Software Defined Radio/Remote Operating Gateway Part 2 – Client/Server Setup And Software

Remote Operating Gateway Client/Server Architecture

Remote Operating Gateway Client/Server Architecture

The next step in our Software Defined Radio/Remote Operating Project was to build a Remote Operating Gateway System in our shack and setup Client PCs to operate our station remotely. In a previous article, we explained how we integrated a FlexRadio 6700 Software Defined Radio (SDR) into our station to create a platform to build our remote operating project around. This project has turned out to be somewhat involved so we will be providing a series of articles to explain what we did:

In this article, we will explain the additional hardware and software that we used to enable remote operating as well as some other equipment we added to our Client PCs that we use to run our station remotely. The reader may want to refer to the picture above as you browse this article to better understand how the parts in our remote operating setup fit together. You can click on any of the pictures here on our blog to see a larger, easier to read version of them.

SmartSDR Software

SmartSDR Software Operating With A FlexRadio 6700 SDR

FlexRadio’s SmartSDR Software handles operating the SDR remotely. At the present state of maturity, SmartSDR can operate over a wired or wireless Ethernet LAN connection. At the moment, both SmartSDR and the FlexRadio-6xxx hardware must be on the same sub-network to function properly. FlexRadio has indicated that they plan to enable SmartSDR operation over wide-area broadband internet connections in the future. The design that we chose for our Remote Operating Gateway and Client PCs will allow operation of our entire station over the internet when SmartSDR is capable of fully supporting this. SmartSDR handles remoting of audio (microphone and speakers/headphones) as well as CW keying over our Home Network (more on this later) as well as control of the radio. With these essential functions taken care of, we need to also remotely control the following functions of our station to fully support remote operation:

Remote control of equipment power is particularly important to provide a means to reset/restart equipment remotely as well as a means to shut down the Transmitter remotely.

Remote GW Control Stack - Antenna, Power and Monitoring

Remote Gateway Control Stack – Antenna, Power and Monitoring

Remote control of power for the components in our Remote Operating Setup is handled by a RIGRunner 4005i power control device. This unit provides remote power control over a network for up to 5 separate groups of devices. It also provides voltage/current monitoring and solid state over-current protection as well.

RIGRunner Remote Power Control Setup

RIGRunner Remote Power Control Setup

The figure above shows how we set up our RIGRunner 4005i. The device is controlled over our Home Network via a standard Web Browser. As you can see from the picture above, this device lets us remotely control power to all of the devices in our Remote Operating Setup.

Remote Control Relay Unit

Remote Control Relay Unit

The FlexRadio-6700 SDR requires some additional power control handling. Simply removing and applying power to the FlexRadio-6700 SDR will reset the radio and leave it in a power-off state. The FlexRadio-6700 SDR does have a remote power control input which can be controlled via a relay closure. We used a microbit Webswitch 1216H device to provide a remotely controlled relay closure to control the power off/on for the FlexRadio-6700 SDR.

Flex-6700 On/Off Control Via microbit Webswitch

Flex-6700 On/Off Control Via microbit Webswitch

The microbit Webswitch 1216H relay unit is also controlled over our Home Network via a standard Web Browser.

SmartSDR Setup - Tx Keying, Tx Interlock and Remote Power Control

SmartSDR Setup – Remote On/Off Control

The FlexRadio-6700 SDR is configured for remote on/off operation via the Radio Setup dialog in SmartSDR as shown above. A cable is run between the remote power on/off port on the FlexRadio-6700 SDR and the microbit Webswitch 1216H relay unit to complete this part of our Remote Control System.

Beams On Our Tower

Beams On Our Tower

It is also important to have full remote control of our Antennas and Rotators to effectively use our station from outside our shack. Control of our Rotators is accomplished by software which remotes serial COM ports over our Home Network.

Network Serial Port Kit

Network Serial Port Kit

We used the Fabulatech’s Network Serial Port Kit package to remote the serial COM ports used to control the microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller, the associated antenna Rotators and the WinKeyer associated with our FlexRadio-6700 SDR. This software runs on both the local Server computer in our shack which hosts the Remote Operating Setup and any Client PCs which are used to operate our station remotely.

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Control via Teamviewer and Development App

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Development Application Via TeamViewer

There is not currently a production software tool to enable remote control of the microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controllers which we use in our shack. I am planning to develop our own application to do this in the future. The folks at microHAM have been so kind to provide me with the interface specifications needed to control the Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller remotely along with a Developer Only test application (shown above) which can be used to understand the microHAM Device Protocol. In the interim, I have been using the microHAM Developer Only application along with the TeamViewer Remote Control Software to control antenna selection remotely and to monitor the position of the currently selected rotators.

Shack Remote Operating Gateway Server PC Applications

Shack Remote Operating Gateway Server PC Applications

The remaining software required for remote control of our station is provided by the Elecraft applications which control the KPA500 Amplifier, KAT500 Auto-Tuner, and W2 Wattmeter which are used in our Remote Operating Gateway setup. All of these applications along with the microHAM Developer Only Application for Station Master Deluxe control and the DDUtil Program which inter-works the FlexRadio-6700 SDR CAT interface with the Station Master Deluxe (see the previous article in this series) are shown above running on our Shack Server PC. This PC is on at all times and is protected by an Uninterruptible Power System (UPS) to ensure that it runs trouble-free.

