Awhile back we published a guide for getting started with software defined radio (SDR) using the RTL-SDR project, which has turned out to be one of the most popular pieces we’ve ever run. It’s pretty clear that the open source community is into the idea of SDR and all of its applications.
But the hardware we covered earlier, a cheap TV tuner which was essentially being tricked into working outside of its job description, is clearly lacking in some respects. The receiver isn’t terribly good, and there are some big areas of the radio spectrum (such as the low frequency bands) which it simply isn’t capable of tuning to.
Thankfully, a new SDR device has recently popped up which looks to improve on this situation considerably. While it will definitely cost you more than $20 on DealExtreme, the performance increase will be more than worth it if your curiosity into SDR is turning into a full blown hobby.
FUNcube Dongle Pro+
The rather awkwardly named FUNcube Dongle Pro+ is the successor to the original FUNcube Dongle, one of the first widely available and reasonably priced SDR devices. The FUNcube devices actually use very similar internal components to the cheap TV tuners used in the RTL-SDR project, but as the FUNcube devices were designed with SDR in mind, the whole device is of considerably higher quality and sensitivity.
Features of the FUNcube Dongle Pro+:
- Covers all amateur bands from 136kHz through HF
- 0.5ppm TCXO
- 192kHz sampling rate
- Eleven discrete front end filters
- Super sharp SAW filters on 2m and 70cm
- No extra device drivers
As the FUNcube device appears to the system as a USB sound device, it works out of the box in essentially any modern operating system. You’ll still need some software to tune the device and process the audio stream, but there are multiple open source front-ends which will work with the FUNcube on Linux, Windows, and Mac OS.
For those curious as to how this device got its rather unique name, it’s because it was originally intended as the ground station component of the UK’s FUNcube-1 satellite, an amature satellite designed to increase interest in space technology among school children. The idea is that, if schools can purchase a (relatively) inexpensive device that allows them to receive real-time signals from an orbiting satellite, it will be much more interesting and interactive than any book or video about space technology ever would be.
As a side effect of its educational intent, the hardware is very well suited to general purpose SDR, so the community was quick to support it. The popularity of its “unofficial” use has been so great that the device is always in high demand, despite the fact that the FUNcube-1 satellite that the FUNcube Dongle is designed to receive hasn’t even launched yet.
The FUNcube Dongle Pro+ is priced at just shy of $200 USD, and should be shipping out in the very near future. Interested parties can place themselves on the waiting list via the FUNcube Dongle online store.
While the price may be 10 times as high as the RTL-SDR supported hardware, the greatly improved sensitivity and frequency range are absolutely worth it for anyone who’s becoming serious about SDR. It’s also worth noting that, even at $200, the FUNcube Dongle Pro+ is still one of the cheapest SDR devices on the market.