Thursday, October 10, 2019

October 2019 Global Digital Repeater Round Up

Twice a year, HVDN tracks the total growth of digital voice repeaters.  Since 2016, there has been a tremendous increase of repeaters that support DMR, P25, NXDN, Fusion and D-Star digital voice amateur communication.  All but one of these modes are showing fantastic growth. Lets find out which...

October 2019 Global Digital Voice Repeater Roundup

According to data, DMR is the first digital voice mode to surpass the 3,000 repeater mark globally.

Just as long as those updating this website do so with accurate details, if you were traveling somewhere today and could only take one radio with you, a DMR radio along with its legacy analog FM capability would be the best choice followed by Yaesu Fusion and Icom D-Star. 

The chances are also higher that an area with more of one type of digital voice repeater may also have more simplex activity or non-internet connected digital voice repeaters, so it could not hurt to program appropriate digital voice channels or scan around for even more repeaters than what may list.

The P25 and NXDN commercial mode amateur radio repeaters are too limited on a global scale, but may have pockets of high activity in certain geographies. Any example of this from a NXDN perspective was covered in an HVDN article entitled "NXDN: What is it and where is it?" which may be be updated in the coming year.

Considering that both of these modes do not have any amateur market only equipment available, its still interesting to see higher percentage growth over the same time period compared to Icom D-Star, which is the oldest digital amateur voice mode currently available as detailed in a presentation on Digital Modes and Hot Spots given by Joe, N1JTA at the Trenton Computer Festival.

In a three year span from October 2016 to October 2019, here are the growth percentages of digital voice repeaters:

  • Yaesu Fusion = 80.43%
  • Icom D-Star =  17.64%
  • DMR = 101.94%
  • P25 = 108.45%
  • NXDN = 52.43%

Even though DMR is the most popular, Yaesu Fusion is close behind.  The best "audio" according to many is found on Fusion and also translates the best to other modes via Pi-Star, including P25.

It would also be wise to travel with one of the MMDVM Pi-Star "hot spot" devices which can fill in gaps where there is no repeater coverage, but where there is internet access.

The DMR and Fusion modes also offer the most flexibility for mode translation, which means that you can use a DMR or Fusion radio with a hot spot to "talk through" other mode networks such as all those listed here with little exception. Further detail on this can be found on the Pi-Star website.  Thanks to these two modes, we may see a growth of P25 and NXDN as a result. 

What drives digital voice repeater growth?

To access a repeater, you need a hand held or mobile digital voice radio.  Since a repeater is expensive, those who decide to install one often know that there are users with radios that may access the repeater.

Another driving reason for digital voice repeater growth is a wide array of equipment and cost points.  DMR has seen success because of lower cost "entry level" radios selling for as little as $60 USD such as the Baofeng DM-1801 or Radioddity GD-77, but also higher end equipment thanks to better quality radios marketed to both the amateur and commercial user too numerous to list here. 

Many vendors are also selling DMR equipment which creates more choice for buyers and this competition is a good thing should someone have had a personal bad experience with one vendor for one reason or another. 

Yaesu Fusion is the only mode that has only one vendor behind it, but offers equipment at various prices and incentives to entice buyers. This strategy has certainly helped Yaesu since prior to 2018, it followed the same "hold the price high" strategy that Icom has adopted.

Both Yaesu Fusion and DMR also offer different accessory options such as microphones, chargers and batteries to ensure a buyer stays within a particular brand of equipment. Yaesu generally has great fan's of its equipment and this was a smart move to ensure brand loyalty. A recent example of this was the same battery pack can be used with the FT-2DR and its latest FT-3DR model.

Icom is the majority equipment vendor for D-Star with only Kenwood having a single radio capable of this GFSK based digital voice mode.  The cost to license the underlying technology from the JARL is very high and has prevented other vendors from embracing this technology.

Impact 2020: The latest digital voice radios

There are two very exciting new digital voice radios just about to come to market directed at the amateur radio community. Both offer features not just for digital voice mode users, so these create two great ways for people to expand interest in different parts of the hobby.

