We have been working on project to scale our open house activities to provide an opportunity to learn about Amatuer Radio and to showcase some of the modern, “hi-tech” aspects of the Amatuer Radio Service. This project was debuted at the NETT event at NEAR-Fest. We used our Portable Satellite Station, Remote Operating Gateway, and our Mobile HF Stations as part of this activity. There might be some ideas here that you can use to create an exciting operating activity at you local club or Ham Fest.
The installation of the latest version of WSJT-X software to add current JT9, JT65, FT8, MSK144, and WSPR digital modes to our Remote Operating Setup
These steps are now complete, and we have some good results to share.
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
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
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 at 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 the battery.
Using TeamViewer’s built-in VPN capability, a much simpler VPN solution can be realized. You simply install TeamViewer on a PC in your shack that can access your station accessories and on your remote-operating laptop or PC. You then enable TeamViewer’s VPN option, and the configuration is complete.
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:
Connect the laptop PC to the Internet
Bring up the TeamViewer VPN connection
Run SmartSDR on the laptop PC and log in to SmartSDR Remote
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.)
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.
Initiate a second TeamViewer Remote Control connection and use it to run the microHAM remote antenna controller in a single window
Shut down 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 some simplification as all the software involved becomes more mature and is further adapted for remote operation.
Once initialized properly, it’s simple to use the PC and Maestro combination to work SSB Phone or CW contacts. The DXLab Logging Suite will follow the radio and 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 Operation with WSJT-X
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.
These enhancements to our Remote Operating Gateway have helped Anita and me operate more. I have our Maestro 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 if it’s just from another room at your QTH, is great fun!
Additional Planned Enhancements
In the near future, we should be able to begin the next step in our station upgrade plans – the addition of an Elecraft KPA1500 shared amplifier. The new amplifier will enable our Remote Operating Gateway to operate at 1500w on the HF bands and 6m.
This project has turned out to be somewhat involved, so we will be providing a series of articles to explain what we did:
We have been quite impressed with the performance of our Icom IC-7300’s radio receiver. As a result, we have decided to upgrade the second radio in Anita’s operating position to an Icom IC-7610. We expect the IC-7610’s receiver performance to be as good as or better than the IC-7300.
Icom IC-7610 External Display
The Icom IC-7610 also provides a very nice external display capability, allowing us to take the best advantage of the radio’s pan adapter. We believe that the IC-7610 will integrate easily into our microHAM system. It should be a “drop-in” replacement for our current IC-7600. We hope to see the IC-7610 shipping before the end of this year.
Elecraft KPA1500 Legal Limit Solid State Amplifier
Our microHAM Station Automation System can accommodate shared amplifiers. We will utilize this capability when integrating the Elecraft KPA1500 into our station. The shared amplifier setup will also allow us to eliminate one of our bandpass filters. The KPA1500 amplifier integrates autotuner and wattmeter functions into the amplifier and provides a direct Ethernet interface for remote control and management. These enhancements should eliminate the need for several of the remote control server software applications that we are currently running on a PC in our shack. Also, we can manage all of these functions from a single client application on a remote client PC. These simplifications will make our remote operating gateway setup more reliable and easier to use.
FlexRadio Maestro Control Console
We plan to share more on these projects in future posts here on our Blog. The FlexRadio Maestro and all the other components we need for Remote Operating Gateway enhancements have arrived. We will complete this part of our project in the very near future and post more here.
Also, the local control interface to the new Elecraft KPA1500 amplifier appears nearly identical to that used by our current Elecraft KPA500 Amplifier. This means that we can begin our shared amplifier upgrades using the KPA500. We do not have a firm date for the IC-7610 to ship and that portion of our upgrade plans is likely to be our last step in the project.
Special thanks to Dave, K1DLM, who has helped us with ideas for several aspects of this project.
Today proved some simple, tried, and true advice for me – it pays to take some time and tune through the bands. I just got a Maestro Remote Control Device for our FlexRadio SDR, and I took a break around lunchtime to tune through the higher HF bands to see what I could hear. We use a Flex SDR as a Remote Operating Gateway into our station, and the Maestro allows me to run our station over our home network without going down to the shack.