Remote Operating PC Client Software Applications

Remote Operating PC Client Software Applications

In addition to FlexRadio SmartSDR, each of the Server Side PC applications has a corresponding Client Side application which is used on the Remote Operating Client PC. Shown above are the three Elecraft Client applications for Amplifier, Auto-Tuner and Wattmeter control and monitoring. The client-side Network Serial Port Kit application which replicates the WinKeyer, microHAM Station Master Deluxe and Rotator Control COM ports is also shown.

Heil Microphone And USBQ Adapter

Heil Microphone And USBQ Adapter

The PC in our home office will be a primary remote operating location for our station. Audio quality is important to us and we wanted to ensure that the quality of our audio was just as good operating remotely as it is when we operate from our Shack. To accomplish this, we installed a Heil PR781 Microphone, PL2T Boom and USBQ Adapter/Pre-Amp on our home office PC. The Heil USBQ is a USB sound card and microphone pre-amplifier which connects directly to the PR781 microphone to create a high-quality phone audio source which can be used with the FlexRadio-6700 SDR when operating remotely.

Bose SoundLink BluTooth Headset

Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Headset

The speakers our my home office PC are quite good but there are often times when a set of headphones are needed to hear weak signals. We choose a quality Bluetooth Headset from Bose for this purpose. The Bose SoundLink Headset is lightweight, is wireless, has excellent fidelity and includes a very good microphone which can be used as an alternative to the Heil PR781. This headset is also very useful when operating from our Laptop Client PC from noisy locations outside our home (more on this in a future article).

SmartSDR DAX Control Panel

SmartSDR DAX Control Panel

The last pieces of the remote operating system are provided by two applications which are part of the SmartSDR software package. The SmartSDR’s DAX Control panel provides remote audio connections for Digital Mode Software and the CW Skimmer decoder. Audio is provided by software “audio cables” for each of the FlexRadio SDR’s Slice Receivers and the active Tx Slice. SmartSDR DAX Audio IQ interfaces are also provided for each of the SDR’s Panadapters which permits software like CW Skimmer to monitor and decode a wide range of frequencies simultaneously.

SmartSDR CAT

SmartSDR CAT

The SmartSDR CAT application provides CAT interfaces on both our Client and Server PCs for applications which need to control or monitor what the FlexRadio-6700 SDR is doing. Many loggers and other applications are beginning to implement direct IP interfaces to the CAT channel of the FlexRadio 6xxx Series SDRs. This approach simplifies interworking between the software and the radio and appears to be more reliable than virtual COM-based CAT interfaces.

Client PC Running SmartSDR And The DXLab Suite

Client PC Running SmartSDR And The DXLab Suite (Home Office)

With all of the above elements in place, any client PC that can access our Home Network can be used to operate our station. The picture above shows SmartSDR and the DXLab Suite running on our Home Office PC. The remote emulations of the Rotator, CAT, and Winkeyer interfaces are such that DXLab’s applications can fully operate our station as if they were running in our shack.

Client PC Running SmartSDR And The DXLab Suite - Right Monitor

Client PC Running SmartSDR And The DXLab Suite – Right Monitor

The picture above shows a closer view of my Home Office PC’s Right monitor (click on the picture to enlarge it). SmartSDR is running the upper left corner and I am listening to folks operate in the 2015 CQ WW DX CW Contest. The SDR is set on the 20m band and I have the CW Keyer which is built into SmartSDR running. The DAX Control Panel is running on the lower right corner of the screen and its setup for use with the CW Skimmer decoder. DXLab’s WinWarbler is running (top-center) which enables me to use the WinKeyer in the shack to send CW as well via the remote COM port associated with the WinKeyer. Below WinWarbler is the microHAM Developer Only application (accessed remotely via a TeamViewer connection to the Shack Server PC) which shows that I have both of our SteppIR DB36 Yagis are selected as a stack and pointed towards Europe. DXLab’s DXView Rotator Control application is running in the center-bottom of the screen so that we can turn our Yagis towards other parts of the world (rotators are controlled via another remote COM port). Finally, the client KPA500 Amplifier control application is running in the lower left corner to control the amplifier and to monitor the power out and SWR seen by the amplifier being used to operate remotely.

Client PC Running SmartSDR And The DXLab Suite - Left Monitor

Client PC Running SmartSDR And The DXLab Suite – Left Monitor

The picture above shows a closer view of the left monitor. DXLab’s logger, DXKeeper is running at the top/center of the screen. Below it is DXLab’s SpotCollector application which is monitoring spots of the many CW stations around the world that are operating in the contest. DXLab’s Commander applications are running in the lower-right corner of the screen and are monitoring the FlexRadio-6700 SDR’s slice Tx/Rx frequency as well as providing a control interface of the SDR to the rest of the DXLab Suite (via SmartSDR CAT). The Elecraft W2 Wattmeter client control application is just above commander. The W2 Wattmeter client application provides higher resolution power out and SWR monitoring for the remote setup. Bottom-center is DXLab’s Launcher application and just to the left of that is the KAT500 Auto-Tuner Client Control application. Finally, CW Skimmer is running on the left side of the screen.

CW Skimmer Operating Remotely

CW Skimmer Operating Remotely

As you can see, CW Skimmer is decoding a wide range of frequencies in the 20m CW sub-band. It is receiving its audio in IQ format via the SmartSDR DAX application. It is great fun to operate CW this way and I am finding myself making a lot more CW contacts now that I have the remote operating setup in my office.

