SiGe GN3S Sampler v2 USB front-end

9 minute read


This article provides details about the support that GNSS-SDR offers for real-time operation using the GNSS USB front-end SiGe GN3S Sampler v2. Unfortunately, this product has been retired and replaced by a newer version v3, but we hope this still can be useful to v2 users. The article starts with a brief description of the GN3S hardware and gives some insights into the required modifications in the firmware code that drives the Cypress FX2 microcontroller. It follows introducing the GNU Radio compliant GN3S signal source that enables access to the signal samples in real-time. The driver can be compiled and installed as a standalone library, and thus can be used by any other GNU Radio application in C++ or Python, including gnuradio-companion. Finally, we describe a step-by-step procedure to configure GNSS-SDR to receive GPS L1 signals using the GN3S dongle. Some experimental results with real-life signals are also provided.

SiGe GN3S firmware internal details and modifications

The SiGe GN3S v2 USB RF front-end, developed by the Colorado Center For Astrodynamics Research, is basically composed of two different integrated circuits. On the one hand, GNSS-related operations are based on the SiGe 4120 GPS Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC), which performs RF amplification, filtering, downconversion, and baseband sampling (in June 2011, Skyworks closed its acquisition of SiGe Semiconductor). On the other hand, the Cypress Semiconductors EZ-USB FX2LP USB 2.0 microcontroller is in charge of reading the digital samples coming from the SiGe 4120 ASIC and sending them in real-time to the PC through the universal serial bus.

SiGe GN3S Sampler v2
SiGe GN3S Sampler v2.

SiGe 4120 Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) is configured to provide a sample stream with a sampling frequency equal to 8.1838 MHz. The FX2LP microcontroller sends the samples in In-phase and Quadrature (I/Q) sample pairs. The specific parameters of the front-end are the following:

  • Sampling frequency: 8.1838 MHz
  • Intermediate frequency: 38.400 kHz
  • 2-bit I/Q samples (1bit I & 1bit Q) in a short char binary format (sI0, sQ0, sI1, sQ1, sI2, sQ2, …)

The front-end firmware is released under the GPL and available online from GN3Sv2.rar. The front-end was intended to capture up to 600 Mb of data and then use a Matlab GNSS software available from K.Borre’s book1 to perform post-processing operations to GPS signals.

In order to enable real-time operation and remove the capture size limitation, some modifications to the firmware are required. Basically, we need to modify the file “gn3s_main.c” to disable an interrupt counter that accumulates the number of processed signal samples. The 8051 code should be modified as follows:

void main(void) {
 TD_Init();  // Init function for A9 vendor commands

 EA = 0;     // disable all interrupts


 EIEX4 = 1;          // disable INT4 FIXME
 EA = 1;             // global interrupt enable

 fx2_renumerate();   // simulates disconnect / reconnect

// enable_se4110();
 //remove capture filesize limitation by disabling the sample counter interruption (hook_timer_tick() function)
 //hook_timer_tick((unsigned int)guardC);



static void main_loop(void)

 while (1) {
   // We don't do much, GPIF is running on autopilot

   if (_usb_got_SUDAV) {
     _usb_got_SUDAV = 0;

  //the following code is not needed because we do not check for capture size limit
   if (guardTick && guardCnt) {
     guardTick = 0;

     if(!(--guardCnt)) {

For the sake of simplicity of use, the gr-gn3s code repository contains a copy of the modified GN3S v2 firmware, available at gr-gn3s/firmware/GN3Sv2. In addition, a pre-compiled binary firmware file ready to be uploaded by the GN3S driver is also available. See the next section for the details.

GNU Radio compliant GN3S front-end signal source: gr-gn3s

We developed a complete GNU Radio signal source that provides an interface to the GN3S RF front-end signal samples. The firmware loader is based on Gregory. W. Heckler’s GPS-SDR GN3S driver. However, the signal sample reception was based on the original SiGe GN3S driver.

The gr-gn3s module contains a GNU Radio fully-compliant gr-block signal source, intended to be used either with GNSS-SDR as a signal source or as a standalone signal source block instantiated from a GNU Radio flow graph from C++ or using Python (it includes a gnuradio-companion interface also). The source code is available at gr-gn3s.

