Sunday, 21 February 2016

The cessation of unlimited tethered mobile broadband, Three, and EE...

For the last couple of years, I've been enjoying the benefits of having  unlimited tethering through my mobile phone; this has enabled me to have a very reliable broadband connection to the internet on my notebook, in my rented accommodations (no access to unlimited landline broadband, sadly).

Unfortunately, that's coming to an end, as Three, having halted new unlimited tethering contracts just after I signed up for my one, is now withdrawing the remainder of these contracts. :(

So, I've had to go looking for a high-throughput data contract. Three didn't offer anything close to what I needed, and there being no other providers offering contracts with similar services to the one I've had up until now, I've had to compromise. As a result, with both a mobile phone service contract, as well as a mobile data service contract, I'll be paying close to twice what I've been paying, for a fairly thick slice less of the data that I've been using, sadly. Never the less, I consider the new contract I just signed with EE for mobile Broadband services to be the best of a bad situation, and collected a MyFi router from Carphone Warehouse on the Purley Way in Croydon, today.

It's a Huawei e5573s-320. The benefit of this model, over others, is that you CAN plug in an external antenna, as there are jacks for this in the side of the unit - and I've got such an antenna inbound from Amazon UK, which should be here tomorrow.

Footprint-wise, it's remarkably small - length and width are slightly bigger than a credit card, although it's thicker of course: 84mm L x 58mm W x 15mm D.

Performance-wise, even indoors, in a notably difficult place to find a signal, is good - I got full strength 3G, and one bar of 4G, right on top of the printer on my desk. With the external antenna I have on the way, I should get an even better 4G signal - and the benefit is that I can stick both into my laptop bag, and get a decent chance at getting good signals wherever there's an EE service. I count that as an advantage, as for the last couple of years, I've only had access to Three services, and there are places where you cannot get a decent Three signal, where EE have good presence, and vice verse.

One nice surprise was that when I plugged it into my USB hub to charge it, it took less than an hour to top up to full charge, meaning that I could get to grips with using it in very short order. Imagine my pleasant surprise to find, that when I turned on my notebook, it connected via USB immediately to the MyFi router - as far as I can tell, that's apparently an undocumented feature, and a very nice surprise, meaning that I can switch off the WLAN WiFi service on the unit, in favour of a wired connection to it instead - there are situations where this would be a definite advantage, such as in high-density wireless environments, etc., where a stronger signal (and thus less battery time) would be needed to reliably connect with the device - having the capability to hard-connect to it is therefore a good thing.

I'll be looking to convert my existing Three contract to a rolling SIM-Only deal in the next few days, which should be somewhat cheaper than the alternative they have tried to offer me (not an all-you-can-eat plan, with a remarkably small amount of data allotment). If I can't get the plan I want, then I'll jump the Three ship, and go elsewhere. I'm very happy with the phone I have, and as it's now at end-of-contract, this opens up a fair few options for me.

More on this in due course :)

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Installation completion! YAY! (ahem)

Right, it's been a long drawn-out saga, this, but it's finally done.

There was no rain this yesterday, so I nipped out to take a few photos of the completed installation of my FT-8900R Amateur Radio transceiver in my Mk2 Ford Mondeo.

Let's start from the power cables, and work back...

Using yellow (up to 30 Amps capacity) terminal crimped rings, I used 20-amp cable (the thicker red and black twin cable that runs around the front of the battery in the photo) to run from both battery terminals (as recommended in the manual) to the boot (trunk) of the car. I ran the cable through a gap in the bodywork forward of the passenger door and bonnet (hood, to our transatlantic friends), into the passenger compartment (cabin), and under the internal plastic trim, along the left side of the car (here in England, that's the nearside), to the boot. I also used yellow crimped bullet connectors to join the 30-amp cable to the supplied power cable for the radio; it's just easier to disconnect and reconnect that way, and saves cutting cable ad infinitum later on, when I change cars or radios (or both!).

I then ran the remote head control cable and speaker extension cable from the boot, underneath the internal plastic trim, along the right (offside), to the dashboard, and tucked it finger-tight into the crevices running along the joint between top of the instrument cluster and dash top surface. This was a nice tight fit for the control cable, and secured it nicely without the use of cable ties.