The Icom IC-705 is the first highly portable D-Star radio that combines 2m and 70cm capability along with HF for long range communication.  This new radio also allows the Icom ID-51 handheld radio battery to be used with the IC-705, so for those that have this other radio and its accessories on hand, buying this radio for portable use could be a good long term decision.

The main market Icom is looking to gain market share in with this radio clearly is the market category that the Yaesu FT-817 expanded back in 2001 .  Both radios and the 2018 refresh version of the original FT-817 named the FT-818 have competition from Xiegu, Elecraft and a few others that sell portable QRP power HF equipment. Icom could make the IC-705 a real winner, but for every reason not related to D-Star.

There are many other reasons that make the IC-705 interesting, but are outside the scope of this article.  However, it was worth mentioning that Icom does appear to be trying to maintain ecosystem users since the Icom ID-51 has proven popular and could be a good way to sell many IC-705.

Looking at the DMR ecosystem, the long awaited Anytone AT-D578UVIII is going to offer a 2m/70cm model for outside of North America and a version with the 220 MHz 1.25m band in the United States and Canada.  Expected availability for purchase is now late October due to manufacturing issues given the current economical climate or other factors.

This mobile radio will also be the first DMR radio to offer true dual band. dual receive capability. While this radio lacks a remote head for more flexible installations in a vehicle, this radio will certainly become popular for many reasons, including use from a home location.

With the only other mobile DMR radios being somewhat limited, if Anytone has learned from past education, this radio is going to become very popular, very quickly.  Since a mobile radio offers extended range while mobile, this single radio may influence even more DMR repeaters to come online in 2020.

Digital Voice Repeater Outlook

Based on a global estimate of 19,500 analog repeaters, in time this number will shrink as equipment becomes not worth repairing or being able to be re-purposed for digital modes.  Digital repeaters may reach the total number of global analog repeaters one day, but will never truly replace nearly 40 years of analog advancements.  The official estimate of HVDN is that by the end of 2021, there should be over 11,000 digital voice amateur repeaters globally. 

Past Global Digital Repeater Round Up Articles

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Review: Lanch HG-UV98 APRS 2m/70cm HT

Many amateur radio vendors now offer hand held radios with digital voice capability such as DMR, Fusion or D-Star modulation modes, but still lack easy to use data only functions that work across different vendors equipment.

AX.25 based APRS is the only current  protocol that will let users of some Yaesu, Kenwood and certain Icom equipment "talk data" to each other over non-voice means for point to point communications or through some type of infrastructure like a digipeater or the Brandmeister DMR network, Icom's D-Star and other API avenues that lead to websites like

Let us now explore the current crop of APRS capable hand held radios and introduce a low price alternative which offers this stalwart universal packet based data communication mode.

This review will talk about the $169.95 USD Lanch HG-UV98. This analog dual band (2m/70cm) with APRS radio has some tricks that make it unique in a world full of digital voice radios not found elsewhere.

What does the Lanch HG-UV98 compete with?

Lets start out by sharing a list of what current production model radios support both receive and/or transmit capability of 1200 baud AX.25 based APRS communications.

As we can see in the above table, the Lanch HG-UV98 is drastically less expensive than much of the competition when it comes to full featured APRS functionality.

While this early 2019 release radio does not offer digital voice modes like the majority compared in the above table, there are many things that make the HG-UV98 interesting more than the price.

smallest APRS radio with GPS and bluetooth
The $500+ USD Kenwood TH-D74 is roughly the same
size as the $169.95 USD Lanch HG-UV98

Lanch HG-UV98 Basic Review

Nothing seems all too extraordinary, unless you are looking for a radio with data communication capability for under $200 USD.  The Lanch HG-UV98 will also appeal to users interested in asset tracking, experimentation, hacking, telemetry,  programming and casual analog voice communication. Basic specifications include:

