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Archive for the Digital Modes category

VE3OIJ

Is it radio when it uses VoIP? Not exactly…

Digital Modes, Equipment, General, Operating, Technology, Voice Modes

Much of this post comes from something I wrote years ago that sank with the old blog, but since the question has come up again, I thought it was time to revisit the old post (yay Archive.org) and bring things up to date.

This topic comes up from time to time, and I’ve never seen anyone give a definitive argument as to why VoIP modes like Echolink, IRLP, some uses of D-Star (dongles and “dx”), CQ100 and so forth are absolutely not amateur radio. To me, it is obvious that some of them are certainly not amateur radio, and others are really just radio-based by convenience depending on how they are used. It’s trivial to explain which is which: It’s not amateur radio if an amateur radio transceiver isn’t involved.  Period.  An even better line might be that it’s not amateur radio if an amateur radio transceiver isn’t required.  The key is in the communications medium itself.

Using that defninition, it is a simple matter to determine what is and isn’t radio. Certainly with IRLP, Echolink and “DX” uses of D-Star, radio can be involved. That’s where people get confused… “It uses a radio, therefore it is amateur radio” and that’s absolutely wrong.

It is also situational.  If you took the radio away, all those modes still work. Echolink, all the DX part of D-Star, and CQ100 work over the internet, computer to computer. When used in this manner they are absolutely not amateur radio. In the case of CQ100, it’s primary purpose is to be used computer to computer. Legally speaking, no person needs an amateur radio licence to use these applications for computer to computer communications, despite the best efforts of software authors to keep access restricted to the amateur radio community. If the guy down the street downloads Echolink or CQ100 and somehow manages to get an authorized registration, all the hooting and hollering in the world will not get your national communications regulator to come down on the guy as long as (in the case of Echolink) he never causes a signal to come out on an amateur radio frequency.

Now let’s look at it a bit deeper.  If you take the internet away, Echolink, IRLP, CQ100, and most of D-Star die immediately. They absolutely cannot function without the internet, and it is because of this that I say that this makes it clear that such modes are not amateur radio. In fact, they’re no different than Skype or Logitech’s video program, or MSN Messenger beyond having less features than those commercial VoIP programs.

D-Star is a special case because it can be used for direct, radio-to-radio communication. Thus, I have to afford that mode special dispensation: At the core, D-Star is amateur radio, but a lot of how it is used is not.

So after all that, when this topic is discussed, someone always says this: PSK and other digital modes use a computer too.  I can use a computer to send CW. I guess they aren’t amateur radio.

Wrong. That is a canard oft trotted out in defence of the “amateur radio” status of Echolink et al. but it is a strawman that is incorrect at the most basic level. The issue isn’t the use of a computer. Machines have been communicating by radio for more than half a century. PSK, RTTY and other digital modes are just modern versions of that.

Take away the internet, and people’s digital modes software still works and they can still communicate by radio. Take away the radio, and all that digital modes software becomes useless. Therefore, it is amateur radio.

Just so it is absolutely clear: the way you tell if something is or isn’t amateur radio is by looking at the primary communication path, not the specific hardware.  With PSK, CW etc., even when done with a computer, that medium is radio. With Echolink etc. the primary medium is the internet.

Why does this matter?

Largely, it does not except in message board fights. One place it does matter, however, is in the public-service angle of amateur radio… you know, that part where we’re supposed to be able to communicate in the event of some kind of emergency where the major communication systems are knocked out.

One property of disasters is that they can take out the internet locally. So if your amateur radio setup is based around internet modes, you are effectively useless when the internet drops out over a wide area… as happened in Haiti and Chile during their recent earthquake disasters, as happened in Louisiana with the hurricane, and as is the case over much of the world where internet just hasn’t made it yet.

These internet modes are fun to play around with, but don’t think of them as amateur radio. In the traditional sense, they’re not, and they won’t ever be a replacement for basic radio communications.  That doesn’t mean they’re not useful or fun technologies. I really enjoy using Echolink to get into repeaters back home when I’m travelling the world.  I just don’t think of the Echolink as amateur radio, but rather as a generic assisting technology like a VOX or an antenna rotor.

