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Amateur Radio and GNU Radio

Introduction to ham radio / amateur radio

Ham radio operators are given a license by their government enabling them to make radio transmissions for the purpose of scientific investigation, experimentation and non-commercial communication. Ham radio provides great opportunities for learning, education, disaster relief and making interesting discoveries.

Ham licenses typically offer access to frequencies in every significant portion of the radio spectrum, including HF bands (between 1MHz and 30MHz), VHF (144MHz - 148MHz), UHF (420MHz - 450MHz) and many microwave bands. The license authorizes many different transmission modes (FM voice, SSB, digital, TV) and significant power levels (over 1kW in some countries).

To get started, you may need to search for the organization responsible for amateur radio in your country. They may be able to advise you if you need to complete an exam to qualify for a license or if your existing qualification, such as an electrical engineering degree, automatically qualifies you for a license. A starting point may be the International Amateur Radio Union or Wikipedia

Getting started with GNU Radio for hams

To get started really fast, consider using convenient Linux packages or download the GNU Radio liveSDR environment, put it onto a USB stick or a DVD, and boot from it.

Many of the projects mentioned below are included, and if they're not, you can use pyBOMBS to get them.

Getting to know GNU Radio

The currently recommended way to start with GNU Radio is to read the Guided_Tutorials. As an amateur radio enthusiast, you might get a little bored by the physical description of radio in part 1, but please do read it, as the the parts depend on each other.

Choosing hardware

The Hardware page provides a discussion of common hardware options. Wikipedia has a dedicated page with a list of software defined radio hardware, not all of these have been verified with GNU Radio.


For receive-only operation, the range of hardware choices is much wider, including several low-cost options. For getting your feet wet, you may wish to consider purchasing one of the low cost receivers and not worrying about transmit capability until you have had some basic experience with the receiver.


There are many SDR hardware devices that offer both receive and transmit capabilities. These devices typically operate at a very low power level (around 100 mW) and it is necessary to combine them with a TX power amplifier. Care is needed for TX/RX path isolation.

Transmitter activation and PTT / microphone

See the page about TransmitterActivation

VFO tuning knobs

Various USB-based multimedia tuning knobs exist. Some are purpose-built for radio, others are general purpose devices for tasks such as video editing. This has been discussed on the mailing list and there are some suggestions about hardware and GNU Radio drivers.

Recommended Projects

There's a lot of projects on CGRAN, the comprehensive GNU Radio archive network, so go over there and search for a few keywords that might be relevant to you.

However, to promote a few GNU Radio-based projects that are of special interest to hams, here's a few:

  • W7FU: various pages about receivers and transmitters
  • GQRX: Narrow band SSB/CW/FM receiver GQRX
  • gr-paint: Draw pretty pictures on your (or someone else's) spectrum gr-paint
  • ham2mon: GR based SDR Scanner ham2mon
  • argilo/sdr-examples: NFM, WBFM, AM, LSB, USB, CW, PSK31 (and other) Tx examples argilo/sdr-examples
  • gr-bruninga: GR based APRS Modem gr-bruninga
  • RadioPresidio: GR based SSB/NFM/WBFM/AM transceiver application RadioPresidio
  • gr-rtty: GR based RTTY decoder gr-rtty
  • gr-ham: DSTAR decoder and other useful blocks for ham radio gr-ham
  • gr-psk31 Simple tutorial on using psk31 with GNU Radio gr-psk31
  • gr-hpsdr GNU Radio source/sink blocks for Hermes/Metis TAPR HPSDR transceivers with ethernet connection to compute host. Tom McDermott, N5EG gr-hpsdr github
  • gr-cessb GNU Radio Controlled Envelope Single Sideband (Work in Progress) gr-cessb