The next post will provide some samples of remote operation in the form of videos. I will also share some information on setting up a Remote Operating Client on a laptop where screen space is more limited. We plan to take a trip outside our house to operate our station over the Internet and we plan to share information on how that is done. We will also provide future articles on how to setup CW Skimmer and Digital Modes (RTTY, PSK, and JT65/JT9) on the HF Bands and use them remotely.

For now, we are really enjoying the freedom to operate our station remotely!

Fred, AB1OC

Software Defined Radio/Remote Operating Gateway Part 1 – System Design And Hardware Installation

Flex-6700 Software Defined Radio Stack

Flex-6700 Software Defined Radio And Remote Operating Gateway

We’ve been planning to add a remote operating capability to our station for some time now. We also did some previous work with a FlexRadio Software Defined Radio (SDR) in our station and we felt that an SDR would be a good platform to build a remote operating project around. We decided to combine our remote operating goals with a next-generation SDR upgrade (a FlexRadio-6700) for our station. This project has turned out to be somewhat involved so we will be providing a series of articles to explain what we did:

We will be tackling our goals of building a Remote Operating Gateway (GW) in two stages. Stage 1 will focus on operating our station from other rooms in our house (our Home Offices are prime locations for this). Stage 2 will involve operating our station “On The Go” from anywhere in the world that has sufficient Internet Access is available. We also want to enable full control of our station when operating remotely including:

  • Use of our Amplifier
  • Antenna Selection
  • Rotator Control
  • Equipment Power Monitoring and Management

We also use a microHAM station control system and contesting equipment and we want to fully integrate our new Flex-6700 SDR with this gear. Our Flex-6700 uses a dedicated Microphone to avoid some audio integration issues that we encountered between the Flex-6700 and the microHAM MK2R+ that we use in our station.

SDR/Remote Operating Gateway Architecture

Flex-6700 SDR/Remote Operating Gateway Architecture

The first step in this project was to develop a system design (pictured above). We opted for an architecture which uses the Flex SDR as a third radio in Anita’s Operating Position. Her position is now a SO2R setup with a Yaesu FTdx5000 as the primary radio and a choice of either an Icom IC-7600 or the Flex-6700 SDR as the second active radio.

Elecraft KPA500 Amplifier and KAT500 Auto Tuner

Elecraft KPA500 Amplifier and KAT500 Auto Tuner

Elecraft W2 Watt Meter

Elecraft W2 Watt Meter

FilterMax IV Automated Band Pass Filter

FilterMax IV Automated Band Pass Filter

The Flex-6700 SDR has an associated Elecraft KPA-500W Amplifier/KAT500 Auto Tuner combination, an Elecraft W2 Wattmeter, an automated bandpass filtering via an Array Solutions FilterMax IV and a dedicated microHAM Station Master Deluxe (SMD) Antenna Controller. The Elecraft components are good choices for our remote operating project because they all have applications which enable them to be controlled and monitored over a network (more on this later in this series of articles).

Station Antenna System

Out Station’s Antenna System

The additional microHAM SMD allows the Flex-6700 SDR to have full access to and control over our entire antenna system and associated rotators.

K1EL WinKeyer

K1EL WinKeyer

Our setup also includes a K1EL WinKeyer to enable computer controlled CW keying of the Flex-6700 SDR. This device is relatively inexpensive in kit form and was fun to put together. We have a Bencher Iambic Paddle connected to the WinKeyer for in-shack CW operation.

SDR microHAM Integration

SDR microHAM Integration

The diagram above shows the details of the device interconnections which make up the SDR Radio System. The microHAM SMD Antenna Controller requires a serial CAT interface to its host Flex-6700 SDR to determine what band and frequency the SDR is on. The Flex-6700 SDR does not provide such an interface directly but it does create CAT control virtual ports on a host Personal Computer (PC).

DDUtil Setup - SDR Virtual CAT Access

DDUtil Setup – SDR Virtual CAT Access

DDUtil Setup - Bridging Physical Serial Port To SMD

DDUtil Setup – Bridging Physical Serial Port To SMD

To solve this problem, we used an application called DDUtil to bridge the derived CAT port associated with the SDR to a physical serial port on the PC. The PC’s physical port is then connected to the microHAM SMD associated with the Flex-6700 SDR. The pictures above show how DDUtil is set up to do this.

Station COM Port Configuration

Station COM Port Configuration

The microHAM gear, WinKeyer, Rotators, Radio CAT Interfaces, Amplifier/Auto Tuner Interfaces, etc. all use serial or COM ports on a host PC for control. It’s also true that many loggers have trouble with accessing serial ports above COM16. All of this requires a carefully developed COM port allocation plan for a complex station like ours. The figure above shows this part of our design.

A-B Switching Design For Radio Port 4

A-B Switching Design For Radio Port 4

microHAM Bus Expansion And Antenna Switching Gear

microHAM Bus Expansion And Antenna Switching Gear

The last part of the hardware puzzle required to integrate the SDR into our station was the installation of a second microHAM uLink Bus Hub, microHAM Relay 10 Control Box and an A/B antenna switch which is controlled by the microHAM SMDs. This allows the 4th radio port on our antenna switching matrix to be shared between the Icom IC-7600 and the Flex-6700 SDR.

microHAM Configuration For SDR Station Master Deluxe

microHAM Configuration For SDR Station Master Deluxe

The last step in the integration of the Flex-6700 SDR was to configure the microHAM system for the new equipment. This involves adding SMD #5 to the microHAM system and configuring it (and the rest of the system) to know about the Flex-6700 SDR, associated amplifier and its interconnections to the rest of the system.

