Newest U-blox M8N receivers not usable with RTKLIB

It looks like it is no longer possible to access the raw GPS measurements on the newest version of the u-blox M8N receiver.  Access to these raw measurements on the M8N has always been through debug messages not officially supported by u-blox.  Last year, when they migrated from the 2.01 version of firmware to the 3.01, version they scrambled the output of these messages so they were no longer readable by RTKLIB.

Until recently though, the units they were shipping still had an older 2.01 version of ROM.  With these units it is possible to downgrade the firmware to 2.01 using the instructions on their website.  With the older firmware loaded, the receivers revert to their previous behavior and the debug messages are no longer scrambled.

Apparently their newest units are shipping with a 3.01 version of ROM and this ROM is not compatible with the older 2.01 version of firmware.  If you attempt to load the older firmware it will appear to succeed but will still be running the newer code.

You can see what version of ROM and firmware your receiver is running using the UBX-MON-VER message from the u-center console.  The example below shows the message output for one of the newer modules with the 3.01 ROM after attempting to download the older firmware.  I believe the firmware listed under “Extension(s)” is the ROM version and the firmware listed under “Software Version” is the version of firmware loaded to flash.  In this case you can see that the ROM is version 3.01 and that the flash is still running version 3.01 even though it was attempted to load the 2.01 firmware.

fw_ver

In an older version of the M8N module, the ROM code listed under “Extension(s)” would have been 2.01 and the firmware listed under “Software Version” could be either 2.01 or 3.01 depending on how old the module was and what firmware had been downloaded to it.

There are a few more details about the issue on the u-blox forum in this thread.  Thanks to Marco for making me aware of the issue and Clive and Helge for providing a detailed explanation of what is going on.

If you are using the u-blox M8T, and not the M8N, then you will be using the officially supported raw measurement messages and would normally not care about access to the debug messages.  The only exception I know of is that the resolution of the SNR measurements are 0.2 dB in the debug messages and 1.0 in the official messages.  I have not confirmed that the debug messages on the 3.01 M8T firmware are scrambled but it is likely that they are.

[Note 6/25/17:  A couple of readers have pointed out that this is not the whole story.  It would have been more correct to say that the newest M8N modules are not usable with the publicly available versions of u-blox firmware and RTKLIB.  It turns out that u-blox did not use a particularly sophisticated method to scramble the debug messages and there are now several modified versions of u-blox firmware and RTKLIB floating around that have been hacked to unscramble the messages.  I don’t want to get into the question of ethics or legality of using these codes but just say that I personally am less comfortable using the debug messages in the modules where u-blox has made an obvious attempt to prevent this and have avoided any use of them at least for the time being.]

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Configuring the GPS receiver

At this point, the GPS receiver is connected to your PC through the USB port and is ready to configure and verify that all is working OK.

Ublox provides a nice evaluation software package for Windows called u-center that makes this very easy.  You can download it for free from here.  It makes it easy to explore all the configuration options for your receiver and make sure everything is working properly before we move to RTKLIB.

After you have downloaded the program and started it up, use the “Port” option in the “Receiver” tab to select the USB port that the receiver is connected to.  It will probably be the only option, and in my case it is “COM3”.

[Update 11/27/16:  If you don’t see your receivers listed in the Port menu it is probably related to some recent windows driver changes from COM ports to location sensors.  See this post for details]

You should see the connection status box at the bottom of the window go to green and list the baud rate that the receiver is configured for, probably 9600 baud if you haven’t changed it.  If everything is working properly, you should now be able to click on the various display icons and see sky positions, signal strengths, status, etc for all the satellites the receiver is tracking.

To configure the receiver, select the “Configuration View” from the View menu.   All of the receiver configuration options for this receiver will appear in the menu and you can read what the currently is set to with the “Poll” button or change the configuration by changing the settings and hitting “Send”.  For details on what all these settings mean, see the Neo-M8 Receiver Description.

I recommend first increasing the baud rate to something faster than the 9600 default.  I found 115200 worked fine with my setup.  To do this, select “PRT” from the “Configure” window and set the “Baudrate” field to 115200, then  select the “Send” button at the bottom of the page.  You may need to re-select the port to let the eval software match its baudrate to the receiver.

 

 

ucenter1

 

Next, select the “Messages View” from the “View” tab.  From here, you can see which NMEA messages are enabled and being output by the receiver.  The enabled messages are displayed in bold.  You may want to disable all of them to reduce unnecessary information from being continuously transferred over the serial port.  We will be using Ublox specific binary messages for RTKLIB so do not need any of the NMEA messages enabled.  Be aware, though, that the eval software is using these messages, so if you disable them, the display windows will stop updating.  To enable or disable a message, right click on it and select the appropriate action.

Once you have the receiver configured properly, you will want to save the settings to the on-board flash.  Do this from the “CFG” menu item on the “Configuration View” by selecting “Save current configuration” and then the “Send” button.

We still need to enable the raw receiver outputs for pseudorange and carrier phase, but since they require using unsupported commands, we will do that from RTKLIB.