I am not sure why but I decided to give the 12m Band a look today. When I did, I was stunned! It is noon, and the 12m Band is wide open between Africa and the US!
I worked two DX stations on 12m SSB. The first was XT2AW, Harald, in Burkina Faso. Harald was working split and was not really loud, but I had no trouble completing the contact with him. Excited, I tuned across 12m some more and found an old friend – Theo, ZS6TVB, in South Africa. I had a very nice QSO with him. We both marveled over the propagation of the 12m Band we were experiencing. He was 57-58 here in New Hampshire!
12m DX – ZS6TVB South Africa
The sunspot conditions are pretty weak (SFI 85, SN 26), so such a good opening on 12m was unexpected. I believe that we may be experiencing Transequatorial Propagation (TEP), which can provide a significant propagation enhancement on paths that traverse the equator. Anita and I experienced similar TEP propagation on 10m when we were on Bora Bora Island early in 2012 with similar solar conditions.
It shows that it pays to tune the upper HF bands. Especially on days when “they are not open.” Also, 10m appears to be open to Africa right now – I hear a station in Mauritania…
Dave Merchant K1DLM, our Field Day chairman, is bringing 21st Century radio and computer technology to our Field Day setup this year. There are several aspects to this new component of our Field Day plans, including –
An on-site WiFi Network to enable using the N1MM+ Logger in network mode for sharing of log information, station activity, real-time scores, and messages
A central Score Board and Field Day Information Computer in our public information tent
2017 Field Day Site – Upper Field Layout
We will again be holding our 2017 Field Day operation at the Hollis-Brookline High School in Hollis, NH. We plan to use the upper baseball field area as our main operating location. We have decided to add a third tower this year and locate it on a soccer practice field which is situated several hundred feet away from our main operating area. All of our antennas and equipment will lie within the required 1000′ circle, but the third tower would situate those operating at that location away from the rest of our group. Dave’s solution to this problem was to set up a network and operate two Software Defined Radios (SDRs) at the lower site remotely from our location on the upper field.
Dave has enlisted Piece Fortin, K1FOP, as our IT Chairman for Field Day this year. Pierce has been instrumental, along with Dave, in the planning and testing of this new technology. Pierce and Dave have a great deal of networking and IT experience and knowledge, and we could not have put together what is described here without them.
Dave K1DLM, Piece, Hamilton K1HMS, Mike Ryan K1WVO, Anita AB1QB, and I have gotten together multiple times to set up and test this new technology. I wanted to share more about the equipment and the associated testing (which has been staged in the kitchen at our QTH – thank you, Anita!).
We began the testing process by setting up our 20m CW station.
20m CW Station Test
This station uses an Elecraft K3S Transceiver, a K1EL WinKeyer, and the N1MM+ Logger on a Windows 10 Laptop PC. We used this station to get our basic N1MM+ setup, including our Field Day CW keying macros working.
40m SSB Station Test
Next came our 40m SSB station. This setup uses an Icom IC-7300 Transceiver and allowed us to set up and test N1MM+ on the fly audio macro recording and playback. All three of our SSB stations will have on-the-flyrecording and playback capability, allowing each SSB operator to record and use a custom set of audio macros.
Digital Station Test
Next came our Digital Station. This station uses one of the two remote Flex-6700 SDRs.
Remote Flex-6700 SDRs and Antenna Switch
Dave, K1DLM put together a really nice package for the two Flex-6700 SDRs and associated equipment, which will be located on the lower field. He used a rack system to mount the two SDRs, power supplies, a three-band Tri-plexor, a set of bandpass filters for 80m, 40m, 20m, 15m, and 10m, and a 403A 8×2 networked antenna switch. This setup allows either of the two SDRs to share the tri-band yagi or the 40m and 80m Inverted-V antennas on the tower on the lower field and operate on any of the 5 available HF bands. Antenna and filter switching automatically track the frequencies of the two SDRs making the setup simple to use.
