Remote Operating Enhancements

Updated Remote Operating Setup

Updated Remote Operating Setup

As explained in a previous article, we have been working on enhancing our FlexRadio 6700 based Remote Operating Setup to include additional remote control client options, better remote networking via the Internet, and better integration with our microHAM system.

Remote Operating Architecture

Remote Operating Gateway Architecture

This project involved the addition of the following capabilities to our base Remote Operating Setup:

These steps are now complete and we have some good results to share.

SmartSDR V2 Remote Connection

SmartSDR V2 Remote Connection

The first part of the upgrade was to update to SmartSDR V2. This upgrade enables much improved SmartSDR operation over the Internet. Our previous approach, which used a tunneled VPN connection combined with the previous versions of SmartSDR did not always perform well when used with low-bandwidth or high latency Internet connections. SmartSDR does much better in this area.

SmartSDR CAT Remote

SmartSDR CAT Remote

DAX Operating Remote

DAX Remote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both the SmartSDR CAT and the SmartSDR DAX application have been updated to allow software on a PC being used to operate the FlexRadio SDRs over the Internet to gain access to CAT and sound interfaces associated with the radio.

FlexRadio Maestro Console

FlexRadio Maestro Console

We also added a Maestro Console to enhance the usability of the SDR radio portion of our Remote Operating Gateway. The Maestro is very easy to use and extends the available controls and display space which was limited when using just a laptop PC. The Maestro supports direct microphone connections for phone operation and also works with connected CW paddles for operation in CW mode. I have been using a single level paddle along with our Maestro as speeds of 22 WPM with full QSK. Sending CW at these speeds with the Maestro works well.

The Maestro has built-in WiFi and Ethernet connections and full support for SmartSDR V2’s connections over the Internet. The Maestro can operate from AC power or from an internal battery pack. I have a couple of spare rechargeable batteries for our Maestro to support longer operating sessions on battery.

TeamViewer VPN

TeamViewer VPN

We have been using a combination of TeamViewer Remote Control software and a router-based VPN solution to enable control of our antenna controllers and station power/amplifiers. This arrangement works well but most of our readers probably do not have a router which can support VPN connections or the networking knowledge to set up a secure VPN system.

A much simpler VPN solution can be realized by utilizing TeamViewer’s built-in VPN capability. You simply install TeamViewer on a PC in you shack which can access you station accessories and on your remote operating laptop or PC. You then enable TeamViewer’s VPN option and the configuration is complete.

TeamViewer VPN Connection

TeamViewer VPN Connection

We now use TeamViewer to set up both a VPN connection and a remote desktop control connection to a computer in our shack which can control amplifiers, power, and other station accessories associated with our Remote Operating Gateway We use TeamViewer in this way to control our microHAM Station Master Deluxe antenna controllers, RigRunner remote power controller, a microBit Webswitch device and an Elecraft KPA500 amplifier which are all part of our station’s Remote Operating Gateway.

DXLab Operating Remote

DXLab Operating Remote

With the addition of the SmartSDR and the updated TeamViewer/VPN setup, we can operate our station remotely over the Internet. We have tested our setup using a Wireless Hotspot modem and Verizon’s LTE service. The combination of our PC running the DXLab Logging Suite and the Maestro work great in this configuration.

We have found the need to initialize the networking configuration in a specific order to get everything running correctly. The steps that we use are as follows:

  1. Connect the laptop PC to the Internet
  2. Bring up the TeamViewer VPN connection
  3. Run SmartSDR on the laptop PC and login to SmartSDR Remote
  4. Bring up the DXLab’s Suite including Commander (currently, DXLab’s Commander has some issues connecting when the FlexRadio protocol is used. We have found that the KENWOOD protocol works fine.)
  5. Bring up the remote control application for the Elecraft amplifier and access our RigRunner power controller and microBit Webswitch units to turn on accessories as needed
  6. Initiate a second TeamViewer Remote Control connection and use it to run the microHAM remote antenna controller in a single window
  7. Shutdown SmartSDR on the laptop PC and bring up the connection to the radio via the Maestro.

There is obviously still some room for simplification in this initialization procedure. I expect that some simplification will come as all of the software involved becomes more mature and is further adapted for remote operation.

Once initialized properly, its simple to use the PC and Maestro combination to work SSB Phone or CW contacts. The DXLab Logging Suite will follow the radio, track modes, handle split operation, and allow control of our antenna rotators via DXView. We can click on spots in DXLab’s SpotCollector to automatically set the FlexRadio SDR’s mode, frequency, and split configuration. The Maestro and DXLab will stay in sync during tuning, mode changes, and other radio operations.

Remote Digital Operation using WSJT-X and FT8

Remote Digital Operation using WSJT-X and FT8

The final part of this project was to add the latest Version of the WSJT-X software to our Remote Operating client laptop PC to enable FT8 operation on the HF bands and MSK144 for Meteor Scatter work on 6m.