What about the things the technology brings to amateur radio?

I feel very strongly that amateur radio is about more than just the ability to self-learn (although that is the essence of amateur radio).  You don’t need amateur radio if ALL it is about is learning.  With pressure from commercial interests, and a general disinterest from the public, it won’t be long before amateur radio is killed off if the best we can do is work out glorified Skype or MSN clients that look like a radio on-screen.  To me, the purposes of amateur radio are to allow people an experimental venue from which they can learn about radio communication, to further radio communication research, and to provide public service in the event of an emergency when the other infrastructure fails.  That’s why amateur radio doesn’t need VoIP on the internet… let commercial interests do that (they already have).  We shouldn’t be wasting time and effort reinventing an already well-perfected wheel.

There are aspects of this sort of technology that would be very useful in the amateur radio world.  Here’s a few ideas where I think this area of interest should be going that would further amateur radio, rather than just being yet-another-VoIP-client on the internet (and thus useless when the internet doesn’t work).  This is definitely not an exhaustive list:

  • Digital voice over radio – Yes, D-Star is a cool area of endeavour not because it links repeaters over the internet but because the limited bandwidth requirements of a digital voice signal mean more conversations can fit on the standard bandwidth of an FM repeater.  More conversations is more efficient use of the available spectrum.  This technology also has direct commercial application with cellular phones and general commercial radio.  Advancing this sort of technology advances radio communication generally and harkens back to the original goals of amateur radio: to further communication technology over radio.  Amateur radio is grossly behind the times in this area when compared with cellular phone technology.  We should be on the leading edge of this stuff, not decades behind.
  • High speed data transfer over radio – Again, D-Star is making the advances here, but amateur radio still lags far behind the rest of the communications world in this area.  The ability to send high-speed data by radio would be a huge boon when using amateur radio in the event of an emergency.  Oddly enough, one of the types of traffic such a radio data network could carry would be digitized voice (such as voice over IP), or video.  The key here, however, is to gain the ability to do this over radio links when there is no internet, nor phone lines.  Again, amateur radio is decades behind on this when we should be leading it.  Just to drive this point home… if a bunch of amateurs set up even a 128 kbps radio network running IP over radio, they could run the free software Ventrilo and chat, computer to computer. Ventrilo is a commercially supported package that is well tested and works extremely well.  Increase that network bandwidth and you could carry a lot of VoIP conversations very effectively.  My point: instead of working out ham radio simulators, let’s solve the high speed data over radio issues.
  • Both of the above over satellite – to get message and data traffic out of a disaster area, satellites are likely the way of the future.  Efforts that enable the ability to use existing and future satellites for the previous two purposes will greatly advance amateur radio in terms of the intended purpose of amateur radio and in the eyes of the public.
  • Improved HF modes – faster and error corrected methods of transferring information globally over HF radio.
  • Space communication – faster, smaller, easier methods of sending messages over inter-planetary distances.  It’s maybe a bit early, but radio amateurs can lead this field with work on things like EME and Earth-Venus-Earth or Earth-Mars-Earth work.

That’s where I think we should be spending effort instead of wasting it on things like VoIP over the internet and pretending that it’s radio.

VE3OIJ

The Essence of Amateur Radio is not Morse Code

Digital Modes, Operating, Technology

I read a blog posting (archive of that blog post) recently that was discussing the relevance of Morse Code / CW in modern amateur radio. The gist of it was that Morse code is relevant because it is felt by many to be the “essence of amateur radio”.

While I don’t doubt that many old-timers actually feel that Morse code is the essence of amateur radio, I am forced to suggest that those same people are selling amateur radio short with that feeling. In fact, they’re denying the whole POINT of why amateur radio came into existence, and what amateur radio needs to continue forward. That is why Morse code is still relevant, but not nearly as relevant as some people believe.

It is my understanding (feel free to correct me in comments) that amateur radio came about through experimentation and learning. That is to say that people so inclined to learn about the then-new-fangled radio medium for communication started making projects on their own. Eventually, the government stepped in to control it and what we now know as amateur radio was born.

