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USB Stick Software-Defined Radio

The compact size and reasonable price should make it a very interesting device for experimenting with SDR.

How would you like to own a software-defined radio (SDR), capable of demodulating any signal—with the proper software—that fits within an 80 kHz bandwidth between 64 MHz and 1,700 MHz? This week AMSAT-UK announced availability of its FUNcube Dongle, a USB device about the size of a TV USB tuner stick that offers just that capability. The price is about $158, not including shipping.

The device looks like a USB audio device to a computer, allowing it to work with a wide range of existing Windows, Mac OSX and Linux SDR software. Each unit is tested for a sensitivity of 0.15 µV for 12 dB SINAD NBFM at amateur radio band frequencies 145 MHz and 435 MHz. It was originally designed to allow monitoring amateur radio FUNcube satellite telemetry, but software allows it to be used to demodulate narrowband FM (NBFM), AM, SSB and other communications modes, as well as data, from polar orbiting weather satellites in the 137 MHz band. While the bandwidth is too narrow to demodulate a 6 MHz VSB digital TV signal, or even a wideband broadcast FM signal, with the right software it seems as if it should be able to be used as a software-based spectrum analyzer.

Although I wish the device provided a bit wider bandwidth for reception of higher resolution weather 1.6 GHz weather satellite data, and coverage of shortwave and medium wave frequencies, the compact size and reasonable price should make it very a very interesting device for experimenting with SDR.

More details are available on the web site. Thanks to the Southgate Amateur Radio Club for its story describing this device.

— Doug Lung, TV Technology

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