SmartSDR and JTAlert Supporting Remote FT8 Mode

SmartSDR and JTAlert Supporting Remote FT8 Mode

We do not use the Maestro for digital operation. We leave SmartSDR running on our remote laptop PC instead. We also use the JTAlert application to create an automated bridge between WXJT-X and the DXLab Logging Suite.

The combination of SmartSDR V2 and WSJT-X work great remotely. We have used this combination to make quite a few FT8 contacts on the HF bands as well as several Meteor Scatter contacts on 6m using MSK144 mode.

These enhancements to our Remote Operating Gateway have helped both Anita and me to operate more. I have our Maestro either in my home office or on a table in our kitchen where we can listen to the bands and work DX when the opportunities come up. Remote Operating, even its just from another room at your QTH, is great fun!

We should be able to begin the next step in our station upgrade plans – the addition of an Elecraft KPA1500 shared amplifier, in the near future. The new amplifier will enable our Remote Operating Gateway to operate at legal limit 1500w out on the HF bands and 6m.

Fred, AB1OC

Software Defined Radio/Remote Operating Gateway Part 3 – On The Air Remote!

Remote Operating Setup In Our Home Office

Remote Operating Setup In Our Home Office

In the previous articles in this series, we explained how we integrated a FlexRadio-6700 Software Defined Radio (SDR) into our station and how we used it as a platform to build the Remote Operating Gateway for our station. The project has turned out to be somewhat involved so we will be providing a series of articles to explain what we did:

With all of the hardware and software installed and the integration steps complete, we will show some examples of using our remote operating setup on the air in this article. The first set of operating examples were made using the Remote Operating Client PC in our Home Office. This system is shown in the picture above.

Working The VK9WA DXpedition - Left Monitor

Working The VK9WA DXpedition – Left Monitor

We were able to make several contacts with the VK9WA DXpedition to Willis Island using our remote operating setup. The picture above provides a closer look at how we set up our Remote Client PC to work VK9WA (you can click on the pictures here to see a larger view). We just completed a CW contact with the VK9WA DXpedition on 40m and you can see that we have the QSO logged in DXLab’s DXKeeper. We used CW Skimmer to help determine where the operator was listening (more on this in a bit). We also used our Elecraft KPA500 Amplifier to make it a little easier to break through the pileup.

Working The VK9WA DXpedition - Right Monitor

Working The VK9WA DXpedition – Right Monitor

The picture above shows a better view of the second monitor on our Remote Client PC. SmartSDR is running to control our FlexRadio-6700 SDR and it is set up for split operation in CW mode on the 40m band. We also have DXLab’s DXView running and we used it to point our antennas to the short path heading for the VK9WA DXpedition. Finally, we used DXLab’s WinWarbler to remotely key the Winkeyer connected to our SDR in the shack to make the actual contact.

VK9WA DXpedition 30m Pileup Viewed From CW Skimmer

The video above shows the VK9WA DXpedition operating split in CW mode on the 30m band. Note how CW Skimmer allows us to see exactly where the operator is listening (the VK9WA operator’s signal is the green bar at the bottom and the stations being worked can be seen sending a “599” near the top). You can see many of the folks trying to work the VK9WA DXpedition move near the last station that is worked in the pileup video.

VK9WA DXpedition 30m Pileup  Viewed From SmartSDR

The next video shows the VK9WA pileup in the SmartSDR application which controls the radio. This video provides a closer look at how SmartSDR is set up for split operation. Can you find the station that the VK9WA operator worked?  It is not quite in Slice Receiver B’s passband.

Laptop Remote Operating Client

Laptop Remote Operating Client

We also configured our Laptop PC to be a Remote Operating Client for our station. Our Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Headset is used to as both a wireless microphone and headphones with this system. Our Laptop Client PC can be used from any location on our property via the WiFi Wireless extension of our Home Network.

Window Arrangement For remote Operating From Laptop

Window Arrangement For remote Operating From Laptop

Since our Laptop PC has limited screen space, we created a configuration of overlapping windows to provide access to SmartSDR, key elements of the DXLab Suite and the applications which control/monitor our KPA500 Amplifier and Antennas. Each window is arranged so that a portion of it is always visible so that we can click on any required window to bring it forward when we need to use it.

Operating From Our Remote Laptop Client – A 20m SSB QSO

The video above shows a QSO that we made with AD0PY, David, and his friend Daniel in Missouri, USA. We used the FlexRadio-6700 SDR/SmartSDR combination in VOX mode to make transmit keying simpler. At the beginning of the QSO, we turned our antennas to point to AD0PY. Also, note the operation of the KPA500 Amplifier when we transmit in the video. The QSO is logged in DXLab’s DXKeeper at the end of the contact in the usual way. It’s fun to make casual contacts this way!