Digital Station Second Display – SmartSDR & More N1MM+
The Digital Station’s remote SDR will be operated using a SmartSDR client running on the Digital Station laptop PC. This station will have a second monitor to better accommodate all of the windows associated with it.
Digital Station Main Display – N1MM+
The main display associated with the Digital Station will run decoders for all PSK and RTTY modes. The ability to decode multiple PSK signals simultaneously and multiple RTTY decodes are available. The Digital station also acts as the N1MM+ master station in our Field Day setup for all other stations that use N1MM+.
Satellite Station Test
Our Satellite Station 2.0 was also added to the test setup. It uses a MacBook Air laptop running MacDoppler to control the antenna rotators and the Icom IC-9100 Transceiver, which is part of our Satellite Station. A Windows 10 Surface Pro computer is included, which runs N1MM+ and provides logging and other network functionality for our Satellite Station.
GOTA Station Test
We also tested our GOTA station, which uses the second Flex-6700 SDR and a FlexRadio Maestro to provide a more conventional “buttons and knobs” interface for our GOTA operators. This station will also have a laptop PC running N1MM+ for logging.
We also built and tested a Scoreboard PC. This computer will be located in the Public Information tent at Field Day and connected to a large display. It will show our real-time score, QSOs being logged as they are made, and other useful information about our Field Day operations. This computer will also continuously play videos from our Video Collection and provide access to IP video cameras monitoring the tower and equipment on the lower field.
Pierce, K1FOP and Hamilton, K1HMS Testing CW Stations
Our networked N1MM+ testbed contained at least one station of each type (CW, SSB, Digital, Satellite, and GOTA) that will be part of our Field Day setup this year. The Station Masters for the additional CW and SSB stations came by to test their setups using the test bed.
Field Day Networking System
The networking system Dave and Pierce built is central to all the technology described here. All of the gear is mounted in a single rack which will be located on the upper field during Field Day. The setup includes a Firewall/DHCP server, a commercial-grade outdoor WiFi access point, a 4G LTE modem for Internet access, an Ethernet Switch, and a UPS power supply.
MoCA Data Link Cable
The upper and lower fields at our Field Day site are separated by several hundred feet. A thick line of trees between the two locations raised concerns about connecting the upper and lower sites using WiFi. Pierce came up with a great solution to this problem – we will be using MoCA Data Modems and RG6 Quad Shield 75 ohm Coax Cable to provide a 10 Mbps data link between the two sites. We tested the MoCA link using a much longer coax cable run than we needed at Field Day and confirmed the full 10 Mbps throughput.
N1MM+ Talk Window
Our networked N1MM+ setup will allow any station in our setup to send messages to everyone who is operating at Field Day. We can use this capability for important communications like “lunch is ready!” or “I need help from Pierce (our IT chairman) on the 40m SSB station,” or “The 6m band is wide open!”.
Our GOTA and Digital stations will be together in the same tent and will provide our Field Day 2017 visitors to see and use 21st-century Amateur Radio technology to make contacts. We are expecting young people who participated in our High-Altitude Balloon project and from other local schools where we have done Amateur Radio activities to attend. In addition to being a learning opportunity for all of us in the Nashua Area Radio Society, we hope that the state-of-the-art technology that we are using will generate interest among our visitors. If you are local to the Nashua, NH, USA area, come pay us a visit during 2017 Field Day. We’d enjoy providing a tour for you and your family and a chance to Get On The Air. Hope to see you at Field Day!
Summer is the time of year that many of us work on our antennas and improve our stations. Anita AB1QB and I did both of these things at our QTH this summer.
Removing Lower SteppIR Yagi From Tower
Our SteppIR DB36 Yagis were due for some maintenance so we took them off our tower. A special thanks to all the members of the Nashua Area Radio Club who helped us remove, recondition and reinstall our antennas! Matt Strelow, KC1XX of XX Towers, and Andrew Toth provided equipment and know-how to safely remove our two large SteppIR DB36 Yagis with help from the rest of us.
