part of the province already liberated. Nazi Germany dug in and slowed the allied forces down in an attempt to prevent the allies from crossing the border to Germany.

 

The fact that many allied troops were redirected to the battle of the bulge in the Belgium Ardennes didn’t help but in January 1945 operation Blackcock started, in an attempt to liberate the “roertriangle” which was similar in shape to the bulge in the Ardennes which nicknamed the operation “the small battle of the bulge”.

Battles were fierce, villages and citys destroyed by Nazi German as well as Allied bombing and the allies had to fight for every kilometer.

On March the 3th the last towns of Limburg were liberated. It took the Allied forces until the 11th of july 1945 to liberate the whole of the Netherlands.

The callsign PA75LIMBURG will be on air from 12 september 2019 untill 3 march 2020, exactly 75 years after the liberation took place.

Various bands and modes will be used, with focus on shortwave and SSB.

RTL-SDR: Seven Years Later

Before swearing my fealty to the Jolly Wrencher, I wrote for several other sites, creating more or less the same sort of content I do now. In fact, the topical overlap was enough that occasionally those articles would get picked up here on Hackaday. One of those articles, which graced the pages of this site a little more than seven years ago, was Getting Started with RTL-SDR. The original linked article has long since disappeared, and the site it was hosted on is now apparently dedicated to Nintendo games, but you can probably get the gist of what it was about from the title alone.

An “Old School” RTL-SDR Receiver

When I wrote that article in 2012, the RTL-SDR project and its community were still in their infancy. It took some real digging to find out which TV tuners based on the Realtek RTL2832U were supported, what adapters you needed to connect more capable antennas, and how to compile all the software necessary to get them listening outside of their advertised frequency range. It wasn’t exactly the most user-friendly experience, and when it was all said and done, you were left largely to your own devices. If you didn’t know how to create your own receivers in GNU Radio, there wasn’t a whole lot you could do other than eavesdrop on hams or tune into local FM broadcasts.

Nearly a decade later, things have changed dramatically. The RTL-SDR hardware and software has itself improved enormously, but perhaps more importantly, the success of the project has kicked off something of a revolution in the software defined radio (SDR) world. Prior to 2012, SDRs were certainly not unobtainable, but they were considerably more expensive. Back then, the most comparable device on the market would have been the FUNcube dongle, a nearly $200 USD receiver that was actually designed for receiving data from CubeSats. Anything cheaper than that was likely to be a kit, and often operated within a narrower range of frequencies.

Today, we would argue that an RTL-SDR receiver is a must-have tool. For the cost of a cheap set of screwdrivers, you can gain access to a world that not so long ago would have been all but hidden to the amateur hacker. Let’s take a closer look at a few obvious ways that everyone’s favorite low-cost SDR has helped free the RF hacking genie from its bottle in the last few years.

Hardware Evolution

Even though the project is called RTL-SDR, the Realtek RTL2832U chip is in reality just half of the equation; it’s a USB demodulator chip that needs to be paired with a tuner to function. In the early days, there were a number of different tuners in use, and figuring out which one you were getting was a pretty big deal. The Elonics E4000 was the most desirable tuner as it had the widest frequency range, but it could be difficult to know ahead of time what you were getting.

The packaging and documentation were all but useless; either the manufacturer didn’t bother to include the information, or if they did, it would often become outdated as new revisions of the product were produced. The only way to be sure about what you were getting was to see if somebody had already purchased that particular model and reported on their findings. Luckily, the tuners were cheap enough that you could buy a couple and experiment. In those days, it wasn’t uncommon to find RTL-SDR compatible devices for less than $10 from import sites.

Opening up a contemporary RTL2832U+E4000 receiver, we can see they were relatively simple affairs. The flimsy plastic case doesn’t do much to prevent interference, and the Belling-Lee connector connector is intended for use with a traditional TV antenna. Note this particular model features an IR receiver so the user could change TV channels with the included remote; a reminder of what this device was actually built for.

These days, you don’t need to wade through pages of nearly identical looking USB TV tuners to find compatible hardware. There are now several RTL2832U-based receivers which are specifically designed for RTL-SDR use, generally selling for around $30. These devices not only address the shortcomings of the original hardware offerings, but in many cases add in new capabilities that simply wouldn’t have made sense to include back when they were just for watching TV on your computer.

Here we have the “RTL-SDR Blog v3” receiver, which is one of the most popular “next generation” RTL-SDR receivers. The plastic case has been replaced with an aluminum one that not only reduces interference, but helps the board dissipate heat while in operation. The crystal has been upgraded to a temperature compensated oscillator (TCXO) which helps reduce temperature drift. The R820T2 tuner is paired with a standard SMA antenna connector, and both it and the RTL2832U have some unused pins broken out if you’re looking to get into developing modifications or expansions to the core hardware.

