Sunday, 17 March 2013

WSPR using a FUNCube Dongle PRO+

For sometime I have been using my FUNCube Dongle Pro+ SDR as an HF receiver station for WSPR, so. I thought it was about time I posted something.

By its very nature radio propagation isn't totally predictable so someone transmitting can never know exactly where their signal will be received. There is whole science behind radio propagation prediction and amateur radio operators are always on the look out for openings or skip conditions for DX communications. To aid operators a number of propagation beacons exist, usually operating in CW mode transmitting their identification (call sign and location). Some of them use frequency shift keying and some transmit signals in digital modulation modes.

While invaluable operators have to actively receive and monitor these signals and what they really want to know is how their signal is getting out to the rest of the world. This is where the WSPR system comes into its own. The WSPR system uses a protocol which probes these potential propagation paths using low-power QRP transmissions.

WSPR (pronounced "whisper") stands for "Weak Signal Propagation Reporter" and is a computer program that enables amateur radio stations to participate in a world-wide network of low power propagation beacons. The station transmits beacon signals and receives signals from other stations operating in the same amateur band. These stations then upload 'spots' that they receive in real time to a central website enabling operators to find out where and how strongly they were received, and can view the propagation paths on a map.

It is also possible to operate a receive only station uploading 'spots' to the same website, all that is required is a receiver capable of receiving single side band transmissions and feeding the resultant audio into the WSPR program where it is processed. The WSPR program was written by Joe Taylor, K1JT.

These "whisper" signals are often barely audible but their presence can be detected by the WSPR program using signal processing. The WSPR signal uses frequency shift keying (FSK) with a very small shift and a very slow data rate. The signals bandwidth occupied is only about 6 Hz so many stations can operate within the 200Hz WSPR window without interference. WSPR transmissions are encoded to carry a station's callsign, grid locator, and transmitter power in dBm. The program can decode signals with S/N as low as -28 dB in a 2500 Hz bandwidth.

Each transmission lasts for just under two minutes, and starts at the beginning of each even-numbered minute. Therefore it is vitally important that transmitters and receivers are synchronised, so one of the fundamental pre-requisites of success with WSPR is an accurately-set computer clock. This is achieved by using internet or GPS time synchronisation methods.

Setting Up

This diagram shows the set up I am using at the moment. I have a long-wire antenna connected to the FUNCube Dongle Pro+. I am using SDRSharp (SDR#) to operate the FCDP+ and the resulting audio output is then used as the input into the WSPR program.

I am using SDR# but any suitable SDR program could be used, I have used SDR-Radio and HDSDR but I have found the SDR# program uses less resources on my ageing PC.

Routing the sound output from one program to be the input into another can be problematic and depends on the soundcard and its driver, you might be lucky and have a 'stereo-mix' or 'what-u-hear' option to use the main sound card output as a recording input, or alternatively you will need to use something like virtual audio cable VAC.

Since the WSPR signal is very narrow band it is desirable that your receiver is accurately calibrated. Most SDR program that support the FUNCube Dongle PRO+ allow a correction setting so that the tuned signal is at the correct frequency, the use of beacons, repeaters, time signals or broadcast stations is an excellent method to set this correction if required.

You will need to download the WSPR program from the current stable version is WSPR-2.11. The installation is straightforward and when you start the program a window will appear that looks like a command prompt, don't close this window, it will give important debug messages if there problems. Then the main console window will open along with a window where you set the station parameters.

Don't worry about the Callsign and Grid locator at the moment, the first thing to do is select the correct audio in source, the rest can be ignored as it relates to a transmitter and I am describing how to set up a receive only station.

Firstly slide the Tx fraction (%) to zero, since you won't be transmitting and make sure the upload spots is unchecked at the moment, then select the appropriate band you wish to receive. Then set the appropriate dial frequencies in your SDR receiver program, this is shown in the window and your SDR program will need to operate in USB, with a bandwidth of 2500Hz.

The current WSPR dial frequencies are (MHz)
0.136, 0.4742, 1.8366, 3.5926, 5.2872, 7.0386, 10.1387, 14.0956, 18.1046, 21.0946, 24.9246, 28.1246, 50.293, 70.091,144.489

I suggest you turn off any AGC and any filtering in the receiver, uncheck the idle box in WSPR and then wait for the next 'even' minute at which point the program should show receiving, alter the sound level so the Rx Noise is ideally around 0dB, but it will work between -10dB and +10dB.

When the two minute interval is over a segment will appear in the waterfall in the top panel and the program will decode any WSPR transmissions received, you will see them as lines in the waterfall as the above image shows. Any successful decodes will appear in the bottom panel.

Once you have got it working, the next thing is to register on the website for a SWL callsign, mine is G-SWL10 you will also need to know your grid-locator, you can find this easily using

Once registered then putting the data into the station parameters and checking the upload spots will send your spots to the website database, where you can view your spots in the database and on a map, the map at the top shows my spots on one day this week on 20m, getting stations from Australia, the Far East and the US as well as Europe.

Some important things to note are ensure you computer clock is accurately set, if it is wrong you will be out of sync and decodes won't happen and ensure you are tuned to the correct frequency as you have set the WSPR program otherwise spots will be reported for the wrong band.

It is a fascinating activity and even as just a receiver you are offering a valuable service to amateur operators.

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