HackRF, an open source SDR platform

Kickstarter – by Michael Ossmann

Transmit or receive any radio signal from 30 MHz to 6000 MHz on USB power with HackRF.

Watch the video above for an introduction to HackRF. Click “Updates” above the video for the latest project information.

HackRF is an open source hardware project to build a Software Defined Radio (SDR) peripheral.

SDR is the application of Digital Signal Processing to radio waveforms. It is similar to the software-based digital audio techniques that became popular a couple of decades ago. Just as a sound card in a computer digitizes audio waveforms, a software radio peripheral digitizes radio waveforms. It’s like a very fast sound card with the speaker and microphone replaced by an antenna. A single software radio platform can be used to implement virtually any wireless technology (Bluetooth, ZigBee, cellular technologies, FM radio, etc.).

Digital audio capabilities in general purpose computers enabled a revolution in the sound and music industries with advances such as hard disk recording and MP3 file sharing. Today’s computers are fast enough to process radio waveforms in similar ways, and the radio communications industry is going through the same sorts of changes. One critical advance is finally taking place now, and that is the availability of low cost tools enabling anyone to take part in the revolution.

Wide Operating Frequency Range

HackRF operates from 30 MHz to 6 GHz, a wider range than any SDR peripheral available today.  This range includes the frequencies used by most of the digital radio systems on Earth.  It can operate at even lower frequencies in the MF and HF bands when paired with the Ham It Up RF upconverter.


HackRF can be used to transmit or receive radio signals.  It operates in half-duplex mode: it can transmit or receive but can’t do both at the same time.  However, full-duplex operation is possible if you use two HackRF devices.


You don’t have to carry an external power supply with you when taking HackRF on the road because it is powered by USB.  It is small enough to fit easily into a typical laptop bag.  Your HackRF will be slightly smaller than the beta unit pictured above and will protected by a full enclosure.

HackRF is designed primarily for use with a USB-attached host computer, but it can also be used for stand-alone applications with Jared’s HackRF PortaPack, an add-on that gives HackRF an LCD screen, directional buttons, and audio ports.

Low Cost

HackRF was designed to be the most widely useful SDR peripheral that can be manufactured at a low cost.  The estimated future retail price of HackRF is $300, but you can get one for even less by backing the Kickstarter project today.


The maximum bandwidth of HackRF is 20 MHz, about 10 times the bandwidth of TV tuner dongles popular for SDR.  That means that HackRF could be used for high speed digital radio applications such as LTE or 802.11g.

Open Source

The most important goal of the HackRF project is to produce an open source design for a widely useful SDR peripheral.  All hardware designs and software source code are available under an open source license.  The hardware designs are produced in KiCad, an open source electronic design automation tool.  You can download the Jawbreaker (HackRF beta) design and build your own HackRF today!


HackRF beta units are already being used on Linux, OS X, and Windows platforms.  The device takes full advantage of USB 2.0, an interface found on almost every general purpose computer.  HackRF already works with the popular GNU Radio software framework, and HackRF support can be added to other SDR software.


The Jawbreaker design depicted above is the fully functional HackRF beta design.  Hundreds of Jawbreakers have been distributed to developers and beta testers.  HackRF has already been used for Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB), Bluetooth monitoring, spectrum sensing, wireless microphones, AIS, FM radio, and more.  I plan to use feedback from beta testers to make your HackRF even better than Jawbreaker.


HackRF is designed by Michael Ossmann of Great Scott Gadgets and Jared Boone of ShareBrained Technology.  We have had help from many volunteers including Benjamin Vernoux, Dimitri Stolnikov, and others who populate our irc channel (#hackrf on Freenode)

The primary web page for HackRF is:


You can learn about the history of the project and how it was made possible on mossmann’s blog:


You can download hardware designs and software source code at:


Project documentation may be found on our wiki:


The open source Ham it Up RF upconverter is designed by Opendous Inc.:


It is manufactured by NooElec:


The HackRF PortaPack is designed by Jared Boone:


Thanks to Hak5 for use of clips from episode 1120:


The HackRF Jawbreaker photograph was taken by fd0:


Risks and challengesLearn about accountability on Kickstarter


Because the beta design has already been tested by many people, it is very unlikely at this point that any technical design challenges will prevent the HackRF project from being a success.

