Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Alinco DX-SDR

Not my video

Alinco is bringing out a new HF radio that uses SDR technology. I have received a brochure in PDF form (not posted here due to not knowing if I'm allowed) with a few details on it, subject to change. It appears to be a 10-160 all-mode radio. According to the above video it doesn't come with a head but you will be able to get one for it. It is meant to plug into a PC which will be running SDR software, I'm guessing much like the Flexradios do?
  • TX 10-160m
  • RX .15-30Mhz looks like
  • FM/SSB/CW 100W
  • AM 40W
  • looks like SDR bandwidth is either 15khz or 20.5khz? Very odd.
The specs say the receiver is a double conversion superhet and lists modulation methods for the transmitter side. This is very confusing to me because I expect SDRs to have direct conversion receivers. It may be that the radio is fairly conventional and the SDR is an IF type. There is an SDR entry in their table with the associated text being "3rd IQ", I suppose that could be a typo and really mean "3rd IF". One bullet point says that the receive and transmit audio is through the PC's mic/speakers. But then the table lists SSB as balanced modulation and FM as DSP modulated. I would hope the TX could be modulated by the SDR software on the computer but time will tell.

No indication has been made to me at this time on how the radio connects to the PC. I would hope that one USB cable is all you would need for CAT control and also an audio device for the IQ TX/RX to the computer so people could use their usual soundcard device for the TX/RX audio. This would also reduce the necessary cabling which is always a positive thing. Plus you could add a small single-board-computer such as the Raspberry Pi to enable such a device for Ethernet and then find new applications for it. Mount the radio remotely at the antenna to minimize line losses. Stick it on a mountain, establish a wifi link and allow shared access with your Amateur Radio Club. Network it and operate from anywhere in your house or property with wifi or ethernet connections.

As said earlier, I believe a head is going to be released that will allow standalone operation without a PC. 

This, along with Yaesu's new digital HT, seems to be the start of exciting times in Ham Radio. It's a good sign if more manufacturers are going to enter the marketplace with products based on these non-traditional technologies.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Yeasu FT-1D redux

Found a copy of the brochure on the FT-1D radio at the above website. No real surprises for me. It's fairly thin but really looks a lot like some of their newer handies. VX7R comes to mind.

  • data transfer speed of 9.6kbps - I would ask if it's compatible with packet but then I realize it doesn't really matter because there's no really a lot of the 9600baud packet stuff out there and it's surely not.
  • 1 button switch between digital and analog modes
  • Wide-band RX .5-999Mhz
  • micro SD slot seems to provide:
    • GPS log - location and tracking
    • picture image data
    • memory backup/clone
    • potentially other uses not listed in the brochure "and other useful information is stored on the micro SD card"
  • USB connector - this surprised me a bit. It seems the optional microphone plugs in here.
    • There's reference to a firmware update function available by plugging the PC into there.
    • I wonder if it's a USB2GO type of device. If the optional microphone plugs in there then I'd bet that it is actually using USB protocols to communicate.
  • optional microphone - I really saw this one coming.
    • NOT included
    • 320x240 or 160x120 modes
    • Image can not be viewed on FT1D, LCD limitation of course
    • Image is time and date stamped, has geotag from GPS
    • 20 seconds TX for 320x240, 4s TX 160x120
    • Jpeg format
    • I wonder how much this mediocre accessory will add to the cost of the radio?
  • Digital ARTS
    • Auto-Range Transponding System
    • A technology that lets you know when you move out of range of a sister station. I'm guessing it has a watchdog timer and sends a ping out every so often. If you get a ping, the watchdog is reset. If the watchdog runs out, you're alerted. Just a guess.
    • Does anyone use this? I have a FT-50R with the older ARTS and I've never once used it.
  • GPS
  • "E-GPS" a way to transmit GPS data to other users. Sounds like a proprietary version of APRS to me. There's a distinct lack of reference to APRS in this document.
  • GSM - Group Short Message
    • Texting for Ham Radio. But it looks like it has two major limitations: Your message goes to everyone in the vicinity/group and it's 80 characters. SMS is 160.
    • At least you can request a receipt response.
    • Maybe, maybe you can limit who is notified of a message. I know due to the nature of Ham Radio there's no expectation of privacy so you can't block other people from reading messages, but they could at least let you choose who is notified of a new message.
The last piece of the puzzle that I'm still waiting to learn is price. As of May 20 2012, universal-radio has yet to publish anything about MSRP: http://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/ht/0111.html
I would note, one of their bullet points is APRS but I think that was an assumption on their part, there's no reference to it in the brochure.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Yaesu FT1D