SmartSDR Software

SmartSDR Software

The Flex-6700 SDR Hardware is controlled and operated via FlexRadio’s SmartSDR Application over a network. We have 1 Gbps wired and an 802.11 b/g/n Wireless Ethernet systems in our home and the SmartSDR/Flex-6700 SDR combination works well over either network. The software-based approach used with most SDR allows new features to be added to the radio via software upgrades.

SmartSDR Setup - Tx Keying And Interlock

SmartSDR Setup – Tx Keying And Interlock

It is very important to prevent the Flex-6700 SDR and the associated Amplifier from keying up when the antennas in our station are being switched or are being tuned. The screenshot above shows the configuration of SmartSDR to enable the keying and interlock interfaces between the Flex-6700 SDR and its associated microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller to implement these functions. This setup enables the Tx Keying and Tx Inhibit interfaces between the Flex-6700 SDR and the microHAM Station Master Deluxe to work properly to key all of the equipment in the setup (SDR, Amplifier, active Rx antennas, etc.) and to lock out keying when antennas are being switched or when one of our SteppIR antennas are tuning.

Flex-6700 SDR With CW Skimmer

We will cover some additional software and integration steps to realize our Remote Operating goals. For now, check out the above video to see how the system performs. This video was recorded using our Flex-6700 SDR and CW Skimmer during the 2015 ARRL CW Sweepstakes Contest. We are really enjoying operating in CW mode with the new SDR setup!

Fred AB1OC

A SDR Pan Adapter/Spectrum Scope For The Yaesu FTdx5000 Transceiver

SDR Pan Adapter for FTdx5000

SDR Pan Adapter for FTdx5000

We both really like the performance on Anita’s (AB1QBYaesu FTdx5000 Transceiver. It has an excellent receiver and it integrated nicely with our recently completed microHAM system. One area where the FTdx5000 Transceiver leaves a bit to be desired is its Pan Adapter or Spectrum Scope capabilities. We have both the DMU-2000 and the SM-5000 Station Monitor options for this transceiver but they do not provide the sort of high-resolution Pan Adapter features that we are looking for. When we purchased this radio, we also purchased an RFSpace SDR-IQ Software Defined Receiver device to use with it. I recently set the SDR-IQ up to operate with Anita’s FTdx5000 to get the best of both worlds – the high-performance receiver capabilities of the FTdx5000 and the high-resolution Pan Adapter and Tuning features of a Software Define Radio (SDR).

We are using Simon Brown’s (HB9DRV) SDR-Radio Console Application to control the setup. The picture above shows this software, the RFSpace SDR-IQ and the FTdx5000 in operation together in the phone section of the 20m band. As you can see, the software provides an SDR-like waterfall interface to the radio. The SDR-Radio Console software has the option to control the FTdx5000 via its CAT Interface and we have enabled this in our configuration. All one needs to do is to click on one of the signals on the waterfall or drag tune the setup with a mouse and the FTdx5000 is automatically tuned to operate on the correct frequency to receive the desired signal. The current version of the software only controls one of the FTdx5000’s two VFOs but Simon has indicated that he plans to add support for controlling a connected transceiver’s second VFO in the future. This combination results in a considerable improvement in the FTdx5000’s operating interface. In addition to the waterfall display, the SDR-Radio Console software also provides audio scope and other spectrum scope functions as part of its displays.

SDR-IQ Receiver

SDR-IQ Receiver

The RFSpace SDR-IQ Software Defined Receiver is a small unit which connects to our FTdx5000 via the IF output connection on the transceiver.  This device creates a digitized IQ interface using the FTdx5000’s wide-band IF signals. Our readers should note that only a few radios have an IF output built-in – fortunately for us, the FTdx5000 does have such an output. See RFSpace’s website for some options for radios that do not have a built-in IF output. The SDR-IQ can “see” up to 190 kHz of bandwidth on the transceiver’s IF which is more than enough to cover an entire sub-band’s spectrum on most of the HF bands. The SDR-IQ unit connects to the PC which runs the SDR-Radio Console software via a USB interface (a USB 3.0 connection is recommended). With some simple configuration and adjustments to the RF levels in SDR Console, the unit was ready to go (we used the software supplied with the SDR-IQ to bring its firmware up to the latest version before setting up SDR-Radio Console). There is a Yahoo! support group for the SDR-Radio Console software and the folks there were very helpful in answering our questions as we worked through installing the setup and getting it configured.

I believe that an SDR interfaces added to an existing “knobs and buttons” transceiver can provide a transceiver system which is much easier to operate. Thanks to folks like Simon Brown, HB9DRV and his work on SDR-Radio Console software, we have yet another way to explore the world of Software Defined Radio.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2013 Amateur Radio Highlights

DXCCs Worked in 2013

DXCCs Worked in 2013

Anita and I were quite active on the bands in 2013. Together we made 20,650+ contacts from a combination of our home and mobile stations and we worked a combined 259 DXCC Entities.

Combined 2013 QSOs By Band

Combined 2013 QSOs By Band

We were active on all of the Amateur Bands available in the USA from 160m through 70cm except for the 60m and 1.25m bands. The picture above shows the distribution of our QSOs across the bands in 2013. Both of us participated in quite a few contests in 2013 and this resulted in the 5 major contest bands dominating our operating activity. I did quite a lot of work on the 160m band this year and I participated in several 160m contests to gain experience and to begin working towards a DXCC on this band. We worked a total of 50 DXCC Entities on 160m in 2013. Our 6m, 2m, and 440 MHz (70cm) contacts were made mostly during VHF/UHF contests that I participated in.

