bladeRF - the USB 3.0 Superspeed Software Defined Radio


An Open Education

bladeRF is a Software Defined Radio (SDR) platform designed to enable a community of hobbyists, and professionals to explore and experiment with the multidisciplinary facets of RF communication. By providing source code, thorough documentation, easy to grasp tutorials, and a place for open discussion modern radio systems will be demystified by covering everything from the RF, analog, and digital hardware design to the firmware running on the ARM MCU and FPGA to Linux kernel device drivers.

A Software Defined Radio platform should not end at the hardware, which is why there is such a strong emphasis on documentation and tutorials. Starting with basic radio architecture and spanning into modulation techniques, high throughput USB Linux kernel driver design, basic telecommunication coding schemes, and MIMO, the platform aims to be the perfect tool for learning modern software radio design.

Powerful and Portable

The bladeRF is a fully bus powered device that does not need to be plugged into an outlet for normal operation. For users who wish to do host processing, USB 3.0 SuperSpeed is the ideal high throughput, low latency interface that brings the PC closer to the antenna than ever before. For those looking for a standalone solution, the bladeRF accepts a 5V DC input and operates autonomously using the FPGA for signal processing.

Professional Quality, Amateur Price

Professionally designed and verified, bladeRF prototypes were inspected through X-Ray superimposed layouts (pictured on the left), and put through rigorous physical and electrical stress tests to ensure high quality mass production builds. Ultimately, this makes the bladeRF a high quality, low-cost Software Defined Radio capable of capturing 40MHz 12-bit full duplex quadrature samples in realtime.

A Full Solution in a Single Package

Out of the box the bladeRF can tune from 300MHz to 3.8GHz without the need for extra boards. The current open source drivers provide support for GNURadio among other things, allowing the bladeRF to be placed into immediate use. This gives the bladeRF the flexibility to act as a custom RF modem, a GSM and LTE picocell, a GPS receiver, an ATSC transmitter or a combination Bluetooth/WiFi client without the need for any expansion cards.

Total Control

The bladeRF was designed from the beginning to be highly integrated and fully reprogrammable. This means more than just providing source code to modify the host software. The USB 3.0 (Cypress FX3) microcontroller firmware is available to modify, as is the Altera Cyclone IV FPGA VHDL, bringing developers as close to the RF transceiver as possible.

All the pieces were written, designed, and documented to not only teach but encourage modification at each level from the host software all the way down to the FPGA logic. The bladeRF allows for the USB 3.0 microcontroller and FPGA to be reprogrammed through JTAG or directly via USB. With freely available tools and development suites provided by the hardware vendors, the bladeRF's FPGA and USB 3.0 microcontroller firmware can be easily modified.

More Than Just RF

The functionality and openness of the bladeRF encourages people to use the platform as more than just an RF transceiver. The FPGA can act as an accelerator of any type from turbo decoding to video transcoding. The bladeRF can be easily adapted for use in custom embedded projects due to its low power requirements and the flexibility offered by the FPGA, FX3, and expansion port. For inquisitive developers, the platform can be used as a USB 3.0 and FPGA development kit.

Technical Specifications:

  • Fully bus-powered USB 3.0 SuperSpeed Software Defined Radio
  • Portable, handheld form factor: 5" by 3.5"
  • Extensible gold plated RF SMA connectors
  • 300MHz - 3.8GHz RF frequency range
  • Independent RX/TX 12-bit 40MSPS quadrature sampling
  • Capable of achieving full-duplex 28MHz channels
  • 16-bit DAC factory calibrated 38.4MHz +/-1ppm VCTCXO
  • On-board 200MHz ARM9 with 512KB embedded SRAM (JTAG port available)
  • On-board 40KLE or 115KLE Altera Cyclone 4 E FPGA (JTAG port available)
  • 2x2 MIMO configurable with SMB cable, expandable up to 4x4
  • Modular expansion board design for adding GPIO, Ethernet, and 1PPS sync signal and expanding frequency range, and power limits
  • DC power jack for running headless
  • Highly efficient, low noise power architecture
  • Stable Linux, Windows, Mac and GNURadio software support
  • Hardware capable of operating as a spectrum analyzer, vector signal analyzer, and vector signal generator
Backward USB 2.0 compatibility makes it a perfect fit for embedded applications (ie. connected to and powered by a Raspberry Pi or Beagleboard)

USB 3.0 Superspeed

High speed, low latency and increased power delivery over a single cable: USB 3.0 Superspeed is the perfect interface for a wide bandwidth radio front end to modern computers. The Cypress FX3 microcontroller is the ideal solution with a powerful ARM9 processor and enough bandwidth to saturate the full duplex 5Gbps USB 3.0 link.
Fully Programmable FPGA

An Altera Cyclone IV FPGA provides the interface between the FX3 and RF transceiver. This FPGA has single-cycle access embedded memory, hard 18x18 multipliers for dedicated DSP and many general logic elements ready to be programmed.
Wideband RF Transceiver

From bits to RF, the LimeMicro LMS6002D is a fully integrated RF transceiver. Made to power picocell stations, this transceiver is capable of handling anything from simple FM audio to the latest 4G LTE standard to whatever the future may hold.
Professional Quality

The bladeRF's design has been tested and verify to meet our very high standards. At peak RF performance, the bladeRF can occupy 28MHz of bandwidth over its operating bandwidth without any significant spurs.

Get involved

Come join us, and other RF developers, on IRC in #bladeRF on FreeNode (irc:// Our goal is to provide a place for collaboration and open discussion to further RF exploration and experimentation. We encourage people of all skill levels to join us. By getting involved, your input and feedback will help influence the direction in which the community will head.