  • Receive: 136-174 MHz and 400-470 MHz
  • Transmit: 136-174 MHz and 400-470 MHz
  • Transmit Output: VHF = 5W High, 1W Low , UHF 4W High, 1W Low
  • Memory Channels:  128
  • Battery: 7.4 V 2500 mAH polymer Li-Ion 

The more exciting features are:

  • 1200 baud APRS RX & TX
  • Location with GPS, BeiDou, GLONASS selection
  • Temperature sensor
  • Barometric Pressure sensor
  • Battery voltage telemetry
  • One additional external I/O
  • Bluetooth for PC/Phone pairing for APRS/GPS
  • VHF & UHF simultaneous reception
  • 5 V USB charging (Standard USB Micro connector)
  • Color display with day/night option
  • Plus more...

Detail on HG-UV98 Non-APRS features

All the usual features found in every modern handheld analog FM radio for voice communication  are included such as PL/CTCSS, DCS encode or decode, channel naming, etc.

The HG-UV98 is also dual watch in the same band, but not dual receive at the same time in the same band. Dual band receive at the same time is supported, which means a signal at 145.880 and 435.350 MHz can be heard through the speaker at the same time.

This may be of interest those interested in duplex operation via SO-50, AO-92, AO-91 and a few other satellites.

While you can dual watch 144.390 and 146.520 at the same time, you can only receive one of those signals at the same time and not both. You can set a TX or RX priority though to offer additional priority flexibility.

HG-UV98 software
Lanch HG-UV98 CPS program is simple to use

The HG-UV98 lacks an audio mixer function such as the one found on the Kenwood and Yaesu radios. You can however enable mute on the "A" or "B" side of the HG-UV98 which is helpful if you want to use APRS on "A" but not hear the packet data bursts while listening to voice communication on the "B" side. This can also be flipped depending on user preference.

While strange at first thought, you can mute both sides of the radio at the same time, which may be interesting if you want to set APRS for both UHF and VHF at the same time as some sort of tracking device and not have any RX audio come out of the speaker, regardless of how you set the master volume knob. With APRS, you could even set side "A" as TX and "B" as RX or both. This is sort of a nice set of features offered in this radio which others lack.

Detail on HG-UV98 APRS Features

When it comes to APRS or other AX.25 packet communication, you are limited to 1200 baud compared to the faster but underutilized 9600 baud speed highlighted in the comparison chart.

This is not a shortcoming however, as the TNC in the HG-UV98 is hardware based which means more reliable decoding or encoding of packets. Based on testing, the overall experience RX or TX is on par with the Kenwood TH-D74 and has not missed a packet while field testing this radio during a recent travel excursion.

Pinpoint APRS with GPS bluetooth

This is worth mentioning because the most economical "new purchase" entry route to APRS prior to the Lanch HG-UV98 was to use a simple $10 cable that would connect a low priced analog FM radio such as a $25 USD Baofeng UV-82 to a smartphone.

This approach uses a emulated software modem in software running on a smartphone or tablet and the use of "voice activation" to handle switching from transmit to receive which is not very reliable.

If your first taste of APRS was through this "Baofeng" method, the HG-UV98 should be your upgrade path unless you really want digital voice as found in other radios. The Lanch is going to be a truly night and day difference from the Baofeng UV82 or UV5R type of radio when used with the aforementioned cable.  The HG-UV98 is 100% self contained for APRS much like more expensive radios.

Here are some highlighted HG-UV98 features for APRS not found on other radios:
  • Setting a different channel for RX or TX for APRS at the same time
  • Setting a different channel or two channels or one over Bluetooth for APRS
  • Setting different UNPROTO paths on different schedules (WIDE1-1, ARISS, etc)
  • Setting APRS TX at timed intervals, after every PTT or smart options based on speed, etc
  • Ability to toggle on/off the TX of in built atmospheric telemetry or voltage sensor data
Critical Compatibility Notes

Only the listed Kenwood and Yaesu radios can actually receive and transmit 1200 baud APRS, thus making them 100% compatible for two way data communications with the HG-UV98.

The Anytone AT-D878UV can only transmit APRS, so while those can be received on the HG-UV98, you can not transmit APRS back to the Anytone expecting the user will receive the message.

