• Decoding the LTE-M SIB-BR

    LTE-M is a family of several configurations supported by LTE for machine-to-machine and IoT communications. In this post I will talk specifically about BL/CE (bandwidth reduced low complexity / coverage enhancement), which is also known as LTE Cat M1. The main difference between a BL/CE UE and a regular LTE UE is that a BL/CE UE only supports a bandwidth of 1.4 MHz (in practice, 6 resource blocks, or 1.08 MHz) and can be half-duplex. These limitations reduce the cost, size and power of the UE, but require additional techniques to handle them.

    If we think about the downlink, there are several signals that occupy the whole cell bandwidth, which is usually larger than 1.4 MHz. These are the PDCCH (physical downlink shared channel), the PCFICH (physical control format indicator channel) and the PHICH (physical hybrid-ARQ indicator channel). A BL/CE UE cannot receive any of these, so alternative signals must be used to provide similar functionality. Additionally, a BL/CE UE needs guard intervals in the time domain to support retuning of the 1.4 MHz slice in which the UE operates, and transmit/receive switching for half-duplex UEs. Another distinguishing feature of BL/CE is that messages are often repeated multiple times in order to support working with worse signal conditions than what is possible with a regular UE.

    In LTE, the PSS and SSS (primary synchronization signal and secondary synchronization signal), as well as the PBCH (physical broadcast channel) occupy the central 6 resource blocks, so a BL/CE UE can synchronize to the cell and decode the MIB transmitted in the PBCH. The next step that a regular UE would perform is to monitor the PDCCH, first to find a SIB1 transmission (which is transmitted in the PDSCH), and then the rest of the SIBs (whose transmission schedule is listed in the SIB1). A BL/CE UE cannot do this, because it cannot receive the PDCCH and because the SIB PDSCH transmissions might be wider than 6 resource blocks. Therefore, in a cell that supports BL/CE UEs there are also SIB-BRs (BR stands for bandwidth reduced), which BL/CE UEs use instead of the regular SIBs. The SIB-BRs occupy 6 resource blocks and do not require receiving the PDCCH to be decoded. In this post I will use my recording of an LTE eNB to show how to decode the SIB-BRs, and other important aspects of BL/CE UEs.

  • Maia SDR DDC

    I have implemented an FPGA DDC (digital downconverter) in Maia SDR. Intuitively speaking, a DDC is used to select a slice of the input spectrum. It works by using an NCO and mixer to move to the centre of the slice to baseband, and then applying low-pass filtering and decimation to reduce the sample rate as desired (according to the bandwidth of the slice that is selected).

    At the moment, the output of the Maia SDR DDC can be used as input for the waterfall display (which uses a spectrometer that runs in the FPGA) and the IQ recorder. Using the DDC allows reaching sample rates below 2083.333 ksps, which is the minimum sample rate that can be used with the AD936x RFIC in the ADALM Pluto (at least according to the ad9361 Linux kernel module). Therefore, the DDC is useful to monitor or record narrowband signals. For instance, using a sample rate of 48 ksps, the 400 MiB RAM buffer used by the IQ recorder can be used to make a recording as long as 36 minutes in 16-bit integer mode, or 48 minutes in 12-bit integer mode. With such a sample rate, the 4096-point FFT used in the waterfall has a resolution of 11.7 Hz.

    In the future, the DDC will be used by receivers implemented on the FPGA, both for analogue voice signals (SSB, AM, FM), and for digital signals. Additionally, I also have plans to allow streaming the DDC IQ output over the network, so that Maia SDR can be used with an SDR application running on a host computer. It is possible to fit several DDCs in the Pluto FPGA, so this would allow tuning independently several receivers within the same window of 61.44 MHz of spectrum. In the rest of this post I describe some technical details of the DDC.

  • Analysing the srsRAN LTE MAC layer with Wireshark

    In my previous posts I have been decoding LTE PDSCH (physical downlink shared channel) transmissions from an IQ recording of an eNB and looking at the MAC PDUs with Wireshark. The analysis I have done of the upper layer protocols is somewhat limited because I have decoded only 500 ms of traffic and because I don’t have the encryption keys, and also because I’m just beginning to learn how the LTE upper layers work. When doing this analysis I thought that it would be good to have a more complete example that I could use as a reference. A Google search for examples of PCAP files containing LTE MAC PDUs yields very little, so I thought I would make my own example with srsRAN. In this post I show how to set up an srsRAN LTE eNB and UE communicating over ZMQ on a single machine and then analyze the traffic in Wireshark.

  • Decoding LTE MIMO with a single antenna

    In my previous post I decoded LTE PDSCH (physical downlink shared channel) transmissions from an IQ recording that I had made of an eNB recording using an USRP B205mini and a single antenna. The eNB has two antenna ports, and it uses TM4 (closed-loop spatial multiplexing) to transmit the PDSCH to each individual UE. In the post, I repeated several times that two-codeword TM4 is intended for 2×2 MIMO and relies on the receiver having at least 2 antennas in order to separate the two transmitted codewords, so I couldn’t decode these transmissions with my recording.

    In this post I will show that in some cases this is not true, and these two-codeword TM4 transmissions can be decoded with just one receive antenna. I will decode some of these two-codeword transmissions from my IQ recording by using the ideas I introduce below.

  • LTE downlink: PDSCH

    This post is a continuation of my series about LTE, where I decode a recording of the downlink signal of an eNB using Jupyter notebooks written from scratch. Here I will decode the PDSCH (physical downlink shared channel), which contains the data transmitted by the eNB to the UEs, including PDUs from the MAC layer, and some broadcast information, such as the SIB (system information block) and paging. At first I planned this post to be about decoding the SIB1. This is the first block of system information, and it is the next thing that a UE must decode after decoding the MIB (located in the PBCH) to find the configuration of the cell. The SIB1 is always transmitted periodically, and its contents and format are relatively well known a priori (as opposed to a user data transmission, which could happen at any time and contain almost anything), so it is a good example to try to decode PDSCH transmissions.

    After writing and testing all the code to decode the SIB1, it was too tempting to decode everything else. Even though at first I wrote my code thinking only about the SIB1, with a few modifications I could decode all the PSDCH transmissions (except those using two-codeword spatial multiplexing, since my recording was done with a single antenna). I will still use the SIB1 as an example to show how to decode the PDSCH step by step, but I will also show the rest of the data.

    The post is rather long, but we will get from IQ samples to looking at packets in Wireshark using only Python, so I think it’s worth its length.


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