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Software Defined Radio: Choosing the Right System for Your Communications Course

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

SDR & Programming in ECE Education

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Kurt VonEhr Grand Valley State University

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Kurt VonEhr graduated from Grand Valley State University with a B.S.E.E. and minor in Computer Engineering. He is currently attending Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan for a M.S. in Embedded Systems. Kurt's engineering interests include: Embedded System Design, Digital Signal Processing, Communication Theory, Software Defined Radios, Sustainability and Alternative Energy.

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William Neuson Grand Valley State University

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William Neuson is an undergraduate student at Grand Valley State University, pursuing a degree in Computer Engineering. He has a deep-seated interest in software defined radio due to its proximity to both software engineering and amateur radio.

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Bruce E. Dunne Grand Valley State University

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Bruce E. Dunne received the B.S.E.E. (with honors) and M.S. degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1985 and 1988, respectively, both in Electrical and Computer Engineering. He received the Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, in 2003. In the Fall of 2003, he joined the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI, where he is currently Professor of Engineering and Chair of the Electrical Engineering Program. Prior to this appointment, he held several research and development positions in industry. From 1991 to 2002, he was a Staff Engineer with Tellabs, Naperville, IL. Additionally, in 1991, he was with AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories, Naperville; from 1988 to 1991, he was with R. R. Donnelley & Sons, Lisle, IL; and from 1985 to 1986, he was with Zenith Electronics, Glenview, IL. His interests include adaptive filtering, speech enhancement, wireless and wireline communications, and engineering education. Dr. Dunne is a senior member of the IEEE and a member of Eta Kappa Nu and the ASEE.

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Software Defined Radio (SDR) has recently been popularized as a powerful and full-featured alternative to delivering instruction in the area of analog and digital communications. Fortunately, there is a wide array of hardware to support SDR instruction, spanning a range of capabilities as well as price. Such higher-capable systems include the networked series of the Universal Software Radio Peripheral (USRP) platform that allow for complete stand-alone radio systems, able to acquire and process large portions of the RF spectrum. A mid-point system is the HackRF One SDR, with both receive and transmit capability, and sample rates of up to 20 MS/sec, operating up to 6 GHz. At a very modest price but with surprising capability are systems such as the RealTek RTL2832U stick, sampling up to 2.4 MS/sec, operating up to 2 GHz (where these systems double their usable spectrum through the use of Complex Sampling). Software support for these systems includes the ability to write custom routines in various programming languages such as C++ or Python or the option of using the GNU Radio signal processing package to link the routines to the hardware. Of particular interest for instructional purposes is the use of graphical development tools such as GNU Radio Companion (GRC) or MATLAB Simulink to allow students to configure and link communication blocks to create communication systems. Additionally, open source modules are available to seamlessly and easily connect these communication system flow graphs to many compatible hardware devices; with a low-cost antenna, students are transmitting and receiving communication signals while examining their characteristics on standard laboratory test equipment. Additionally, powerful and easy to use analysis tools such as SDR# augment the experience.

In this paper, we describe and compare the features, cost and capabilities of several of the more popular SDR systems typically used for instructional purposes. We further discuss how these systems are configured and programmed with several of the more popular software programs. We consider such factors as ease of use, cost and features. In short, our goal is to provide other educators with a “quick-start” guide to implementing SDR in their communications course.

As these tools have been used in for communications instruction at our university, we describe several of the more interesting laboratory exercises. These include transmission and reception of signals for both analog and digital communications systems. Finally, we include survey results demonstrating our students’ perceptions in comparing SDR-based instruction to more conventional methods.

VonEhr, K., & Neuson, W., & Dunne, B. E. (2016, June), Software Defined Radio: Choosing the Right System for Your Communications Course Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25838

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