The only way for full two way communication via APRS with the HG-UV98 and radios such as the Icom ID-51, Anytone D878 and Alinco DJ-MD5TGP are via internet routing involving a hot spot or repeater plus looking at the website. This is NOT the same as legitimate APRS communication, so do not be fooled.

HG-UV98 Hardware Review

So far this article may be giving you a lot to think about, so lets switch to talking about the hardware to give your APRS section of your cranium a brief rest.

The included battery of the HG-UV98 has 2500 mAh capacity at 7.4 V.  Built in voltage measurement function reads is just as accurate compared to an external meter.  This is no big difference compared to other radios which have a similar battery specification like a TYT MD-UV380 and many other recent radios. The battery will not fit any other model radios though.

The really unique thing however is that the battery has a USB micro connector that allows you to charge the battery from either the included 12V to 5V USB "cigar/accessory" adapter or  the 120 VAC to 5V USB power cube along with the included USB "A" to USB "Micro Male" cable. A charge cradle is an optional accessory.

Simply put, this power flexibility should not to be overlooked for almost near universal charging capability.  All but the newest smartphones other than Apple or USB-C based devices made in the last 10 years have the USB micro connector.

The outside structure of the radio is very, very sturdy and feels solid in the hand. The battery has a special clasp that allows it to dock into the radio for an almost seamless fit.  The bottom of the HG-UV98 is stable to not tip over on flat surfaces even with the nice LED light built in to the bottom which can be controlled by different programmable buttons in the radio menu.

The default setting for the top mounted "orange" button at the top between the channel selector and SMA-J antenna connector is for controlling the LED flashlight and alarm functions. The SMA-J connector is the same one found on most other radios excluding the Kenwood, Icom, TYT and Yaesu radios which all use a standard SMA.  The Alinco. Anytone and most other Chinese based low cost radios use the same antenna connector. The way to understand what an SMA-J connector is if it has a center pin instead of a socket at the center of the antenna connector on the radio itself.

The top of the radio also features a master volume and power switch plus a LED to indicate status of the radio during reception (green),  transmit (red) or scan (orange).  Blue flashes indicate APRS data packet reception and can be turned on or off.

While facing the front of the radio, the left side has a pair of programmable buttons and the PTT, which is angled for a feel sort of like the one on the Yaesu FT-70DR and some of the other "commercial inspired" radios they also offer for sale currently under the Vertex brand.

On the right side of the radio is a very nice gasket seal that can rotate which hides the standard "Kenwood/Baofeng" 2 pin connections for a speaker microphone.  This same port is what is used to program the radio or APRS modem.  The USB micro on the battery is only for charging, not computer interfacing. The HG-UV98 can also be programmed over bluetooth as well as to stream APRS, GPS or both. More on that later.

The front of the radio has back-lit keypad and soft functions that are well thought out and allows much easier toggling of GPS and APRS functions compared to some other radios.  The only complaint with the keypad is that each key press has a loud click sound, but this may be considered a benefit to some users unless you are a covert operative on a special mission requiring absolute quiet.

Finally, the rear of the radio has connections for an optional drop in cradle charger and a rather nice belt clip.

Bluetooth and the HG-UV98

The HG-UV98 includes Bluetooth connectivity and the ability to pair the radio to any device that expects to receive KISS,  UI, GPWPL or KISS Acs.  This all means that the GPS and APRS data can seamlessly pass through to devices like a laptop, smartphone or tablet when using applications like Pinpoint, APRSdroid or most other popular APRS or terminal programs like TeraTerm, Putty and more. For those interested in Winlink, the HG-UV98 will work perfectly with that and will not require a wire connected to your computer.  This may appeal to someone involved in "emergency amateur radio communications".  If all you have is a computer and HG-UV98, you can probably put the radio in a tall tree to extend your APRS range since it will then communicate back to your computer via short range bluetooth.