Combined 2013 QSOs By Mode

Combined 2013 QSOs By Mode

We like to operate using many different modes. Anita (AB1QB) does quite a bit of RTTY contesting and she accounted for the bulk of the activity in the digital modes from our station in 2013. I made it a point to become active using the CW mode this year and I made 1,550+ contacts using CW in 2013 including participation in several CW contests. Operations in SSB Phone mode dominated our activity this year mostly due to our operations in SSB Phone contests and as one of the New Hampshire Stations in the 2013 Colonies Special Event this year where we made a combined total of 6,200+ contacts.

QSL Cards Ready To Mail

QSL Cards Ready To Mail

We really enjoy sending and receiving QSL cards. We sent 5,800+ QSL cards this year, averaging approximately 110 cards sent each week. We also QSL’ed via eQSL and Logbook Of The World. I am often asked what percentage of our QSL requests are confirmed. For 2013, we received confirmations for 67% of our direct/bureau cards, 31% of the QSOs uploaded to eQSL, and 37% of the QSOs upload to LoTW. These numbers will undoubtedly rise a time goes by.

AB1OC Operating Awards

AB1OC Operating Awards

All of this operating allowed us to complete a number of operating awards this year. Fred completed his DXCC Challenge, 8-Band DXCC, and CQ WPX Award of Excellence Awards as well as a DXCC Awards in CW mode and a DXCC QRP (5 watts).

AB1QB Japan Cities Award

AB1QB Japan Century Cities Award

Anita has held a DXCC for some time and has been focusing on a number of JARL Awards. She completed her Japan Century Cities Award for confirming contacts with 100 cities in Japan in 2013.

AB1QB Operating In The BARTG RTTY Contest

AB1QB Operating In The BARTG RTTY Contest

Contesting was a big part of the operations from our station this year. I was active in several major SSB and CW contests this year and Anita was active in quite a few major RTTY and phone contests as well. We are both licensed for less that 3 years and have been competing in the Rookie or Novice categories in most contests and we have been doing quite well. Anita took 5th place in the world in the 2013 BARTG RTTY Contest and she has placed 1st in our call area in several of the 2013 ARRL Rookie Roundups in both SSB Phone and RTTY.

2013 CQ Worldwide WPX SSB Certificate

2013 CQ Worldwide WPX SSB Certificate

I placed 1st in North America/2nd in the World in the 2013 CQ WPX SSB Contest (Rookie High Power) and 1st in North America/2nd in the World in the 2013 CQ WPX CW Contest (Rookie High Power). Contests have provided us a great deal of operating experience and have contributed greatly to our completion of several operating awards.

Mobile Installation In Ford F-150

Mobile Installation In Ford F-150

Station Building was a big part of our Amateur Radio experience again in 2013. We installed a mobile HF setup in our truck and did quite a bit of mobile HF operating. We made 165 contacts from our mobile station in 2013 and worked 41 DXCC entities.

WSJT EME QSO - Waterfall

WSJT EME QSO – Waterfall

I also made my first Earth-Moon-Earth Contacts on 2m in 2013. I made 30 contacts on 2m using the moon as a reflector, working a total of 16 DXCC Entities this way.

AB1QB Operating The Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio

AB1QB Operating The Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio

We added a Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio (SDR) to our station in 2013 and have been using it to learn about this new technology. The performance and operating capabilities of SDR are making SDR a big part of the future of Amateur Radio in our opinion.

8-Circle Receive Array System Diagram

8-Circle Receive Array System Diagram

Antenna projects were also a part of our station building work in 2013. We installed an 8-Circle Receive Array System for 160m – 40m and this new antenna system helped us a great deal with DX’ing and contesting on 160m and 80m. We also began the reinstallation of our BigIR Vertical Antenna but the onset of winter here in New Hampshire caused us to delay the completion of this project until spring. Finally, we made the switch to the excellent DXLab logging and DX’ing software suite. DXLab helped us a great deal with QSL’ing and tracking our progress toward operating awards.

CW Station Operations

2013 Field Day CW Station Operations

We were part of the 2013 Field Day team at our local radio Club (PART in Westford, MA). We provided and managed the digital station as well as the setup of a portion of the antenna systems for our club’s field day operations.

ARRL At Dayton 2013

ARRL At Dayton 2013

Anita and I attended the Dayton Hamvention again in 2013. The Dayton event is always a great opportunity to see the latest in Amateur Radio equipment. We attended the 2013 Contest University which was held as part of the Dayton Event and used the information that we learned there to continue to improve our contesting skills.

Fred Lloyd AA7BQ, Founder Of QRZ.com

Fred Lloyd AA7BQ, Founder Of QRZ.com

The internet was a big part of our Amateur Radio experience again in 2013. We met Fred Lloyd, AA7BQ who visited us to do an article on QRZ.com on our station. We learned a great deal from Fred during the time that we spent with him as part of this project. We published 47 new articles here on our blog in 2013 and have received over 45,000 views from our readers in 152 countries around the world. We really appreciate the interest from the HAM community and we will continue to publish new articles here in 2014.

