USR: Universal Software defined Radio (51.html)

a bladeRF board pictured connected to a Raspberry Pi.
a bladeRF board pictured connected to a Raspberry Pi (by Andrew Back).

With a 300MHz to 3.8GHZ range, 40MHz bandwidth, USB 3.0 interface and priced at only $400, it's hardly surprising bladeRF reached its $100,000 Kickstarter goal in under 8 days.

A gap in the market

Research and development labs have been well served for a number of years by the modular USRP hardware family, which represents great value for money and offers configuration flexibility, but is priced out of the range of many hobbyists and those curious about software defined radio (SDR). More recently, the Noctar board from Per Vices has provided a cost effective integrated option for particularly wideband and very high bandwidth requirements, but is limited to use with desktop computers and servers since it's a PCI solution. Not everyone needs hardware such as Noctar that has coverage from 100KHz to 4GHz and is able to manipulate a formidable 250MHz wide chunk of spectrum, and bladeRF is more than adequate for use with many current and future wireless systems and comes in at under half the price.

Capable features

The compact form factor and low cost of bladeRF has been made possible thanks to the LMS6002D [and LMS7002m] from Lime Microsystems, an SPI programmable IC that integrates digital converters, PLLs, mixers, amplifiers and filters. Designed as a single chip transceiver for 3G and LTE femtocell and picocell base stations, it requires very few external components and has a Tx output of up to +6dBm. The board includes a TCXO to provide the stability required by communications systems such as GSM, and also has expansion for 1PPS sync. An SMA connector is provided each for transmit and receive, and MIMO expansion up to 4x4 is possible by connecting boards together via SMB cables. A Cypress FX3 microcontroller is used to provide the USB 3.0 interface, its JTAG port is exposed and the source code for the firmware will be provided under an open source licence. bladeRF also includes an Altera Cyclone 4 FPGA, which can be used to implement signal processing functions and to create a standalone solution, with source HDL being provided for the default configuration and the JTAG port for the device also made available. As you would expect, a Linux device driver is provided along with GNU Radio support.

Comments by Andrew Back:

This is really aimed at modes such as GSM (270kHz channel width) and beyond and not really amateur radio, with the reason it does so much for relatively so little being due to the Lime Microsystems device that it uses, which is designed with mobile telephony base stations in mind. If you are interested in amateur radio and HF etc. bands there are plenty of other SDR options available, which is not so much the case if you want a low cost option to do GSM, 3G, LTE and white space etc. development. If you wanted receive only you'd be better off buying rtl-sdr hardware for ~£10 or a FUNcube Dongle etc. To make a receive-only version of bladeRF you'd have to throw away the Lime Microsystems chip which does just about everything, and virtually start all over again. Only to then end up competing in a space where there already exists numerous low cost options. Certain applications should work using a Raspberry Pi, e.g. GSM using an optimised OpenBTS. However, for higher bandwidth applications you are right, you would want something with USB 3.0 rather than USB 2.0.

Other USR Articles:

a USR user.
a USR user.

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Date: 2015 C Mar 02
WebMaster: David KC Cole