The people who started amateur radio DID NOT sit around thinking “wow, this Morse code is really cool, I’ve done it with a light, and I’ve done it on a wire, I wonder if I can do it some other way?” No, they wanted to experiment with the new wireless communication technology and Morse code was close to the only efficient way to use radio at the time. Morse was a tool that fit the job requirements of the era. The essence of amateur radio was the gaining of knowledge, the advancement and exploitation of new technology and communication. It is my belief that this definition of the essence of amateur radio still applies today.

Today, the modern amateur radio enthusiast has a much larger box of communications tools to choose from. Advances in technology have given us voice and image modes. Computer advancement has given us digital modes. And, of course, there is also the venerable Morse code. Every mode has its unique advantages and disadvantages that make it appropriate for some situations and conditions, and inappropriate for others… and that includes Morse code.

The radio amateur who gets stuck on Morse code is like the old buggy driver after the advent of the automobile: sure, he can still do a job, but by not embracing the new technology he’s missing out on the richness of the activity and the expansion of his horizons that come with advancement. I’m sure that buggy driver got annoyed by all those young’ns and their fancy horseless carriages too… but that didn’t change the fact that time was marching on and the buggy driver was a quaint reminder of the past and not embracing the modern reality of transportation technology. Like that buggy driver, the radio amateur who overstates the importance of morse code misses out on the learning and new experience of other communications methods. That learning and new experience IS the essence of amateur radio.

It works the other way as well. The amateur that doesn’t pick up at least rudimentary Morse code skills is choosing the short-end of a stick – unable to operate effectively with simplistic equipment in bad conditions as Morse code permits better than almost any other mode, the completely code-free amateur’s communications toolbox is left wanting (but not empty!). On the flip side, the amateur who sticks to Morse code is left communicating in a mode that is, at common speeds of experienced operators, painfully slow for communication, requires a great amount of practice to use at those speeds, and which, in a non-disaster situation, is easily equalled in power density and propagation by inexpensive and readily available digital equipment. [edit: 3 jan 2015]  Realistically, digital equipment is available in a disaster too.  With computers becoming small and portable, there should be a laptop in any go-pack, and if if there isn’t, computers will be around and available in anything short of a nuclear blast.

If Morse code is your favourite thing in amateur radio, that’s fine. But to tell others that it is the essence of amateur radio is hubris in the extreme, and it’s living in the past. History is a great thing to learn from, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Morse code is not what defines a real radio amateur now, nor has it ever been. The ability to employ communication technology in an effective and appropriate manner under an assortment of conditions, and to be driven to learn constantly is what defines a radio amateur for the 21st century.

Let’s put Morse code in the communications tool box where it belongs and leave it there, to be used when required, and not used when there are better ways. And let’s embrace the essence of amateur radio and learn something new. If you’re a Morse enthusiast, how about learning and using a different digital mode like PSK or RTTY? If you’re a digital enthusiast, how about learning to send your Morse by hand or picking up a microphone? If you’re a phone enthusiast, how about hanging up the mic for a while and trying something different? Experimenting and learning new things, that is the essence of amateur radio.

VE3OIJ

VoIP is NOT Amateur Radio

Digital Modes, DX, General, Operating, Technology, Voice Modes

This topic comes up from time to time, and I’ve never seen anyone give a definitive argument as to why VoIP modes like Echolink, IRLP, some uses of D-Star (dongles and “dx”), CQ100 and so forth are absolutely not amateur radio.  To me, it is obvious that they are not amateur radio, and it’s easy to explain why: none of them use radio, amateur radio specifically, but radio in general, as the primary method to transmit information.

That’s not to say that they don’t use radio.  Certainly with IRLP, Echolink and “DX” uses of D-Star, radio is involved.  That’s where people get confused… “It uses a radio, therefore it is amateur radio” and that’s absolutely wrong.

