Amateur Radio Hardware

Mobile Radio Upgrade

I’ve had great service from my trusty Yaesu FT-7800E transceiver for around 15 years. It’s lived in a few different vehicles, performed really well and been easy to operate on the go. That is until a few months ago, when I started to get reports from other stations that my transmitted audio was weak intermittently…

Mobile radios can sometimes suffer, given the harsh conditions of mobile radios in terms of vibration and extremes of temperature. Cleaning all of the plugs and sockets on the connecting cables would usually fix things, but sadly not this time. Even swapping the microphone didn’t help.

Studying the circuit diagram, I found there are a few semiconductors in the transmitted audio signal path which control gain and it seems one of these might have become faulty. Due to lack of time and the small surface mount nature of these parts, I decided the easiest fix was to upgrade the radio to a newer model. I’ll repair the FT-7800E in due course, as I need a dedicated radio in my shack to park on the local FM repeater channels.

I chose another Yaesu transceiver for the replacement, and went with the FTM-300DE. This offered more features than the radio it replaced:

  • True dual band allowing simultaneous reception and transmission
  • C4FM Digital Voice capability, and access to internet gateways
  • APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System)
  • Bluetooth
  • MicroSD card for easy programming of channels
  • And finally, a fancy colour screen!

The only drawback compared to my current radio was that the microphone attaches to the radio body, rather than the display head so I had to reroute some cables in my vehicle:

A mess of wires behind a dashboard

I also had to change the antenna on the vehicle roof. My previous antenna was designed only for UHF use on 70cm. The new radio would need to transmit regularly on 2m VHF as well as UHF, so I swapped to a dual band antenna, which was also slightly shorter. I’ve lost some of the range I had on 70cm, but I’ve gained 2m TX capability and of course APRS.

After an afternoon of fiddling around, the new radio body is hidden away with the control unit neatly on the dashboard and an extension speaker providing crisp audio directly into the cab:

Final install with dashboard refitted

I didn’t really think I needed APRS, but it has been interesting so far. I’ve had text messages from stations in neighbouring countries who have received my position beacons, which has allowed me to assess how far my signals are travelling. I can see local amateurs driving around near me, so I know to give them a call. One day, I started receiving position reports from lots of stations I don’t normally hear. So the radio is automatically giving me a ‘heads up’ on enhanced propagation events without me having to pay too much attention. Finally, the location of my vehicle is recorded by the APRS internet system, and so I can be tracked live on websites such as Google Maps APRS and this has resulted in a fresh cuppa being ready as I pull up outside home!

I’m usually monitoring the local repeaters GB3GD and GB3IM as well as the FM and Digital Voice calling frequencies when I’m driving around. Feel free to give me a call!


Putting the Weather Online

For Christmas I decided I would like my own weather station. I knew that I wanted it to upload the data to the cloud so that I could see trends and access the information from anywhere.

I did a fair amount of research and settled on what I wanted, but the UK company wanted to charge me about £45 on top of an already steep price just to ship it to the Isle of Man! This seemed a little bit excessive, especially as they were only shipping by Royal Mail, so I decided to look elsewhere.

I came across a website supplying a whole host of Youshiko branded weather stations. I couldn’t find much information about these online, and suspected they would be of dubious quality, but took a punt anyway.

I was pleasantly surprised. The build quality isn’t *that* bad, and everything worked first time and was easy to set up. The external sensors are powered by AA cells, and use an 868 MHz link to the mains powered indoor display unit. This unit then connects over WiFi to my LAN so that it can send the data on to two popular online weather sites.

The internal unit has a web server built in, so it was easy to add the necessary API keys for the online services. Data was flowing from my back garden to the internet within minutes of powering the thing up for the first time.

Accuracy seems OK for the price. Both the local temperature and atmospheric pressure agree well with the Ronaldsway Meteorological Office, at EGNS. My device was even sensitive enough to capture the pressure shockwave from a volcanic eruption about 10 thousand miles away!

I suspect the Manx wind and rain will finish off the outdoor unit within a year or so, but time will tell. Certainly it’s not a serious weather station, but for casual hobbyist use I would recommend these as easy to use and accurate, with the ability to upload to the cloud.

You can see the data for yourself by visiting:

Amateur Radio Hardware

SharkRF OpenSpot

I’ve been having a lot of success using my MD380 DMR transceiver together with the Isle of Man’s DMR repeater network. Sadly though, my house isn’t in coverage of the repeaters. This means I can’t use my handheld at home.

The solution to this problem has come in the form of a Radio/IP gateway called the OpenSpot, and manufactured by SharkRF.

This allows my DMR radio to send packets to global DMR networks (Brandmeister, DMR+ etc.) and for incoming packets to be sent to my radio over RF.  Essentially it’s like having my own DMR ‘repeater’ at home so that I can use my handheld radio on all of the global networks as if I was in coverage of a DMR repeater.

Configuration was easy, via an HTTP web interface. Once set up, all the control can be done from the radio. Linking and unlinking can be done by sending group calls to specific talkgroups which means there’s no need to keep using a computer to use the device. All you need is your handheld radio.

I’ve been impressed with the build quality, the support forums, and the constant releases of new firmware with new features. I haven’t tried it yet, but it should be possible to use my OpenSpot to also communicate on the non-DMR D-STAR and System Fusion networks too, even though I only have a DMR radio. You can’t even do that with a full on DMR repeater!

Amateur Radio

Losing yourself…

About once every year, I like to log in to Ofcom’s website and re-validate my amateur radio licence. I do this so that it becomes a sort of habit, and so that I’ve no risk of going beyond the statutory five year limit.

This year, my login details didn’t work. It turns out that Ofcom have upgraded their online systems and I need to re-register. Provided that I use the same email address, they’ll match up all of my details.

Or so the theory goes. Sure enough, the system found my name and my address without issue, but sadly not my amateur radio licence. Instead, I’m now the holder of an old club callsign which I used to use when running a radio club at a school in England about 16 years ago. My actual licence and callsign is nowhere to be seen.

This matters, and not just for the legal reasons of needing to have a licence to transmit. To radio amateurs, your callsign is your name. It’s your identity. It’s how people recognise you. It matters when it’s gone. That’s why the right to personal identity is recognised in international law through a range of declarations and conventions.

Anyway, I’ve spoken to Ofcom on the phone today. Twice. They’re very polite and helpful people, but they can’t fix it for me. I’m waiting for a call back at some point today.

I don’t like being an unnamed, stateless individual. I want my identity back!

Amateur Radio Hardware Isle of Man

The Things are coming…

Recently, I attended #offcamp – a barcamp style discussion around open data which was organised by @bcs_isleofman and free to attend.

The morning sessions were OK and it was good to see that some thought is being given to making data open and available, especially data that has been collected by governments and already paid for by the public.

However, what really caught my attention was the crowd sourcing of data using sensors and the Internet of Things. I hadn’t realised that the problem of expensive telecoms links for remote IoT devices is beginning to be solved by new RF chipsets based on spread spectrum techniques similar to those used in QRP amateur radio experiments.

Sadly most of these RF technologies are proprietary, but that doesn’t mean that the infrastructure built with them has to be. A group of people from Amsterdam have built The Things Network which is an open movement with the aim of providing free and open communications for IoT devices around the world.

Given my interest in radio and electronics, together with the open philosophy of building something free for community use, I knew that I wanted to get involved with this. So, I’ve established an Isle of Man community with the aim of getting our very own Things Network established here.