I caught the gibgab about this today. Looking forward to more details coming out of the Hamvention. (I'm probably not going, water heater going out on me)

radioreference.com seems to have the most information about it currently:
Price undecided
Silver color
The end of March or in the shortest
■ Compatible with dual communication mode analog / digital
■ common with the option VX8G
■ APRS function
■ featured wide-band receiver
■ Built-in AM bar antenna capable of receiving AM / FM
■ listening quietly vibrator function, valid at large noise!
■ Equipped with GPS logger
■ GSM (group message function)
Send and receive messages in katakana / up to 80 characters in the alphabet
of about 0.15 seconds
■ Snapshot Snapshot (image data transfer)
In the display screen of the machine about 20 seconds Handy time display
can not be sent in digital mode] [FDMA. Set (320 × 240) QVGA size
■ Convenient, etc. / clone image data storage backup / the contents of
memory equipped with a micro SD card slot
■ Connecting the camera microphone (terminal MiniUSB) USB data, the
connection between an external device such as a PC. Useful, for example, a
firmware update.
■ Easy! E20 support (Itsuo / Easy to Operation)
Redesigned the system operation as easy to use, multi-functional. Enables
one-touch operation of frequently used functions
• The one-touch button digital mode in the D
Wires X corresponding key button key, but also what features a digital
· GM GSM (group message) key
■ E-GPS (GPS data transmission feature easy)
GPS data can be exchanged easily with fellow ham. One-touch display at the
same time as the direction and distance of transmission.

Some of the later text is badly translated and I don't know what it's getting at but it's talking about the price. There's also this leaked ad in Japanese:

It almost seems like someone has been listening when I've been ranting about amateur radio being at least 20 years behind cellphones. My thoughts from this information:
  • 1200/9600bps - D-star handhelds (and mobiles outside of ID-1) top out at 4800baud, but even then you can only use 791byte/s, I like
  • SD card - though I don't know the purpose yet. I see GPS in the same block so it may only be to save your GPS tracks. I would hope that it would serve other purposes as well.
  • GSM texting - If I'm reading the text from the forum post right. This is a big one that Ham Radio could've been doing since the early 90's with APRS but never got right. Even D-Star didn't get this right and it handles data all the time!
  • GPS built in - Look, if I can buy tiny usb dongles for $20 or less with GPS there's no imaginable reason why this feature should be rare OR expensive besides stealing money from your customers.
  • USB - I'm hoping for a lot here. It may only be so you can read the SD card on the computer. But there's a lot that can be done here. Data link to the radio for digital-modes, memory read/write, radio control, GPS, SD card, etc. Maybe audio modes would be too much to ask but I will anyways. Then they can make it charge the radio too.
  • Camera Mic - I am not hot on this. One of the things cellphones do that Ham Radio is sadly behind on is pictures. Sure, we had SSTV years before cellphones were invented. No one has ever put it in a handheld radio. And they still haven't. It's in a mic that is probably optional, and expensive. I see no way that you will be able to view the pictures on that display which rules out two way pictures. Even an old Nokia color display might've fit the bill here. I'm not going to complain about the resolution, anything is better than nothing I guess. 320x240 even.
  • Eh, it probably uses an AMBE codec from DVSI to compress the audio which is pretty much encryption. Encryption is encryption, even if the decryption key isn't a password but dollar bills $$$$. I'd give Yaesu a pass on this if it turns out they are going to open this radio up to third party development (which has really blown the smartphone market wide open. Remember when the Iphone was going to be locked down and the only way to run programs on it was going to be via web apps? Yeah, what happened when people hacked it to run native apps on it? Billions of dollars for Apple. Learn a lesson here Yaesu!) If they opened it up then maybe one day Codec2 could run on it and people would be more inclined to buy a radio that isn't under the constant threat of not catching on and dying off.
Yaesu better watch the price on this thing too. I think they will be smart enough to be competitive (cheaper) than D-Star radios at least. They are starting out at a natural disadvantage. In my opinion the best route to go would be to emulate the Chinese radio model as much as possible. Drastically undercut the competition in order to give more reasons to buy your product over theirs.
$500-600 will buy you a brand new, top of the line cellphone running Android, with a large high-resolution color touch-screen, built in GPS, Wifi, Bluetooth, MicroSD card slot, 5 MegaPixel camera,maybe a front facing camera for video conferencing, accelerometer, magnetometer, 6-32GB built in flash, USB charge, USB mass media (Flash and SD card access), USB data, etc

Yes, some of that stuff is possible because of mass production and the ability of manufacturers to make stuff cheaper the more they produce, I'm sure I'll remember the phrase for that after I publish. But we can benefit from that as well by using incredibly cheap components originally produced for cellphones. CPUs, flash, ram, even chips that integrate GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth.

I hope the traditional manufacturers are feeling pressure from the flood of cheap Chinese radios. Decades of little to no innovation should backfire as China moves into the market and undercuts Yaesu, Kenwood, Icom and even Alinco with radios that do the exact same functions for significantly less. Now the big manufacturers will either have to innovate or die. You know they're not feeling any pressure to innovate from most of their customers.

I'm glad to see someone trying to bring out a 21st century Ham Radio, but I'm feeling it's more akin to 1999 technology. To be honest, it's underwhelming. If the price is sweet then I'll consider buying one. I doubt it will be any less than a top of the line 2012 smartphone though. Maybe something will come out at the Hamvention that I can't glean from this information which will blow me away but I'm not expecting much.