The head unit is then clipped into the separation kit mounting bracket, which is in turn bolted to a Brodit mounting bracket (their "Item no 652348 - ProClip - Ford Mondeo 97-00"), which secures over the right central air vent in the top part of the centre of the dash. There was enough room on the bracket to drill holes for both the head unit bracket, and the microphone clip. When you do this yourself, remember to use a vice to securely fix the Brodit bracket in place, as it's made of a slightly flexible plastic. It's easy to drill though once secured, though. The photo shows the head unit installed, with the mike on its clip below; the phone mounting above is my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 in it's Otterbox Defender case, running the excellent RepeaterBook application. As you can see, they're all very easily accessible from the drivers' position.

It's also vitally important to make sure that when both the head unit and mike are in place, all controls can still be on both the car, and the radio, can be safely operated, even in the dark, so the positioning of the bracket - and consideration to head unit overhang on both sides - is really important; in this case, it was a doddle to ensure. I heartily recommend Brodit ProCLip brackets to anyone fitting remote head units for whatever brand of radio you might use, they really ARE that good, and easy to both fit, and utilise for the purpose.

It's also vitally important to make sure that when both the head unit and mike are in place, all controls can still be on both the car, and the radio, can be safely operated, even in the dark, so the positioning of the bracket - and consideration to head unit overhang on both sides - is really important; in this case, it was a doddle to ensure. I heartily recommend Brodit ProCLip brackets to anyone fitting remote head units for whatever brand of radio you might use, they really ARE that good, and easy to both fit, and utilise for the purpose.

As previously mentioned, the speaker extension cable (well, about a third of the total length of it, the rest is coiled neatly in a velcro cable-tie and fixed in place in the boot) runs from the boot, to halfway along the trim, and reappears alongside the central door pillar, where it is then plugged into the cable from the Moonraker speaker I'm using; this cable then disappears under the trim again, to reappear alongside the front of the drivers door, where it runs to where I've sited the speaker, adjacent to the offside front corner of the dash, where the speaker is secured by means of one of the double-sided sticky pads from the YSK-8900 separation kit, as the dash is a cast-iron female hound to secure things to in any other way (Yaesu supply really VERY good adhesive pads in that separation kit!).

Back in the boot (trunk, for our transatlantic friends!), lacking safe knowledge of what might be behind the felt-like fabric material lining of the boot spaces (electrical cables, fuel lines, etc), I opted to use a more predictable surface to mount the radio, one where I could easily access it to reprogram it from my notebook computer if necessary (by folding down the nearside seat back and accessing it from the offside back seat, while sitting down in a civilised manner), rather than conduct public exhibitions of tactical trunk yoga for the entertainment of all - especially as I'm not qualified in that somewhat undignified and unmartial art ;) I therefore secured the main body mounting bracket to the rear of the nearside rear passenger seat, using short self-tapping screws. Since I don't generally carry passengers in the car, it's a safe enough place to mount the radio.

It's worth while noting that the back of these seats are made of an aluminium alloy that requires pilot holes to be drilled - make sure your drill, if battery-powered, has a full charge: It utterly drained the partially charged batteries on my Bosch PSR18 portable unit, requiring a fast recharge, before I could complete the job!

In the photo, you can see the cables all tidily fixed in place by those velcro/fabric cable ties you can get from Poundshop and Maplin; they're invaluable, reusable, and well worth laying your mitts on; they also have the invaluable property of sticking to the felt-like material that Ford lined the boot with, making the job of keeping this fairly neat a LOT easier! As you might also notice from the photo below, the lining is missing from the back of the nearside passenger seat back; it was like that when I got the car (second-hand several times removed!), so opting to put the main body mounting there was something of a no-brainer, as the Americans like to say! (you’ll have to excuse the rust stains in the boot carpeting, that was from a previous owner putting something ultra-rusty there!)

Once I'd secured the main body of the radio into the mount, and plugged in the majority of the wires, it was time to connect the antenna. I'd chosen the quad-band CR-8900 from Diamond, by the way, it appearing to me to look more robust than the Comet quad band offering.