As you can tell from this article, 2013 has been a very active year for Anita and I. I’ve created the video above to give you some idea of the contacts that we have been fortunate enough to make around the world in 2013. We hope you enjoy it and we want to thank everyone who has taken the time to work us, to end us a QSL card or to read the articles that we have written here.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Cool Amateur Radio Site – DXHeat.com

DXHeat Website

DXHeat Website

Occasionally, something new and useful comes along on the internet for HAMs. I believe that DXHeat.com is a recent example of this. DXHeat.com has been put together by Tobias Wellnitz, DH1TW. DXHeat.com takes an innovative, analytics-based approach to DX Cluster search and data display. Big Data Analytics is certainly a key future technology for internet and other applications and Tobias has created an interesting application of this technology for HAM Spotting Cluster data access.

Cluster Spot Analytics

Cluster Spot Analytics

To give you an idea of how this works, I entered by callsign (AB1OC) into DXHeat.com’s cluster search engine. The graphic above is a snapshot of the result. As you can see, the site not only produces a list of the spots of my callsign but it also created graphical views showing the bands, dates and times where I was spotted as well as the source (continents) where the spots were originated. This information gives me a better picture of where I am being heard on various bands for example.

Online SDR

Online SDR

DXHeat.com also includes a link to an online WebSDR which can be used to listen to stations from inside Europe on the HAM bands. It looks like Tobias plans to link his site to the WebSDR so that one can listen to a spotted station as well as tune the bands and create new spots.

Tobias’ site is relatively new and there is a great deal of potential for enhancements to his concept. For example, one can imagine that automated phone spotting might be possible using  voice recognition technology sometime in the future. It will be interesting to watch how DXHeat.com evolves. Thanks to John, W1MBG to pointing out DXHeat.com to us.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2013 Dayton Hamvention

ARRL At Dayton 2013

ARRL At The 2013 Dayton Hamvention

Anita and I had the good fortune to attend the 2013 Hamvention in Dayton, Ohio USA again this year. The Dayton Hamvention covers almost everything Amateur Radio that one can image and it has something for everyone. We’d like to share some of the highlights of this year’s Dayton Hamvention that were of interest to us.

Anita, AB1QB, began her Dayton Hamvention experience by spending a day at Contest University where she gathered some ideas and information to forward her knowledge as a contester. Anita put together a nice summary of what she saw and learned at Contest University which can be viewed here. We spent the following two days looking at all of the exhibits on the main show floor. Our first stop was the ARRL Area. Here we looked at the latest books and publications, dropped off a pile of cards going to the US Bureau, and had a couple of hundred cards checked towards endorsements on our DXCC and WAS awards.

Icon At Dayton

Icom At The Dayton Hamvention

All of the major radio manufacturers (Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, Ten-Tec and Elecraft) had large displays at the show and they were all packed. One of the more interesting things we saw there was a prototype of Elecraft’s new KXPA100, 100w amplifier for use with the KX3 and other QRP transceivers.

Elecraft KXPA100

Elecraft KXPA100 Amplifier

The unit is a compact and highly portable package and should be a very nice complement to the KX3 for higher power portable operations.

FlexRadio 6700

FlexRadio Flex-6700

We also spent quite a bit of time at the FlexRadio Systems booth. Anita and I have a new Flex-6700 Software Defined Radio on order and we wanted to learn as much about the Flex-6700 as we could. Fortunately, we had a chance to talk with Steve Hicks, VP of Engineering at FlexRadio to gain a much better understanding of the design, architecture and evolution plans for the Flex 6000 series. I expect that this will be one very impressive radio! Unlike previous designs, the 6000 series radios directly sample signals in the RF domain and do all processing and detection of signals digitally. This eliminates the need for roofing and other RF band filtering and allows the radio to operate on multiple frequencies/bands at the same time. The Flex-6700 can implement up to 8 separate receivers simultaneously allowing multiple bands to be monitored. It should also make a great contest radio as its capable of up to SO8V operation. The direct RF sampling approach coupled with the radio’s dynamic range of 140 dB creates a radio that has much lower distortion products and better selectivity that anything else which is currently available. Steve gave an excellent presentation on the architecture of the 6000 series which includes some very good information as part of one of the Forum sessions at the Dayton Hamvention. Creating a new radio and all new software for it is a very large project and it appears that the folks at FlexRadio are almost ready to begin shipping the Flex 6000 series radios. We are hoping to have our Flex-6700 by the end of the summer and we will provide a post here on the new radio once we have it in place in our shack.

Begali Keys At Dayton

Begali Keys At Dayton

As you may know from reading our Blog, I have been working on my CW skills for the past several months. I am beginning to get pretty serious about CW operation and I wanted to get a really good set of paddles. After looking around at many options at Dayton, I decided to purchase a Begali Sculpture Key.

Begali Sculpture Paddles

Begali Sculpture Paddles

Begali makes some of the finest CW keys and paddles in the world. I really like the feel of the Sculpture. It is very solid, heavy and has a very short “throw” during operation. Mr. Begali spent some time with me to show me how to properly setup and maintain my new paddles.

Mr. Begali

Mr. Begali

I cannot wait to get home and get the Sculpture key setup in the shack. It will surely provide more good motivation to continue to improve my CW skills!

