Saturday, 2 January 2016

Another set of wheels, so time for another radio...!

About a month before Christmas, and with the acquisition of another car (my Land Rover being off the road due to a problem that I cannot nail down just yet), I decided it was high time I sought a new radio for my Amateur Radio hobby, to replace the one that vanished, along with a previously stolen car of mine. So, I began to save for one, calling it “Roger's Radio Fund”. I reckoned to myself that I should have enough squirrelled away to get a decent radio, within about two to three months (probably four at the outside). So imagine my shock on Christmas day when a certain member of my family gave me a cheque for a decidedly impressive enough amount to complete my funding exercise well ahead of schedule!

So, it was time to decide on WHAT radio to get.

Band-wise, at the very least, it had to be dual band 2m/70cm (VHF and UHV, the two most commonly-used bands for mobile amateur radio communications), although 4m (70 MHz) and/or 6m (50 MHz), and even 10m (28 MHz), would be nice. I'd obviously need a multi-band mobile antenna for it too.

Mode-wise, it would have to have, at the minimum, FM; ideally, it would also have some form of DV (digital voice) mode as well, such as D-Star (Icom's somewhat proprietory implementation of digital communications), System Fusion (Yaesu's somewhat proprietory implementation of digital communications), DMR (Digital Mobile Radio, the actual Open Standard that's ironically beginning to be used in commercial equipment, see, or similar.

My specification also called for the new radio to be able to be programmed using a computer using the Ubuntu Linux OS (I have CHIRP, and can also run some Windows applications under WINE on my laptop). For times when manual operation is required, it had also be able to be relatively intuitive to program, and have an easy to read display (no cluttering and/or small-print!). If it could be operated via bluetooth and/or an Android application as well, so much the better.

For security, it had to have a removable head unit, for when the radio wasn't being used.

Make-wise, I have predominantly used Yaesu in the past, and had an FT-7800 until that car got stolen from my garage one night, dammit (a few years back), so I'm used to their radios; I've also used Icom hand helds (I have an ID-51E, and find it irritatingly complex to use, although that's probably the compact menu system on it), and a very simple Baofeng UV-5R, which I find ridiculously easy to use. The FT-817 is a joy, and is used for QRP when I get the chance (not very often). The 817 can be operated from my Android phone as well, using Repeater Book and other applications via bluetooth, which is nice.

This then raised a very good point: Shold I include DV as a requirement, in the hope that my crystal ball would be right on the money a few years down the line (I already have the Icom ID-51E hand held), or should I save my money, and go analogue, which will still be there down the line?

As mentioned above, already there are three standards being used in DV boxes in the UK: Icom's D-Star, Yaesu's System Fusion, and DMR.

There were similar arguments, I recall, about the pros and cons of the 1750Hz toneburst versus CTCSS/DCS (this concerns an audible tone burst, versus subaudible coded tones, used to access repeaters – these are rebroadcasting stations on the amateur bands), which was eventually settled by the authorities over here making a preference for CTCSS, if I recall correctly. Only took maybe ten years to settle!

Anyhow, with all the choices and options, I came toa relatively easy decision:

Icom were going well, but were frankly too expensive, and as yet, as pointed out above, the DV aspect has not yet really settled down sufficiently well enough to decide on a full-size DV radio at this time. Also, my experience of DV has been less than impressive, with "underwater speech" a regular thing to hear (granted, it's been with my ID-51E hand held, but not any the less valid for that).

Kenwood don't have anything I'd call affordable within my budget with the capabilities I'd like (the dual band TM-G710GE came close, with the APRS/GPS, but was close to half a grand on its own), and most the other contenders don't measure up either.

So currently, and after much deliberation, the shortlist is down to the Yaesu brand. Specifically, the Yaesu FT-8900 Quad Bander (10m/6m/2m/70cm), with the YSK-8900 head separation kit, and a Diamond CR-8900 quad-band antenna. It also has the benefit of being a direct descendant of the FT-7800 that I owned a few years back, which should make operating it relatively straight-forward for me; in addition, being a Yaesu, it'll be very reliable, as are, of course, all the 'big three' makes.

The interesting thing here is that I can probably add APRS/GPS (a way of showing where you are, using GPS units relaying their data over the amateur bands) capability via the data socket in the back of the radio, with the use of a cable and either an Android phone or a Raspberry Pi-type computer later on. I'll have to look into that, but if it's a non-starter, it's not really a big deal, to be honest.

Now, it won't do Digital comms, nor can it be controlled by bluetooth with the Repeater Book package for Android by, but it's a decent compromise between affordability within budget, coverage, and ease of use; I'm going to mull on this a little while longer, but I suspect this is going to be the way I go.

So, in the next couple of weeks tops, I'll be heading off to Martin Lynch & Sons in west London, who I've used many times before, with very satisfying results, to buy the new radio, and then it'll be down to me, to install the stuff in my car!

More updates on this, at that time!

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