Once the driver is compiled and installed, the gr-gn3s signal source is available to gnuradio-companion under the tab [GN3S] -> gn3s_source and it can be instantiated as is shown in the following example:

Gnuradio-companion example
GNU Radio Companion sample script using the GN3S signal source.

In addition, it is required to copy the GN3S firmware binary file gr-gn3s/firmware/GN3S_v2/bin/gn3s_firmware.ihx to the application runtime directory. In this example, if the gnuradio-companion application is called from /home/username/, then a copy of gn3s_firmware.ihx should be available at /home/username/gn3s_firmware.ihx.

Since the driver requires access to the USB port, it is necessary to run the script as root. In case you are using gnuradio-companion, it can be done as:

$ sudo gnuradio-companion

If everything goes well, the driver initialization log will be as follows:

Executing: "/home/username/"

Using Volk machine: sse4_1_32
GN3S Device Found... awaiting firmware flash
Using device vendor id 0x1781 product id 0x0b39
GN3S flashing ...
GN3S firmware file found!
End of file
GN3S flash complete!
Received handle for GNSS Front-End device
Creating GPS Source
GN3S Start
started TX

In this sample script, the FFT GUI shows in real-time the digitized signal spectrum, as is shown in the next picture:

FFT plot and waterfall spectrum
Real-time FFT plot and waterfall spectrum of GN3S signals.

The GNSS signals are well below the noise floor, and thus the thermal white noise is exercising the ADC bits. Consequently, the Gaussian-like spectrum curve is caused by the front-end RF band-pass filter frequency response.

GNSS-SDR’s GN3S signal source module

GNSS-SDR support for GN3S dongles makes use of the gr-gn3s GNU Radio source block and driver. The associated GNSS-SDR Signal Source name is Gn3s_Signal_Source and the adapter source code is located at:

It makes use of the library gr-gn3s by including the following header:

#include <gn3s/gn3s_source_cc.h>

Important: The compilation of the SiGe GN3S support in GNSS-SDR is optional and it requires the previous installation of the gr-gn3s module. See GNSS-SDR’s file for step-by-step building instructions with the optional GN3S driver.

Configuring GNSS-SDR for GPS L1 real-time operation

In order to use a SiGe GN3S device, it is necessary to select the Gn3s_Signal_Source implementation in the GNSS-SDR configuration file of the SignalSource block. Since this is a specific front-end for GNSS signal reception, there is no need to configure any source parameter. Hereafter can be found a working configuration for the reception of a GPS L1 C/A signal:

;######### GLOBAL OPTIONS ##################
;######### CONTROL_THREAD CONFIG ############
;######### SIGNAL_SOURCE CONFIG ############

The front-end sampling frequency is fixed by the SiGe ASIC to 8183800 Hz. However, this sampling frequency is too high for multichannel real-time operation, at least on our machine. On top of this issue, the sampled signal contains an Intermediate Frequency of 38400 Hz that should be compensated. The software receiver can solve both problems by enabling the GNU Radio’s frequency translating Finite Impulse Response (FIR) filter in the signal conditioner section to perform the following operations:

  1. Eliminate the parasitic IF signal

  2. Perform a Low Pass Filtering to prevent aliasing

  3. Perform a decimation operation to reduce the sampling frequency

In this configuration example we choose a decimation factor of 4. The resulting sampling frequency, which is the GNSS-SDR internal sampling frequency, is 8183800/4=2045950 Hz. The signal conditioner configuration is as follows:

;######### SIGNAL_CONDITIONER CONFIG ############
;## It holds blocks to change data type, filter and resample input data.
;#implementation: Use [Pass_Through] or [Signal_Conditioner]
;#[Pass_Through] disables this block and the [DataTypeAdapter], [InputFilter] and [Resampler] blocks
;#[Signal_Conditioner] enables this block.
;######### DATA_TYPE_ADAPTER CONFIG ############
;## Changes the type of input data. Please disable it in this version.
;#implementation: [Pass_Through] disables this block
;######### INPUT_FILTER CONFIG ############
;## Filter the input data. Can be combined with frequency translation for IF signals
;#implementation: Use [Pass_Through] or [Fir_Filter] or [Freq_Xlating_Fir_Filter]
;#[Freq_Xlating_Fir_Filter] enables FIR filter and a composite frequency translation that shifts IF down to zero Hz.
;#The following options are used in the filter design of Fir_Filter and Freq_Xlating_Fir_Filter implementation.
;#These options are based on parameters of gnuradio's function: gr_remez.
;#This function calculates the optimal (in the Chebyshev/minimax sense) FIR
;filter impulse response given a set of band edges, the desired response on those
;bands, and the weight given to the error in those bands.
; -- Filter parameters and coefficients are omitted in this example --
; 8183800/5 = 1636760
; 8183800/4 = 2045950
;######### RESAMPLER CONFIG ############
;## Resamples the input data.
;#implementation: Use [Pass_Through] or [Direct_Resampler]
;#[Pass_Through] disables this block

This configuration enables the real-time receiver operation with 8 satellite channels in an Intel Core 2 quad Q9400 @ 2.66 GHz with 4 GB of RAM. It is important to point out that the GN3S driver requires the firmware file available in the application runtime directory. In the case of the GNSS-SDR application, the firmware file gn3s_firmware.ihx should be copied the folder running the receiver. In addition, GNSS-SDR should be called with root privileges

$ sudo gnss-sdr --config_file=../conf/gnss-sdr_GPS_L1_GN3S_realtime.conf

Hardware setup

We used the GN3S front-end connected to a ceramic patch antenna equipped with an internal Low Noise Amplifier (LNA) to reduce the overall noise figure. The picture below shows a picture of an On Shine Enterprise Co., Ltd ANT-555 antenna connected to the USB dongle.

SiGe GN3S setup
SiGe GN3S setup with ANT-555 active antenna.

Some qualitative performance measurements

In this experiment, we used a Dell XPS M1530 laptop equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 CPU with 4 GB of RAM. The operating system was Linux Ubuntu 12.04 and GNU Radio version was 3.6.0. At this time of writing (SVN rev. 244), real-time operation with the aforementioned equipment supports up to 7 satellite channels. The antenna was placed in the ground and remained static during the experiment. The whole setup is shown in the following picture:

Realtime GN3S GPS positioning
Real-time GN3S GPS positioning with GNSS-SDR setup picture.

The following pictures show some tracking data analysis using the GNSS-SDR intermediate data extraction and dump feature:


As a sanity check, we did some post-processing analysis using the Matlab script available at gnss-sdr/src/utils/matlab/gps_l1_ca_dll_pll_plot_sample.m. The figure clearly shows the GPS C/A navigation symbols:

GTracking data analysis
Tracking data analysis for one satellite channel.

Finally, the obtained KML file can be displayed by Google Earth as shown in the following picture. The yellow line represents the position evolution for a 10 seconds time-lapse. The yellow mark represents the true antenna position.

 Google Earth
GNSS-SDR estimated position analysis using Google Earth.


Summarizing this introductory article and the associated experiments we can highlight that:

  • GNSS-SDR is able to operate in real-time with the aforementioned hardware and software driver on an average 4-years old laptop computer. It supports up to 7 satellite tracking channels in the current revision (SVN rev. 244) thanks to the frequency shifting and decimation capability of the signal conditioning module.

  • We developed and validated a GNU Radio signal source block that encapsulates a SiGe GN3S Sampler v2 front-end firmware loader and driver. Since this front-end is now obsolete and it is superseded by the SiGe GN3S Sampler v3 front-end, it is planned to extend the signal source support for the new hardware in future versions of GNSS-SDR. Testing volunteers are highly welcome!


  1. K. Borre, D. M. Akos, N. Bertelsen, P. Rinder, S. H. Jensen, A Software-Defined GPS and Galileo Receiver. A Single-Frequency Approach, 1st edition, Boston: Birkhäuser, November 2006. 

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