Software Library

The improvements to the base RTL-SDR hardware are welcome, and it’s nice to not have to worry about whether or not the receiver you’ve purchased is actually going to work with the drivers, but realistically those changes mainly benefit the more hardcore users who are pushing the edge of the envelope. If you’re just looking to sniff some 433 MHz thermometers, you don’t exactly need a TCXO. For most users, the biggest improvements have come in the software side of things.

For one, the RTL-SDR package is almost certainly going to be in the repository of your favorite GNU/Linux distribution. Unless you need some bleeding edge feature, you won’t have to compile the driver and userland tools from source anymore. The same will generally be true for the SDR graphical frontend, namely gqrx by Alexandru Csete. Those two packages are enough to get you on the air and browsing for interesting signals, but that’s just the beginning. The rise of cheap SDRs has inspired a number of fantastic new software packages that are light-years ahead of what was available previously.

Certainly one of the best examples is Universal Radio Hacker, an all-in-one tool that lets you search for, capture, and ultimately decode wireless signals. Whether it’s a known protocol for which it already has a built-in decoder, or something entirely new that you need to reverse engineer, Universal Radio Hacker is a powerful tool for literally pulling binary data out of thin air. Those looking to reverse unknown wireless protocols should also take a look at inspectrum, another tool developed in the last few years that can be used to analyze captured waveforms.

Decoding a captured ASK OOK signal in Universal Radio Hacker

If you’re more interested in the practical application of these radios, there have also been a number of very impressive “turn-key” applications developed that leverage the high availability of low-cost SDRs. One such project is dump1090, a ADS-B decoder that was specifically developed for use with the RTL-SDR. With a distributed network of receivers, the software has allowed the community to democratize flight tracking through the creation of open data aircraft databases.

The Gift of Inspiration

In the years since its inception, the RTL-SDR project has become the de facto “first step” for anyone looking to experiment with radio. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and since the hardware is incapable of transmission, you don’t have to worry about accidentally running afoul of the FCC or your local equivalent. Honestly, it’s difficult to think of a valid reason not to add one of these little USB receivers to your bag of tricks; even if you only use it once, it will more than pay for itself.

Ultimately, this is the greatest achievement of the RTL-SDR project. It drove the entry barrier for radio experimentation and hacking so low that it’s spawned a whole new era. From the unique vantage point offered by Hackaday, we can see the sharp uptick of RF projects that correspond to the introduction of an easy to use and extremely affordable software defined radio. People who might never have owned a “real” radio beyond the one in their car can now peel back the layers of obscurity that in the past kept the vast majority of us off the airwaves. This is a very exciting time for wireless hacking, and things are only going to get more interesting from here on out. Long live RTL-SDR!

Apollo-11: 50 jaar geleden en tóch live meeluisteren!

Het is op 20 juli alweer 50 jaar geleden dat de eerste mens op de maan landde: Neil Armstrong landde met de Apollo-11 missie op de maan.

Deze gebeurtenis kun je “live” beleven op deze website: www.apolloinrealtime.org

Sinds de lancering is alle communicatie met de missie te beluisteren: niet alleen de CapCom maar ook alle interne communicatie in Houston en ondersteunende afdelingen. Nou ja, super cool dus om dit weer eens mee te beleven.

Herijking Novice licentie radiozendamateurs

De landelijke verenigingen voor radiozendamateurs VERON en VRZA hebben op verzoek van – en in goede samenwerking met – Agentschap Telecom de Novice licentie onder de loep genomen.
Er is opnieuw gekeken naar nut en noodzaak van de Novice licentie.
Een enquête onder radiozendamateurs maakte deel uit van het onderzoek. Het eindresultaat is in de vorm van een rapport aangeboden aan Agentschap Telecom.
Het rapport ‘Herijking N-registratie’ vindt u onder aan deze pagina.

Agentschap Telecom heeft VERON en VRZA in een officiële reactie bedankt voor het oppakken en afronden van deze lastige klus. De volledige reactie van Agentschap Telecom op het rapport leest u onder aan deze pagina.

Conclusies in het rapport zijn dat harmonisatie in Europees verband (CEPT) nagestreefd zou moet worden en dat de Novice licentie – naast een opstap naar een Full licentie –een volwaardige amateurlicentie is.
Agentschap Telecom onderschrijft deze conclusies.
In het rapport worden ook enkele aanbevelingen gedaan.
Agentschap Telecom spant zich in om de volgende aanbevelingen over te nemen:

– Het vrijgeven van de volledige amateurfrequentiebanden 14,00 – 14,35 MHz (20 meter) en 7,0 – 7,2 MHz (40 meter)
– het verhogen van het toegestane zendvermogen van 25 naar 100 watt PEP voor de Novice frequentiebanden < 30 MHz.

Het overnemen van deze aanbevelingen kost tijd, is afhankelijk van instemming door het Ministerie van EZK en zal niet eerder dan in de loop van 2020 gerealiseerd zijn. Tot die tijd verandert er niets en is het voor Novice amateurs niet toegestaan om mogelijke nieuwe banddelen of hogere zendvermogens te gebruiken en wordt dit ook niet gedoogd.

Bron: Agentschap Telecom