It’s wrong because if you took the radio away, all those modes still work.  Echolink, all the DX part of D-Star, and CQ100 work over the internet, computer to computer.  Any use of a radio is a secondary convenience.  In the case of CQ100, it’s primary purpose is to be used computer to computer.  Legally speaking, no person needs an amateur radio licence to use these applications, despite the best efforts of software authors to keep access restricted to the amateur radio community.  If the guy down the street downloads Echolink or CQ100 and somehow manages to get an authorized registration, all the hooting and hollering in the world will not get your national communications regulator to come down on the guy.

On the other hand, if you take the internet away, Echolink, IRLP, CQ100, and most of D-Star die immediately.  They absolutely cannot function without the internet, and it is because of this that I say it is clear that such modes are not amateur radio.  In fact, they’re no different than Skype or Logitech’s video program, or MSN Messenger beyond having less features than those commercial VoIP programs.

D-Star is a special case because it can be used for direct, radio-to-radio communication.  Thus, I have to afford that mode special dispensation: At the core, D-Star is amateur radio, but a lot of how it is used is not.

But PSK and other digital modes use a computer too. I guess they aren’t amateur radio.

Wrong.  That is a canard oft trotted out in defence of the “amateur radio” status of Echolink et al. but it is a strawman that is incorrect at the most basic level.  The issue isn’t the use of a computer.  Machines have been communicating by radio for more than half a century.  PSK, RTTY and other digital modes are just modern versions of that.

Take away the internet, and people’s digital modes software still works and they can still communicate by radio.  Take away the radio, and all that digital modes software becomes useless.  Therefore, it is amateur radio.

The computer is not the issue, the primary communication medium is the issue.  With PSK etc. that medium is radio, with Echolink etc. it is the internet.

Why does this matter?

Largely, it does not except in message board fights.  One place it does matter, however, is in the public-service angle of amateur radio… you know, that part where we’re supposed to be able to communicate in the event of some kind of emergency where the major communication systems are knocked out.

One property of disasters is that they can take out the internet locally.  So if your amateur radio setup is based around internet modes, you are effectively useless when the internet drops out over a wide area… as happened in Haiti and Chile during their recent earthquake disasters, as happened in Louisiana with the hurricane, and as is the case over much of the world where internet just hasn’t made it yet.

These internet modes are fun to play around with, but don’t think of them as amateur radio.  They’re not, and they won’t ever be a replacement for basic radio communications.

[edit]

Some very good and interesting comments.  I’ve decided to add a bit here to address them.

I feel very strongly that amateur radio is about more than just communication and the ability to self-learn.  You don’t need amateur radio for that.  If that is the only justification for the existence of amateur radio, then we’re already in deep, deep trouble.  With pressure from commercial interests, and a general disinterest from the public, it won’t be long before amateur radio is killed off if the best we can do is work out glorified Skype or MSN clients that look like a radio on-screen.  To me, the purposes of amateur radio are to allow people an experimental venue from which they can learn about radio communication, to further radio communication research, and to provide public service in the event of an emergency when the other infrastructure fails.  That’s why we don’t need VoIP on the internet… let commercial interests do that (they already have).  We shouldn’t be wasting time and effort reinventing an already well-perfected wheel.

There are aspects of this sort of technology that would be very useful in the amateur radio world.  Here’s a few ideas where I think this area of interest should be going that would further amateur radio, rather than just being yet-another-VoIP-client on the internet (and thus useless when the internet doesn’t work).  This is definitely not an exhaustive list:

