Inspired by the SDR capabilities that even a simple 8-bit TV dongle can perform, SDRplay had the idea of partnering with Mirics to take their 12-bit wideband broadcast chipset and to re-purpose it for the hobbyist market.
At the moment, the hobbyist market for SDR radios tends to be dominated by radio amateurs and ‘short-wave listeners’ and SDRplay’s initial product, the ‘Radio Spectrum Processor’ (RSP) has been well received – winning Ham Radio Science’s RSP ‘Best Bang for the Buck’ rating.
The second group of users are developers who can make use of the published open API to enable uses in areas as varied as surveillance, radio microphone channel monitoring and RF communications teaching courses.
The small company of engineers is spread around England and Wales and includes some ex-Mirics personnel as well as co-founder Jon Hudson (formerly SVP at CSR, Cambridge and a veteran radio ham, G4ABQ).
RSP shipments passed the 1KU/month milestone just before Christmas and volumes continue to ramp. The RSP is manufactured in the UK, by Walkbury in Peterborough.
The SDRPlay provides continuous receive coverage from 0.1MHz to 2GHz. The ADC is a 12-bit processor which is a step up over typical RTL 8-bit dongles and offers more dynamic range.
Also included are six bandpass filters that are automatically engaged depending on the selected band, as well as a 12MHz low-pass filter. The SDRPlay also includes a built-in LNA amplifier with 20dB of gain, so the SDRPlay is a capable receiver for use on satellite bands with the appropriate antenna.
The sampling rate can be adjusted from 200kHz to 8MHz which is pretty impressive for a SDR receiver in this price range. The settings for gain control, sample rate, and others can be manually controlled through the included ExtIO’s control panel.
The device is connected to a PC via a USB interface with a USB type B socket on the back. The antenna connector is a female SMA type.
Ham radio and pirate radio are currently making a come-back as antidotes to the tightening of internet controls and privacy concerns, and the dependency on complex and fragile wireless infrastructure.
The tragedy of MH370 aircraft disappearance brought home failures of institutions to monitor available signalling from aircraft and shows how hobbyists will step into the gap.
Although RF and computer geeks traditionally haven’t mixed much, an SDR with documented APIs allows a computer geek to do new stuff with radio much more easily than when dedicated RF hardware knowledge was needed.