As you can see from this post, there is very little difference when we operate our station remotely or from our shack. This was an important goal that shaped the design of our Remote Operating Gateway and Client PC setup. Future posts will provide some details on how we set up the CW Skimmer and Digital Mode (RTTY, PSK, and JT65/JT9) software to work on our Remote PC Clients.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2015 DX’ing – One Of The Best Years Ever So Far

March 2015 DXpeditions

March 2015 Featured DXpeditions

2015 has been quite a year for working new DXCC’s for us so far. This month is the most productive that I have experienced with more than 20 interesting DXpeditions on. We’ve been fortunate to have the chance to work the DXpedition on Navassa Island (#2 on ClubLog’s most wanted list) which took place in February of this year. In addition those show above, there are also quite a few small operations including E51UFF on North Cook Island and VP8DOZ on South Georgia Island (#9 on ClubLog’s most wanted list) being on. Also, Eritrea, E30FB which is operating right now is #20 on ClubLog’s most wanted list. All of this makes for a great opportunity to work all-time new ones as well as to add new DXCC Band-Points.

Anita, AB1QB has worked 13 all-time new DXCC’s and I’ve worked 5 all time new DXCC’s since the beginning of 2015. Anita has broken the 250 DXCC barrier and I’m just 2 away from breaking 300. There have also been quite a few new IOTA’s for us. Anita has added 11 IOTA’s this year and I’ve added 14. We also added more than 85 DXCC Band-Points each towards our DXCC Challenge Award totals. I have set a goal to work at least one new DXCC Challenge Band-Point each day in 2015 in hopes of getting to the 2,000 DXCC Band-Point level before the end of the year (I am currently at 1,785 worked).

Shack Board

Shack Board – Upcoming Operations and Contests

We use a number of different sources to find out about these operations. Our favorite ones are The Weekly DX, the DX-World.net (the source of the graphic above) and DX Publishing’s QRZ DX. These are all excellent sources for finding out about upcoming DXpeditions, small DX operations and IOTA activations. Working DX contests such as CQ WW DX, the ARRL DX Contests and CQ WW WPX are also excellent ways to work new DXCC’s and new Band-Points. We have a whiteboard in our shack where we record upcoming operations that we need as well as contests that we want to participate in. This helps us keep track of what is coming up that we need.

DXLab SpotCollector

DXLab SpotCollector

We also use the SpotCollector component of the DXLab Suite to help us identify new DXCC’s, Band-Points, IOTA’s and WAZ Band-Zones that we need in real-time when they come on. We have also used SpotCollector to alert us when stations that we need for the Yearly CQ DX Marathon are on the air.

Spot Sources Configuration In SpotCollector

Spot Sources Configuration In SpotCollector

We have configured SpotCollector (the spotting component of DXLab) to aggregate spots from a variety of sources. Our logs are kept in DXLab and we program the SpotCollector to filter all of the incoming cluster spots and CW/RTTY Skimmer data to tell us about high-priority stations that we want to work when they are on the air. The key to this approach is careful filtering of incoming cluster and skimmer spots to only display and forward the most important opportunities.

Award Setup in DXKeeper

Award Setup in DXKeeper

The first step in the filtering is to configure DXLab’s DXKeeper component for the types of contacts that we are interested in. This is done in the Award configuration section of DXKeeper.

SpotCollector SQL Filter

SpotCollector SQL Filter

We then use the powerful SQL script capability of SpotCollector to only tell us about stations that we are willing to “head for the shack to work”. SpotCollector is configured to send the appropriate spots as text messages via email to our mobile phones so that we know immediately when something that we need comes on. The filter above selects all-time new DXCCs, new DXCC Band-Points, new IOTA’s and new WAZ Band-Zones which are spotted in the Eastern or Central United States. The filter also picks up new Band-States for the ARRL Worked All States Award.

We hope our readers who are interested in working DX and IOTA’s will be able to find some time to work so of the operations that are on the air right now. This time period is certainly one that has a lot of potential to put “new ones” in the log. If you use the DXLab Suite, you might try some to use some of the more advanced features of SpotCollector to help you to better find stations that you want to work when they are on.

– Fred (AB1OC)

An Introduction To The DXLab Suite

Introduction To The DXLab Suite

Introduction To The DXLab Suite

I recently had the opportunity to put together a presentation introducing the DXLab Software Suite for several local radio clubs. The idea was to provide a fairly comprehensive introduction to DXLab and to show how it can be used to make Amateur Radio operations, QSL’ing and Award Management easier and more enjoyable. There are several good DXLab introductory presentations and web pages on the internet so we decided to do ours with some “live” demos of DXLab in use within our station.

Why Computer Logging And DXLab?

Why Computer Logging And DXLab?

