ADSB# Range Testing with the RTL2832U+R820T Tuner

I’ve covered ADSB# in one of my earlier articles, even going so far as to take my E4000 dongle to the airport for a spin. But as we now know, Elonics (the guys behind the E4000 front end) have gone bust, and E4000 dongles are drying up fast. They were praised for their wide frequency range and semi-decent noise figure.

The next in line is the Rafael Micro R820T tuner in terms of range and sensitivity. The other FCxxxx Fitipower based ones just aren’t good enough – I’ve owned an FC0012 and that was horrid.

So I ended up ordering several R820T units, some full size ones and some mini ones – and the mini ones took a whole month to arrive. (The full size ones are lost somewhere in the post, so it seems.)

R820T Tuner Package Front R820T Tuner Package Rear

Virtually all the contents are visible through the plastic clamshell package. It’s been slightly battered by the post but that’s no issue.

Driver CD

Inside the cardboard, there was a driver CD, not that you need it for this work. I don’t intend to watch TV with this tuner anyway … so I didn’t bother checking it out.

R820T Tuner Top R820 Tuner Bottom R820T Tuner Side

The tuner itself is quite positively small and compact – just look at its size relative to the USB connector.




Inside, the tuner is definitely an R820T from Rafael Micro.




On its day of arrival, I hastily unboxed it for a test. In fact, I bought it into UNSW and decided to give some of my friends a short demo (Hi Jendi!), before moving onto something more substantial.

I visited the rooftop level of the Barker Street carpark and set my gear up here:

View Survey Location in a larger map

It looked like this:

ADSB Setup UNSW Carpark

I used my HP Probook 4525s with Windows 7 Ultimate x64 with the mini DVB-T dongle with the original stick antenna trimmed to a quarter wave at 1090mhz. It was magnetically fixed to the handrail, which may have acted as a crude ground-plane. The carpark was a good choice because it was fairly high with a better view of the horizon, although shadowed by a few buildings. I have no better access to the sky unfortunately.

R820TFrame Rate

The performance was remarkable, signals were being received from 350km away! It performed better than my E4000 dongle at Botany Bay (although, in elevation, it was a bit lower, so it may have restricted view of the horizon).


(Animated GIF instead of Youtube video because it’s just better! It’s about 25 minutes of time compressed into a short loop)

I tried it at home with the stick antenna on my bed, under a tiled roof, and the maximum range exceeds the Sydney Terminal Control Area. Ultimately, the performance is no worse than the E4000 – in fact, it’s probably better, reaffirming the belief that the R820T is the preferred tuner for ADSB work! This maybe because it has a lower noise figure on the front end in practice.


I think this means I need to get a few more of them …

As an aside – for Linux users, dump1090 is pretty nifty. I’ve managed to get it running on a Samsung ARM Chromebook under Chrubuntu and it doesn’t really eat that much CPU at all. Others have even managed to get it running on a Raspberry Pi … it would make an easy “remote receiver” setup.

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
This entry was posted in Computing, Radio and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to ADSB# Range Testing with the RTL2832U+R820T Tuner

  1. Pingback: RTL2832U+R820T Full Size USB TV Tuner | Gough's Tech Zone

  2. Pingback: Project: ADSBpi with dump1090 | Gough's Tech Zone

  3. Pingback: Combining Multiple RTL-SDRs for Improved ADS-B Reception -

  4. Aardvark says:

    I just received one of the mini-dongles yesterday. The USB connection is a bit flaky and the unit runs quite hot but it works as good as the larger sized R820T’s. I picked mine up in an eBay auction for $7. I lucked out on that as they have been going for much more. As it stands, I have five of the standard sized R820T units, two E4000 units and one R820T mini.

    • lui_gough says:

      Dear Aardvark,

      I’m also starting to grow my collection – the flakiness of the connection on the mini may have to do with the fact that the USB connector is made of a shell around the gold plated PCB traces acting as the USB these are flat, unlike the ridged profile real USB plugs, you may get intermittent contact with some ports (especially heavily used ones). A fresh short USB extension lead did the trick for me – no more dropouts on my machine at least.

      – Gough

Error: Comment is Missing!