DXLab Software Suite

DXLab Software Suite

While a big part of the displays at Dayton are about hardware equipment (radios, antennas, accessories, etc.), I have noticed an increasing trend towards software vendors at Dayton over the last two years. Anita and I have recently switched to the DXLab Suite of software for logging, award tracking, rig control, QSL’ing, etc. DXLab had a nice display at Dayton. We spent some time with Dave Bernstein,  AA6YQ who showed us several features of the DXLab Suite that we did not know about. One cool one was the ability to use Google Earth to plot all kinds of QSO information on a world map. You can see an example of this feature in our Blog by clicking here. Dave also gave an excellent presentation on the DXLab Suite as part of one of the forums at Dayton.

FreeDV Software - HF Digital Voice

FreeDV Software – HF Digital Voice

Another interesting piece of software we saw was FreeDV. This software implements a royalty free codec inside a software program which can be used to send and receive digital voice transmissions on the HF bands. The royalty free codec aspect of this software is a key element as the licensing fees associated with the codecs used by other digital voice systems from Icom, Yaesu, etc. make up a significant portion of the cost of a digital voice enabled radio. The FreeDV folks are also working on a 2M HT which will have their codec built-in. This should be a very interesting product when it comes to market. I plan to try FreeDV in the near future and I am planning a Blog post to share more information about it sometime in the future.

Buddipole At Dayton

Buddipole At Dayton

Anita and I spent quite a bit of time with Chris and Budd Drummond and the gang at Buddipole. Anita and I are big fans of the Buddipole System and we have used it in numerous portable operations including Field Day and a DXpedition to Bora Bora Island in French Polynesia. We heard a lot about various portable operations and DXpeditions that Chris and the gang have done using their portable antenna system. We also talked about some projects that are underway related to yagi’s built using the Buddipole system. Stay tuned for more on this topic in future Blog posts.

Green Heron AZ-EL Rotar Controller

New Green Heron AZ-EL Rotator Controller

The folks at Green Heron Engineering have a new Az-El Rotator Controller in the works which should be very useful for controlling Satellite and EME antenna systems. Green Heron Engineering is also continuing to expand the capabilities of their GH Everywhere remote control hardware and software lineup. We use the Green Heron RT-21D Rotator Controllers in our shack and have been very happy with them.

Piglet  And PigRemote - Remote Control Via iPad

Piglet Remote Control Via iPad

Anita has long been interested in the idea of operating our station remotely via her iPad. We visited Pignology at Dayton to learn about their Piglet and PigRemote devices which enable this sort of operation with the Elecraft KX3 and other radios. We decided to try the PigRemote and we are planning a post on our Blog sometime in the future which shares our experiences with the product.

Yemen DXpedition Presentation

7O6T Yemen DXpedition Presentation

There were also some great Forum Presentations at the Dayton Hamvention and one of our favorites is the DX Forum. We listened to several presentations on recent DXpeditions including the 7O6T Operation in Yemen and the PT0S Operation on St. Peter & Paul Rocks. It is always fun to hear about the planning and work that goes into a DXpedition and these talks were no exception.

We also attended the Top Band Dinner at the Dayton Hamvention where we met some very nice folks and heard some great presentations from a few of the top 160m DX’ers.

All of this  just barely scratches the surface of  what there is to see and learn at the Dayton Hamvention. We hope that you have enjoyed this post and we hope to see you at the Dayton Hamvention sometime in the near future.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Setting Up And Using A Software Defined Radio

AB1QB Operating The Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio

AB1QB Operating Her Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio

Anita (AB1QB) has been interested in Software Defined Radio for some time now so I decided to get her a Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio (SDR) as a holiday gift. This post will share what we have learned about setting up and using the Flex-3000.

Flex-3000 Hardware And DJ Console

Flex-3000 Hardware And DJ Console

Our Flex-3000 setup includes the following hardware components:

The hardware component connections in our setup are illustrated in the following figure.

SDR Hardware Configuration

SDR Hardware Configuration

We can use our Flex-3000 barefoot (100 w) or connected through our Elecraft KPA500 amplifier (500 w). All we need to do to use the Flex-3000 with the amplifier is to connect the PTT Output on the radio to PTT IN on the amplifier, connect the amplifier in the path between the radio and the antenna switching in our shack and adjust the drive on the radio to the appropriate level to generate full output from the amplifier.

SDR Software Configuration

SDR Software Configuration

We use the PowerSDR/Flex-3000 combination with Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) 6 for automated logging, transceiver control and to operate using the digital modes via HRD’s DM780. This setup is similar to a hardware digital mode setup as described in our post on Setting Up A Digital HF Station. The major differences are:

  1. There are no physical serial cables for CAT and PPT are needed between the radio Ham Radio Deluxe
  2. No sound card is needed as the output of the Flex-3000 is already in a digital audio format inside the PC

Both of these functions are implemented via software inside the same PC that is running both PowerSDR and Ham Radio Deluxe/DM780:

  1. Two virtual serial cables for Computer Aided Transceiver (CAT) and Push To Talk (PTT) control are implemented via the Virtual Serial Port (VSP) Manager Software by K5FR
  2. The bi-directional Virtual Audio cable is implemented the Virtual Audio Cable (VAC) Software

The following are screenshots how these two programs are setup on our PC.

Virtual Serial Port (VSP) Manager Setup

Virtual Serial Port (VSP) Manager Setup

Note how each end of the Virtual Serial Port is mapped to a different COM port (COM6 <-> COM16 and COM7 <-> COM17).

