Using kalibrate-rtl to calibrate the rtl-sdr frequency / 2017-04-29

2017-04-29 Using kalibrate-rtl to calibrate the rtl-sdr frequency4 months ago
In my project to receive amateur satellites with the rtl-sdr I noticed the sdr itself has a considerable frequency error as noted in Going full duplex with amateur satellites, part 5 : first test of the amplifier with RTL-SDR.

Using the PI2NOS output frequency I ended up at an error of 54 ppm so I entered that in gqrx. But to be really sure there is a program named kalibrate-rtl available via GitHub - steve-m/kalibrate-rtl: fork of http://thre.at/kalibrate/ for use with rtl-sdr devices.

I had some trouble finding the right way to use this program so I am sharing my steps here. First try to guess the error by using a known frequency such as a local repeater (especially when they mention using GPS to maintain frequency) or a broadcast FM station.

First step with kalibrate-sdr is to scan for GSM channels which are strong enough. I noticed in later runs that I really need to add the first guessed frequency error, otherwise it will not find the GSM channels at all.
koos@kernighan:~/radiowork/kalibrate-rtl/src$ ./kal -s GSM900 -e 54
Found 1 device(s):
  0:  Generic RTL2832U OEM

Using device 0: Generic RTL2832U OEM
Found Rafael Micro R820T tuner
Exact sample rate is: 270833.002142 Hz
[R82XX] PLL not locked!
kal: Scanning for GSM-900 base stations.
GSM-900:
        chan: 8 (936.6MHz + 724Hz)      power: 67277.85
        chan: 17 (938.4MHz + 606Hz)     power: 36428.54

Second step with kalibrate-sdr is to select a GSM channel to use for the calibration run. I selected channel 8 which looks quite active.
koos@kernighan:~/radiowork/kalibrate-rtl/src$ ./kal -e 54 -c 8
Found 1 device(s):
  0:  Generic RTL2832U OEM

Using device 0: Generic RTL2832U OEM
Found Rafael Micro R820T tuner
Exact sample rate is: 270833.002142 Hz
[R82XX] PLL not locked!
kal: Calculating clock frequency offset.
Using GSM-900 channel 8 (936.6MHz)
average         [min, max]      (range, stddev)
+ 169Hz         [85, 251]       (166, 49.119198)
overruns: 0
not found: 0
average absolute error: 53.820 ppm
And only in that step you get the output with the calculated frequency error.

Update: Doing this calibration is also a good idea for the stick running the ads-b receiver. That came out to -30 ppm and using that factor makes dump1090 receive signals from greater distances.

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