USRP has finally arrived - what next?

The regular reader of this blog already knows what the USRP is. The infrequent reader is referred to this blog entry.

So it has finally arrived, although I really don't have too much time of playing with it at the moment. I guess I'll do some basic functionality tests and then have to put it aside for some time.

One of the important issues remains the lack of readily available RF frontends. With the BasicRX frontend, you can basically sample amplified signals of up to 32MHz bandwidth below 200MHz.

I've investigated a lot of options with regard to RF frontends, and none of them is really promising:

  • A commercially available 20-3000Mhz tuner/down-converter WiNRADIO WR-G526e. That's what we all want. Unfortunately horribly expensive, I've read USD6k somewhere :(
  • Using a commercially available radio scanner with 10.7MHz IF output. This sounds like a good idea. The problem is that most of them seem to have ridiculously small IF bandwidths:
    • Yaesu VR-5000 (+- 100kHz IF bandwidth): ~ 500-600 EUR
    • AOR AR3000A (IF bandwith unknown): 780 EUR
    • AOR AR8600MK2 (IF bandwith +- 2 MHz): 710 EUR
    • AOR AR5000A (IF bandwith +- 5MHz): 1600EUR
    So if you want to go for high-bandwith signals such as DVB or 802.11, only the AR5000A would be usable... again quite pricey.
  • Using a DVB-{T,S,C} tuner to build your own USRP RF frontend. That sounds reasonably priced, but requires quite some amount of work. Issues include
    • Obtaining tuner samples from vendors like Sharp or Microtune
    • Designing the support circuitry (voltages, matching)
    • Writing software for tuning (mostly i2c bit banging)
    Possible Tuner Modules I've found so far