Virtual Audio Cable (VAC) Setup

Virtual Audio Cable (VAC) Setup

There are two VACs setup on our PC but only one is required for HRD/DM780 and most other Amateur Radio programs which use a sound card. The VSPs and the VAC numbers must be setup in both PowerSDR and in HRD/DM780.  The exact setup on your PC may be different depending on available COM ports, etc. This information should give you the general idea of what you need to do to get all of the hardware and software working together correctly. Note that you can use any program that works with the combination of a CAT/PTT over serial cables plus a sound card interface. This approach which makes PowerSDR compatible with most Ham Radio software (ex. Software CW Keyers/Decoders, Fldigi, JT65, and others).

PowerSDR Software

PowerSDR Software Conducting A RTTY QSO

Once the hardware and software is configured as outlined above, its easy to use the HRD/DM780/PowerSDR combination to conduct Phone, CW, and Digital QSOs in the same way that you would with a conventional radio. All of the automatic logging features of HRD work correctly and digital QSOs are completed via DM780 in the usual way. The picture above shows PowerSDR being controlled by DM780 to conduct a RTTY QSO during the 2013 ARRL RTTY Roundup Contest.

I find the ability to tune the radio and adjust filtering and other audio processing very natural via the PowerSDR interface using the mouse attached to our PC. PowerSDR provides a wide-band pan-adapter interface which makes it very easy to “see” various signals on a band, tune the software to receive these signals and then apply filtering and other audio processing as needed to avoid interference, etc.

Flex-3000 Operation Via DJ Console

Flex-3000 Operation Via DJ Controller

Many operators will miss PowerSDR’s lack of a “buttons and knobs” interface provided by a conventional radio. There is an excellent add-on to PowerSDR available that uses a re-purposed audio mixing console from HERCULES to implement a more conventional interface to PowerSDR. The picture above shows a HERCULES DJ Controller which we have configured to work with the PowerSDR add-on. You will need a customized version of the PowerSDR (PowerSDR-UI) and the latest DJ Controller hardware to realize the interface. PowerSDR-UI allows the various buttons and knobs on the DJ controller to be assigned to control many of the functions provided by PowerSDR. See the following website for some ideas on how other Hams have set up the DJ Controller. There is also an yahoo group on the use of the DJ Controller and PowerSDR-UI. Once you have your interface setup the way you want it, you can use a conventional label machine to label everything on your DJ controller so that you can easily remember how to use your custom setup.

The video above shows a SSB phone QSO with John, WA0DQR on 20m using PowerSDR-UI. You can see how the radio’s pan-adapter is used to select a signal to receive by tuning via the mouse at the beginning of the QSO.

I would encourage you to experiment with an SDR if you have not used one. This technology is clearly an important part of the future of Amateur Radio. For our readers who already have a Flex or other brand of SDR, I hope that you will explore the digital modes or perhaps the DJ Controller as enhancements to your setup.

Fred (AB1OC)

Digital Contesting – AB1QB Enters The 2013 ARRL RTTY Roundup

AB1QB Contesting

AB1QB Contesting

I worked the 2013 ARRL RTTY Roundup contest this weekend for the first time with the new station and the difference from last year was amazing! I also got to use my new Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio for the contest. Band conditions were very good (the sun spot numbers were high) and 10 meters was open. I entered the contest in the Single Operator High Power category, which did not allow me to use a spotting network.

Software Defined Radio

Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio

This was the first time I tried to “Run” during a contest. That is to find a spot in the digital sub-band that nobody is using and call CQ (as opposed to “Search and Pounce”, which is to tune across a sub-band looking for stations to work). “Running” allows you to work QSOs at a much higher rate. Using our two Yagi’s and 500 watts of power from our the amplifier,  I was never “lonely” – I always had a constant stream of callers answering my CQs and sometimes several at once.

Multipliers for this contest were individual US States, Canadian Provinces, and DX Countries. To calculate your score, you multiply the total multipliers by the number of QSOs that you made. I had 111 multipliers for the contest and 759 QSOs. My total score before log checking is 84,249 (the final scores for the contest will be posted here in the near future). Below are some statistics for the QSOs that I made during the contest by area of the world and by band.

RTTY Contest Stats

AB1QB Contest QSO Statistics

Most of the US and Canadian multipliers were easy to get, but it is usually the closest (or most remote) states that are the most difficult – and I did not get Vermont or North Dakota. Saturday evening, I pointed the Yagis toward Europe and worked stations from many different European countries on 40 meters. Sunday toward the end of the contest, I was running on 20 meters with the antennas pointed West working W6s and W7s and I started seeing JA stations calling me. Before we upgraded our station, the only QSOs with JA’s in my log were made during our DXpedition to Bora Bora Island. I moved the antennas around toward Japan and worked approximately 20 Japanese stations and started completing calls with other DX stations in Asia including South Korea, Indonesia, and New Zealand.
RTTY QSO In Contest

RTTY QSO During The Contest

All in all this was a very enjoyable experience. Planned improvements for the next contest (CQ WPX RTTY) will be to work more hours (this time I took time off to sleep, working about 20.5 hours of the 30 hour contest period) and include trying to search out more DX stations. Also, we will be trying contest oriented logging software (we are considering WriteLog and the N1MM Logger). I have been using Ham Radio Deluxe because its well suited for Digital Operating and chasing awards. But logging software designed specifically for contesting will do a better job of keeping track of multipliers and duplicate contacts as the contest progresses. (Generally multiple QSOs with the same station on the same band do not count – and  also wastes precious time for you as well as the other station).

If you work contests, please complete our poll and tell us what logging software you use. This will help me to choose which contest logging software to try for the next contest.

– Anita (AB1QB)