Lowering Antenna With Electric Winch
The SteppIR DB36 Yagis weigh almost 200 lbs each and Matt made good use of his electric winch to lower them.
Antenna Coming Down The Tram Line
The picture above shows the lower antenna coming off the tower. We used a Tram Line system to lower both antennas to the ground so that we could rebuild them.
SteppIR DB36 Antenna On The Ground
The SteppIR DB36 Yagis are quite large. They have 36 ft booms and the driven elements are almost 50 ft from tip to tip! They completely fill up our backyard when they are both off the tower.
Element Pole Sun Damage
The rebuild process began with a careful inspection of both antennas. They were both in good overall condition with some sun damage to the paint on the fiberglass element poles.
Disassembled SteppIR DB36
We removed all the element tubes and sweeps from both antennas for rebuilding. The picture above shows the disassembled upper antenna.
Reconditioned Stepper Motors Installed
All four Stepper motors on both antenna were replaced. These motors move metal tapes inside hollow element tubes to adjust the length of each antenna’s 4 movable elements. These adjustments are done automatically by controllers in our shack which receive frequency information from the radios which are connected to each antenna.
Reconditioned Element Sweep Poles
All of the element housing poles were cleaned, prepped and painted with a UV resistant clear coat to protect them from further sun damage. The poles cleaned up like new.
New Element Sweeps Ready For Installation
The assembly of all the new element sweep tubes (shown above) was done next. Each antenna has six sweeps.
Element Pole Preparation
The end of each element pole must be prepped with a tape system which ensures that the poles are seated properly, sealed to and firmly attached to the sweeps. This process and the associated assembly and tightening of the element couplers was the most time-consuming step in the rebuild process as it had to be repeated a total of 24 times.
Rebuilt Element Assembly
Here’s a picture of one of the rebuilt element tube assemblies. The ropes support the element tubes and keep them aligned when the antenna is up in the air. These elements are attached to the antenna motors with couplers and clamps.
SteppIR DB36 Yagi – Rebuild Complete
The picture above shows the lower antenna with all the element tubes reattached. There is quite a bit of additional prep work associated with adjusting all the supports and taping all the exposed areas of the antennas which are susceptible to sun damage. Also, all the electrical wiring on the antenna must be checked to ensure good electrical connections and good overall condition of the wiring.
Ground Test Setup
The final step in rebuilding the antennas is to test their operation on the ground. This ground test is done to ensure that all the motors are working correctly and that the element tapes move smoothly inside the rebuilt element tubes.
Ground Test Results
Another important part of the antenna Ground Test is to confirm that the antennas have a consistent resonant frequency and SWR on all bands. The resonant frequencies and SWR levels are far from those that would be measured when the antennas are on the tower at operating height. The idea here is to confirm that a resonance exists and that its frequency and SWR readings are repeatable as the antenna is adjusted to different bands.
With both antennas rebuilt, it was time for Matt and Andrew to return and, with help from folks from our club, reinstall the rebuilt antennas on our tower. The video above shows this process. It is quite something to see! The installation took about 3 1/2 hours.
Updated SteppIR Controllers
The last step in the SteppIR DB36 rebuild process was to install the latest firmware in the associated SDA100 Antenna Controllers. There are some integration issues between the updated SteppIR Firmware and our microHAM system but we are getting those worked out with help from the folks at both SteppIR and microHAM.
Icom IC-7851 With Display Monitor
I recently had a major birthday milestone and Anita surprised me with a new radio – an Icom IC-7851. This radio is an upgrade/replacement for our Icom IC-7800. While the two radios are quite similar in their operation and interfaces, I did not want to install the IC-7851 until the SteppIR antennas were reinstalled and all of their upgrades were working properly with our current radios. With the antennas done, it was the finally time to install the new radio!