  • Digital voice over radio – Yes, D-Star is a cool area of endeavour not because it links repeaters over the internet but because the limited bandwidth requirements of a digital voice signal mean more conversations can fit on the standard bandwidth of an FM repeater.  More conversations is more efficient use of the available spectrum.  This technology also has direct commercial application with cellular phones and general commercial radio.  Advancing this sort of technology advances radio communication generally and harkens back to the original goals of amateur radio: to further communication technology over radio. Amateur radio is grossly behind the times in this area when compared with cellular phone technology.  We should be on the leading edge of this stuff, not decades behind.
  • High speed data transfer over radio – Again, D-Star is making the advances here, but amateur radio still lags far behind the rest of the communications world in this area.  The ability to send high-speed data by radio would be a huge boon when using amateur radio in the event of an emergency.  Oddly enough, one of the types of traffic such a radio data network could carry would be digitized voice (such as voice over IP), or video.  The key here, however, is to gain the ability to do this over radio links when there is no internet, nor phone lines.  Again, amateur radio is decades behind on this when we should be leading it.  Just to drive this point home… if a bunch of amateurs set up even a 128 kbps radio network running IP over radio, they could run the free software Ventrilo and chat, computer to computer. Ventrilo is a commercially supported package that is well tested and works extremely well.  Increase that network bandwidth and you could carry a lot of VoIP conversations very effectively.  My point: instead of working out ham radio simulators, let’s solve the high speed data over radio issues.
  • Both of the above over satellite – to get message and data traffic out of a disaster area, satellites are likely the way of the future.  Efforts that enable the ability to use existing and future satellites for the previous two purposes will greatly advance amateur radio in terms of the intended purpose of amateur radio and in the eyes of the public.
  • Improved HF modes – faster and error corrected methods of transferring information globally over HF radio.
  • Space communication – faster, smaller, easier methods of sending messages over inter-planetary distances.  It’s maybe a bit early, but radio amateurs can lead this field with work on things like EME and Earth-Venus-Earth or Earth-Mars-Earth work.

That’s where I think we should be spending effort instead of wasting it on things like VoIP over the internet and pretending that it’s radio.

VE3OIJ

Why I’ll probably never use Logbook of the World

Digital Modes, DX, General, Operating, Security, Technology

The title topic comes up here and there, and I’m often asked about it on the air, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to detail, once and for all, why I have zero interest in ARRL’s Logbook of the World.

To be fair, it does what it does and based on the number of users, it does it reasonably well – you install their software, jump through their hoops, and you can submit your logs in a way that ARRL will accept for award credit. At that level, I have no complaint with the system.
However, Logbook of the World has a number of shortcomings that are sufficiently off-putting that cause me to lose all interest in the system.

1. It’s great for one or two callsigns, but becomes an ever increasing gluteal pain if you operate lots of special event and other callsigns.

Yes, if you have multiple callsigns, you need a separate cryptographic certificate for each additional callsign. That’s extra files you have to keep track of, extra things to check that you have properly configured before you submit logs, extra things to get deleted/munged if you have a computer failure. It’s also wholly unnecessary – with a database that’s even half-decently designed, one should be able to register once with a primary call and use that cryptographic signature with other calls associated with that particular user. In fact, that’s pretty much the way public key cryptography was DESIGNED to be used, but the ARRL chose not to do it that way.

2. It’s “pretend” security, making a proverbial mountain out of a molehill. What security it provides is unnecessary.

Public Key cryptography – the driving engine behind LotW security is intended to provide two levels of security. First, the radio amateur identifies himself to the certificate issuer satisfactorily. A digital certificate is issued and through the magic of mathematics, whenever the amateur uses the certificate to sign a message, it can be verified that that specific certificate was used. In order to say that an identity is verified, however, one must have assurance that the certificate has not been shared. So although I might jump through ARRL’s identity hoops, I could share my certificate around deliberately… or because it sits as a file on my computer, a malicious person could steal it from my hard drive. Unless the certificate is protected at some level, it offers little or no assurance that it is being used by the intended person. That is why serious systems that use public key cryptography store the certificate in a smart card or similar device – something the proper owner can carry with them and can’t be easily hacked. Yes, the owner could share it around, still but when it’s used he can’t say “well someone hacked it.”

Additionally, it is important that the issuance of certificates cannot be subverted in some way. In particular, for non-US operators, you need only send a real-looking copy of a licence, and a copy of some other official-looking document to verify your identiy. If we assume that ARRL awards are something important enough to try and get by undeserving individuals, it’s probably fair to assume that faking these two simple documents would require only a few minutes of time on the internet and with a program like MSPaint of Photoshop. Therefore, the identity value of the cryptographic certificate is precisely zero by any measure. In fact, ARRL’s identification system is no better than eQSL, and arguably worse (eQSL can at least verify you have access to the mailing address you provide).