Not all hams have made the conversion to computer-based operation and logging, so we began by covering the motivation for and some of the advantages of Computer-based operation and logging.

DXLab Suite Components Overview

DXLab Suite Components Overview

The next part of the presentation provided an overview of each of the components of the DXLab Suite as well as some of the basics of how they work together. This was covered via a set of “live” demonstrations using our station. You can view these demonstrations as videos via the following links:

Our station is a fairly complex one. It includes multi-operator capabilities from two operating positions with a total of four active radios and a microHAM station automation system. We also operate under a number of different callsigns from different computers. Finally, we do a fair amount of operating portable and from our mobile HF station. The DXLab Suite’s Launcher program with its multiple workspace capabilities easily handle the multiple configurations and equipment interfaces that are required for our station and operating style.

DXLab Use Scenarios

DXLab Use Scenarios

The next part of the presentation covered some common DXLab “use cases” that one would likely encounter when making contacts, QSL’ing and managing progress towards operating awards.

Casual Contacts With DXLab

Casual Contacts With DXLab

The first demonstration showed the use of DXLab to make casual or “rag chew” contacts. The emphasis here is on using the Suite to automate station configuration and logging tasks and to provide information to enhance the quality of your contacts. This demonstration covers the basics of how the components of the DXLab Suite work together to help you make and log a contact. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

Finding And Working DX With DXLab

Finding And Working DX With DXLab

The next demonstration showed the use of DXLab to find and work DX contacts. This demonstration uses more components of the DXLab Suite including the spotting cluster and propagation prediction features. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

Operating CW And Digital With DXLab

Operating CW And Digital With DXLab

The next demo shows how DXLab is used to find and make a DX QSO using Digital Modes. A RTTY QSO is shown including the use of the WinWarbler component and multiple RTTY decoders (MMTTY and 2Tone). You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

QSL'ing With DXLab

QSL’ing With DXLab

The next demo show how to use DXLab to QSL and confirm contacts. The demo covers QSL’ing via the Logbook of the World (LoTW) and the eQSL online QSL services as well as the generation of paper QSLs along with the assistance that DXLab provides to determine QSL route information. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

DXLab QSL Card Examples

DXLab QSL Card Examples

DXLab can generate labels apply to your pre-printed QSL cards or it can be used to print QSL information directly on blank cards.

QSL Card Label Sheet Example

QSL Card Label Sheet Example

DXLab can print QSL card and address labels on many types of standard label stock. An example of QSL card labels are shown above.

QSL Envelope Generated By DXLab

QSL Envelope Generated By DXLab

DXLab also generates outgoing and return envelopes for your paper QSLs. An example is shown above.

Operating Award Management With DXLab

Operating Award Management With DXLab

The final demonstration shows how to use DXLab to track your progress towards and apply for operating awards. Some of the basics of QSL “aging” are discussed as well. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

AB1OC Operating Awards In Our Shack

AB1OC Operating Awards In Our Shack

The SpotCollector component of the DXLab Suite is very useful as a cluster monitor. It can be configured to alter you via email or text to you mobile when something is on that you need. More information on how to use SpotCollector this way can be found here. The set of operating awards that DXLab knows about and the features that it provides to manage your progress towards earning and applying for awards are some of the strongest features of the suite. We haves used DXLab to help us to earn many different operating awards.

Getting Started With DXLab

Getting Started With DXLab

The final part of the presentation covers the configuration of the DXLab suite to get it to work with your station. Since every station is different, its best to consult the excellent DXLab online help for more information on how to configure the suite.

Useful Information And Links

Useful Information And Links

Lastly, the presentation includes links to useful tools and information to help you get the most from the DXLab suite. Dropbox is a useful file sharing tool and it can help you keep your logs and DXLab configurations in sync across multiple computers. This allows you to use DXLab to access your current logs or to operate your station from difference computers.

I hope that this overview of the DXLab suite will encourage our readers to give it a try. Anita (AB1QB) and I have successfully used  the DXLab suite with our station for several years now. It does a great job automating many aspects of our Amateur Radio operations, QSL’ing and award management. It easily handles the complexities of our multi-operator station and it also handles logging and QSL’ing for multiple call signs that Anita and I operate under. We also use DXLab for our portable, Field Day and mobile operations and it handles all of these scenarios very well.

DXLab was created, enhanced and maintained by David Bernstein, AA6YQ. He makes this excellent suite of software available as freeware for the benefit of the Amateur Radio community. The DXLab suite is available for download here. You can download a copy of our DXLab presentation (without the videos) here. The DXLab Yahoo! Group provides is a good place to seek support and answers to questions about DXLab. I hope that our reader will give the DXLab suite a closer look. For those who already use DXLab, we hope that you pick up some new ideas from how Anita and I use the suite as part of your Amateur Radio operations.

– Fred (AB1OC)