Icom C-7851 Transceiver
The Icom IC-7851 has several important performance upgrades. The most impactful one is a new low-phase noise oscillator which significantly improves RMDR performance compared to the IC-7800. The IC-7851 is in the top-tier of Transceivers in Sherwood Engineering’s tests. The receivers in the IC-7851 are very quiet, have excellent Dynamic Range and perform great in when close-in interference is present.
Icom IC-7851 Display Monitor
The Icom IC-7851 has a higher resolution and faster display. It also supports higher resolution external monitors so we installed am upgraded display monitor along with the new radio. The IC-7851 has a number of new networking features and supports stand-alone remote operation over a LAN and the Internet. We are planning to use these capabilities to add a second remote operating gateway to our station. More on this in a future article.
The combination of the rebuilt antennas and the new IC-7851 Transceiver has our station performing better than ever. The antennas are working as well or better than when they were new and the IC-7851 has significantly better receive performance compared to its predecessor and is a pleasure to use.
We will be hosting the ARRL Rookie Roundup RTTY contest for our club members who have received their first license in the last 3 years next weekend and we’re going to use the new radio and rebuilt antennas for the contest.
This project was completed in a little over two weeks and was a lot of work. I could not have done the project without the help of the many folks in the Nashua Area Radio Club. Again, a big Thank You to all the folks in our club who helped me with this project! I hope that many of you will be able to find some time to operate from our upgraded station.
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 was 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
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.
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
We also configured our Laptop PC to be a Remote Operating Client for our station. Our Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Headset is used 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
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.
The next step in our Software Defined Radio/Remote Operating Project was to build a Remote Operating Gateway System in our shack and set up 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 we used to enable remote operating and 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 on our blog to see a larger, easier-to-read version.
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. SmartSDR and the FlexRadio-6xxx hardware must function properly on the same sub-network. FlexRadio has indicated they plan to enable SmartSDR operation over wide-area broadband internet connections. The design we chose for our Remote Operating Gateway and Client PCs will allow the operation of our entire station over the internet when SmartSDR can fully support this. SmartSDR handles remoting of audio (microphone and speakers/headphones), CW keying over our Home Network (more on this later), and control of the radio. With these essential functions taken care of, we also need to 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 and shut down the Transmitter remotely.
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.
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.
It is also important to have full remote control of our Antennas and Rotators to effectively use our station outside our shack. Control of our Rotators is accomplished by software that remotes serial COM ports over our Home Network.
The PC in our home office will be our station’s primary remote operating location. Audio quality is important to us, and we wanted to ensure that our audio quality 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 that can be used with the FlexRadio-6700 SDR when operating remotely.
Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Headset
The speakers on my home office PC are quite good, but sometimes a set of headphones is needed to hear weak signals. We choose a quality Bluetooth Headset from Bose for this purpose. The Bose SoundLink Headset is lightweight, 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).
The SmartSDR CAT application provides CAT interfaces on both our Client and Server PCs for applications that 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 (Home Office)
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 built into SmartSDR running. The DAX Control Panel is running on the lower right corner of the screen, and it’s set up for use with the CW Skimmer decoder. DXLab’s WinWarbler is running (top-center), enabling me to use the WinKeyer in the shack to send CW via the remote COM port associated with the WinKeyer. Below WinWarbler is the microHAMDeveloper Only application (accessed remotely via a TeamViewer connection to the Shack Server PC) which shows that I have both of our SteppIR DB36 Yagis 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
As you can see, CW Skimmer decodes a wide range of frequencies in the 20m CW sub-band. It receives 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 share information on how that is done. We will also provide future articles on how to set up 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!
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:
Part 1 – System Design and Hardware Installation (this post)
We will tackle 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:
The first step in this project was to develop a system design (pictured above). We opted for an architecture that uses the Flex SDR as a third radio in Anita’s Operating Position. Her position is now an 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.
The additional microHAM SMD allows the Flex-6700 SDR to access and control our entire antenna system and associated rotators.
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
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 – 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
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 accessing serial ports above COM16. This requires a carefully developed COM port allocation plan for a complex station like ours. The figure above shows this part of our design.
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
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.