I used the K-405 heavy-duty boot-lip mount for this antenna, it being somewhat more chunky than your average dual-band antenna, and bought the standard Diamond cable kit to go with the combination (RG-58 cable all the way from both ends). I mounted the K-405 antenna bracket on the lower part of the hatchback, since this model of Mondeo has a side-to-side glass upper half, where the upper part of the frame of the hatchback is hidden. It's a real pain to mount anything other than 'bumper stickers' to those things, let me tell you. Now, I would have used the 'ledge' half-way down the hatchback, but for the plastic glued-on 'aerofoil' running to the edges of the ledge on both sides, that prevented me from doing this. So, the lower right side of the hatchback it was.

In the photo of the underside of the hatchback door, you can see the run of the coax - standard thickness RG58 cable; I used cable ties and self-adhesive mounting plates to secure the coax in place, and keep things tidy (remember when you do this to clean the surfaces with degreasing wipes, it'll let the cable base plates stick that much better). There's a very small amount of cable crush (hardly worth a mention, actually), but it's not that important in the grand scheme of things - I've seen much worse in my 30-plus years of operating mobile transceivers. It might look like the nearest cable tie mount one to the antenna mounting is loose, bit that's just an optical illusion.

The photo from outside the car shows the CR-8900 antenna, mounted on the K-405 boot-lip mount (right side, level with the number plate, as you look at it). Really and truly, it should be mounted considerably higher on the car, but as it's the only place that's feasible, there it'll stay.

It was at this point that my troubles began to manifest, the toys departed the pram at the speed of sound, and the dummy achieved low earth orbit along the way...

I had read the English-language version of the antenna manual, and a few reviews of the antenna, before this, and knew from these than a good grounding was necessary to ensure good matching for this particular model of antenna. I therefore used my rotary drill (similar to a Dremmel) with it's wire bell brush, to get to the metal for the mounting's grub screws to bite into, rather than the paint that Ford spray everywhere.

I was therefore utterly dumbfounded when my VSWR meter reported, repeatedly, that I has full scale deflection levels of high VSWR - and then reduced levels of power from the radio. I honestly thought that there were a mere three options where that either I had insufficient grounding, that the coax cable was somehow pinched or shorted, or that I'd somehow blown the PA stage in trying to adjust the VSWR on the antenna. No matter what I did to try and fix this problem, the same results recurred. It was soul-destroying.

Now, I'd bought all this nice shiny new kit from Martin Lynch & Sons (I've been using them for a couple of decades now, and they've been very helpful in all this time), at their new office and shop in Staines, and it's these excellent folks who came to my rescue. They suggested I drive over and see them, and they'd see if I'd done what I suspected that I'd done. They'd even stick the kettle on for me. So, Friday last, I did just that.

One of their engineers nipped down from their workshop, took a glance, checked the antenna at first, then the K-405 mounting and cable, sucked his teeth (always a bad sign for the customer when an Engineer does that, you can almost hear the cash register digits spinning when they do that!), then brought along his multimeter and another VSWR meter, and poked around for a few minutes as I hovered, like some expectant father. I'm very happy to report that none of my concerns were valid. It was my (broken, lying, hypocritical) VSWR meter at fault, and a more effective replacement VSWR meter is shortly to be procured to replace it.

The new installation seemed now to be working so, after the promised coffee, and a chat with the engineer, it was time to check the proof of the pudding. Having quickly reprogrammed the radio from my notebook (using CHIRP, which I highly recommend), I drove down the M4 to Berkshire, for a weekend with my better half. Along the way, I worked GB3BN, the Bracknell 2-meters repeater, and received excellent signals and reports through it.

I checked again today, and successfully opened GB3FX on 6 metres, some 25 or so miles away with roughly an R5/S3 response, but haven't yet had a chance to try out 10 metres with it yet; I'm a tad outside the coverage area of the nearest 10m box, unfortunately.

Anyhow, as a result of all of the above, I have a working, fully functional installation of a nice new ham radio and antenna on my ageing car, and I couldn't be happier

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Enough al-bloody-ready >:(

I've now had this up to my ears.

So enough already.

I give the hell up. I'm paying a professional to bleeding well install the damn thing.

Latest straw that broke the camels back: Radio went into SWR protection mode and WOULD NOT PLAY.

So **** it.

Toys out of pram, Dummy in high Earth orbit.

And I'm sulking for a month.

Bollocks to it all.

Comments disabled on this one, as I'm not even CLOSE to being in the right frame of mind to be polite.