But… the certificate is also used to protect the submission in transit. Yes, the traffic is encrypted, but all that does is prevent it from being read by an interceptor (no value, not sensitive info), or modified by an interceptor (theoretically possible, but there would be MUCH easier ways to generate fake QSO records). I might accept this as a valid security measure if the ARRL could produce documentation indicating that they have done a Threat and Risk Assessment and determined that log information is at risk from this kind of attack. These are amateur radio QSO records, not government secrets.

In short, encrypting the records with public key cryptography is like swatting a mosquito by exploding an atomic bomb.

Looking at it another way: why don’t you put a 10 meter fence, a moat and a minefield around your house? You’d probably almost never get broken into, that would be certain. Odds are you don’t go to this extreme because the level of security isn’t justified by the level of risk. And even if you did put a 10 meter fence with a moat and minefield, you wouldn’t put a bridge over the whole thing right to your door. Public key cryptography is that fence/moat/minefield, and the slack authentication and identification process to get a certificate is that bridge.

Use of certificates also costs money. The certificates have to be maintained, they expire, people lose their passwords, they get compromised, they get lost, and all these problems are dumped on the certificate issuer to sort out. That costs time, and time is money. Having considerable experience in the specific field of PKI management, it would not be unreasonable for about 15-25% of certificates to be turned over in any given year just due to lost passwords and compromised certificates – not counting expired certificates and new issues. ARRL pays for that, which means that somewhere, users pay for it.

3. I have to install software on my machine.

Ok, this one is nit-picky, but there is no reason that anyone should have to install software to do these submissions. Even the certificates could be used through a java applet. The whole system is so old-tech. I’m not interested in installing and maintaining a piece of software so I can use pretend security to submit my logs when they can already be submitted automatically from my logging software to eQSL, HRDLog and other places.

4. ARRL charges LotW users for using LotW contacts in award applications.

Users of LotW are charged 25 cents (US) per LotW contact submitted for an award. This is probably related to the costs I mentioned in point 2. And even though that’s not much, it does add $25.00 to the cost of a DXCC if you do it all through LotW. Think about it – you’re paying ARRL for the privilege of saving THEM from sorting through your cards and proof. YOU ARE PAYING TO MAKE THEIR JOB EASIER – not yours, theirs. If anything, they should be reducing the charges for the award, but as noted above, operating a public key infrastructure costs money and they have to get it back somewhere.

More to the point, I like paper cards anyway, and I use paper cards, so why would I want to sink effort into a system that only matters for ARRL awards when I meet their award requirements for free with no extra work on my part?

I think I have laid out, in sufficient detail, why I don’t have interest in participating in the Logbook of the World. I hope it’s clear enough for everyone to understand. Please understand that I harbour no ill-will toward the ARRL or LotW users… If LotW works for you, that’s awesome – enjoy it.

However, since I am regularly asked why I am not interested in LotW, I felt it would be worthwhile to post the reasons here and then refer to them later so I don’t have to type the same thing over and over.

[edit 2014:  I did finally sign up for LotW on my primary callsign late last year.  I upload about twice a month.  My return rate appears to be less than eQSL or paper, so despite all the bleating about how awesome LotW is, it’s actually not as good as eQSL or paper, at least for me.  I’ll guess that maybe CW or phone people get more hits through this method.]

[edit 2017: In 2017, an interesting technology is arising – Quantum Computing.  If the purpose of certificates in LotW is security, then be warned… in a decade, give or take, maybe less, quantum computers will destroy public key cryptography, and the “security” of LotW will be truly non-existent.]