I routinely use a contract manufacturer to produce electronic devices I distribute to resellers, but projects can be delayed for a variety of reasons. The most significant delay I have ever experienced was the HackRF Jawbreaker beta production. I had hoped that the production would be completed in two to three months, but it took a total of seven months. The largest source of delay during Jawbreaker production was component availability. Your HackRF will be scheduled for production further in advance and will benefit from lessons learned during the Jawbreaker production.

I hope that it gives you confidence to know that I already have delivered 500 HackRF beta units and that I successfully delivered Ubertooth One on time to the backers of my first Kickstarter project. It was thanks to the success of Ubertooth One on Kickstarter that I was able to found Great Scott Gadgets, a company that now helps support several open source developers.


2 thoughts on “HackRF, an open source SDR platform

  1. This one is a transmitter. IF you want to “receive only” and get your hands dirty, I suggest one of the RTL-SDR (RTL2832) dongles.

    Tuner Frequency range
    Elonics E4000 52 – 2200 MHz with a gap from 1100 MHz to 1250 MHz (varies)
    Rafael Micro R820T 24 – 1766 MHz
    Fitipower FC0013 22 – 1100 MHz (FC0013B/C, FC0013G has a separate L-band input, which is unconnected on most sticks)
    Fitipower FC0012 22 – 948.6 MHz
    FCI FC2580 146 – 308 MHz and 438 – 924 MHz (gap in between)
    From: http://sdr.osmocom.org/trac/wiki/rtl-sdr

    You’ll need to buy a few little pigtails.
    IMO- The most important ones to start with are.
    * MCX to SMA (then SMA to whatever)
    * RF coaxial cable UHF SO239 PL259 female to MCX male right angle connector RG316 20CM (Time saver, just get the pigtail)
    * MCX to bnc (then bnc to whatever)

    There are other crowd funded SDR transmitter/receivers one in particular a German project, but I can’t for the life of me remember the name at the moment.

    Without being redundant, here’s a couple more links.

    Radio Signal Identification Guide

    SDRSharp Plugins

    I already have a lot of ham and cb radios and more antennas than I know what to do with, so this is just a logical extension of this hobby of mine. Being only about $60 investment so far, mostly the little pigtails cost me, cause I never had coax that small before.

    Do check out the plugins, I’m working on getting the DSD working with mine right now, but just adding things like the “Frequency Scanner plugin” will bring a smile to your face.

    The antenna these dongles come with is CRAP, you need to get pigtails and coax and antenna to catch some real signals. Also conditions suck right now for the low end of the spectrum.. http://rigreference.com/solar

    I have to say for the investment it was worth it, it feels flimsy as all hell, but it’s so fascinating, you’ll soon get over it. One of the things I did also is added another 3′ coax jumper to the fat RG8 to take the stress of the lead going into the computer USB port. Your conditions in this regard may vary.

    Also NOTE: you better have a smoking fast laptop, an i5, i7 @ 2.4 Ghz because if you try to run this show on say an acer aspire with 2GB ram and an 1.4Ghz arm processor your going to be quite unhappy with the performance. (or lack thereof) Seriously, if your planning this your bug out radio, best to have a kick ass CPU or your going to bugged alright. Yes the program will start, and yes you can tune stations but you don’t have enough processing power or ram to make the .net crap work proper. So stick with an i5, i7 @ 2.4 Ghz if your going to play

  2. So it’s a radio?
    anyone can explain this in english?
    like what practical application does it have in reality?

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