VE3OIJ

Yaesu VX-8R, the good, the bad, the ugly

Digital Modes, Equipment, Operating, Voice Modes

As noted in the previous post, I have a Yaesu VX-8R now and I thought I’d post some of my impressions in my standard review format…

The Good

This radio is top-notch in a number of areas:

  • The audio quality on send and receive seems to be excellent.  Although nobody buys an HT for its awesome sound quality on receive, it’s nice to have a radio that puts out clear audio right up to max volume.
  • The radio only has 1 knob and setting the volume involves pushing a function button and turning the knob.  My initial reaction to this was not good, but as I played with the radio it occurred to me that something was different… unlike when handling my Kenwood TH-F6A, handling the VX-8R never resulted in the volume being bumped to a weird setting.  I have to give props to this, because it really annoys me when the volume knob on my Kenwood gets bumped off the preferred setting.
  • The radio is light, even compared to the tiny Kenwood that I have.  This means that it can clip on clothing a little easier.  The radio is also quite thin, thinner than my wallet – you could carry it in a pocket if you had to.  Perhaps that says more about the junk I carry in my wallet than the radio, but you get the idea.
  • The radio is submersible.  The primary purpose of an HT is outdoor use for me, and that means exposure to rain and a non-zero chance of being dropped in a puddle or pond.  Submersible is a major bonus in my opinion.
  • APRS is built in.  This is also a great feature for outdoor use.  I hike and geocache, and it’s nice to know that I can carry a beacon with me in the event that I get into trouble.  I use my Kenwood D-700 as a repeater when I am in the woods, and now I can use it to digipeat my location when I’m on a trail or seeking Tupperware by GPS 🙂
  • The radio seems to have good performance on 50 and 220 MHz.  I haven’t really played with it on the other two bands.  There is no problem getting into the 6m repeater that is in my grid square (VE3RVI: 53.030, minus, 1 MHz), and no problem making the 220 MHz repeater even on the reduced power that this radio puts out in that band (VE2REH: 224.760, minus, 110.9 Hz tone).

The GPS unit works well, even from inside my house.  It has a nice little display that gives all your position info.

The Bad

These are really snivels.  There’s only one real issue with this radio as noted in the next section.

  • The lithium-ion battery that comes with the radio is, at 1100 mAH, a bit light for a radio of this power.  I wish the radio was delivered with a pack that accepted AA cells as well, but that is a separately purchased option.  There is, however, a higher capacity battery available separately.  I’ll have to look into that I guess.
  • I don’t understand why this radio is so low powered on the 1.25 m band.  It’s definitely better than nothing, but it would be nice if it had full power like the Kenwood TH-F6A.  I’m sure there’s some design reason, but my gut tells me it should have been easy enough to overcome.
  • The radio only has AM, Narrow FM and Wide FM modes.  This really reduces the functionality of receive in the other amateur bands.  The radio has wide frequency coverage, but within the amateur bands, you can’t listen to the SSB traffic.  Considering that competing radios (like the Kenwood TH-F6A) have SSB and CW reception, it surprises me that this radio does not.  That said, I don’t spend a lot of time listening to that stuff with the Kenwood, so it’s not a major issue with this radio for me.
  • Sending and receiving APRS messages is a bit of a PITA.  If you’re used to the Kenwood D-700 system, you’ll be disappointed.  Per the previous paragraph, the APRS messaging is buried a couple levels down in menus, and my first impression is that the whole interface is not especially intuitive.

The Ugly

I have only one major complaint about this radio, and that it uses a complicated menu system.  The main menu has something like 100 items.  So many of the features of this radio are accessed from the menu, that there is a very steep learning curve.  Sure, the basic functionality is straightforward, but if all you wanted was a couple of VFOs for talking, you would buy a much less expensive radio.  I am certain that another row of front-panel keys could have reduced the menu complexity a bit and not added significantly to the size and weight of the radio.  Even simple features like squelch are in the menu system, making them hard to use.

Whatever you do… DO NOT LOSE THE MANUAL!  I guarantee you’ll need the manual often.

Summary

I am very pleased so far.  I have some accessories on order (speaker-mic, GPS antenna).  I may explore the Bluetooth board, although I am not convinced I want to use a bluetooth headset – mostly because I usually have such a headset for my telephone and don’t think I need two headsets on at the same time.  I will be seeking that AA cell battery pack.  That’s a must-have in my book.

The stock battery seems to have a lifetime of about 3 hours while using high power to talk on a repeater AND transmit an APRS beacon every two minutes.  I haven’t decided if that is good, bad, or ugly.  For most of my use, I don’t expect to use high power, so I would expect to get more battery life.

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Darin Cowan - VE3OIJ
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