Having bluetooth creates some nice user application scenarios for full two way keyboard to keyboard communication when the HG-UV98 is wireless paired to other devices.  Compared to the Kenwood and Icom radios, pairing bluetooth and being able to connect with minimal fuss at a later time is much easier.

HG-UV98 Software

The computer programming software or CPS for short is pretty basic. It is only used to program the channels and basic features of the radio which are mostly not related to APRS.  It is possible with very little work that the widely adopted C.H.I.R.P software could be made to work with the HG-UV98. There is also an Android application available for the HG-UV98 but is in early release stages at the date of this article.

There is a separate software package for programming the APRS features for the HG-UV98.  This software is based on the APRS51 based tracker and modem devices found on E-Bay or elsewhere which offers some commonality with other equipment.

The only quirk with the APRS software is that you can only read settings from the radio. In order to write new settings to the HG-UV98, you need to put the radio into upgrade mode by holding down PF1 side button while turning the radio on.

After you do this, its easy to write APRS settings to the radio. You will know this is done correctly when the "write" button is clickable as in the above photo.

This same procedure is also used when updating the firmware for the radio also.  Everything can be written to the radio via bluetooth for APRS but not for programming the memory channels which is sort of curious. The default bluetooth pairing code for the HG-UV98 is "1234"

HG-UV98 Bottom Line 

For the price, this is an interesting piece of equipment. It is a higher transmit power upgrade from the 1 Watt PicoAPRS devices as well as the APRS51 based devices found on E-Bay  like the $90 USD AVRT5 which are only for data communication.

Compared to basic voice only communication radios for roughly the same price, this is a nice upgrade if you are not looking for digital voice capability or wanting to spend over $400 USD for some form of digital voice, analog voice and full featured APRS.

There is certainly room for improvement on some small menu names such as sub-menu #3 for frequency step size found under main menu #1 Local Setup. This is spelled as "SETP" instead of "STEP" .

 Menu #6 for setting repeater shift direction is abbreviated as "SFT_D" but its clear there is more room to spell this out.

Having the ability to even switch between black on white or white on black text like most other radios also shows this is a well thought out user interface aside translation quirks between Chinese and English. For those with poor vision, the HG-UV98 also has a voice menu option that is implemented well.

Other menus have random ALL CAPITAL LETTERS while others are Partially Capitalized. Under the "Meteorological" setting, changing from Celsius to Fahrenheit or metric to standard does not seem to work.

The APRS software also has some related issues, but overall this is a good start for a new company that can be fixed with a later software upgrade.

Below shows the HG-UV98 paired to an Android smartphone via bluetooth running APRSdroid software.  The telemetry shows that the temperature, barometric pressure, voltage and altitude along with speed and location are easily viewed.

bluetooth APRS radio

One final comment in closing, is that there appears to be an unsigned Android application for programming the radio from a smartphone over bluetooth or through a USB OTG connection, but I can not seem to get this to work.

While not sure, there could be inspiration from the Xiaomi Mijia Walkie Talkie we have reviewed before and it is known that the HVDN blog does have many Chinese readers who follow our feedback which may have influenced some product decisions that led to the creation of the HG-UV98.

If you are willing to experiment a little, this product is great but for those looking for 100% polished software elements, there will be reduced expectations. On the bright side, the hardware is certainly best of class in my opinion and would make a great purchase to anyone looking for a reasonable investment in APRS communication equipment.

Expect an update on this radio at a later date.

Supplementary Notes

  • The Lanch HG-UV98 was independently reviewed by HVDN and was purchased from Venus I-Tech in 2Q2019

  • The firmware in the HG-UV98, serial number  AO9A00378 in this review was v1.0.1_190416 and is hardware v1.0.1
  • The computer programming software, firmware, instruction manual and APRS configuration program can be found on the Venus, Lanch or HVDN websites.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

What happens when: Multiple DMR signals & SDRangel

The below video shows native DMR decoding with SDRangel software. On 427.505 MHz is an OpenSpot V1 and on 427.565 MHz is a duplex "China" Spot. 

It is very easy to leave the SDR, in this case the inexpensive NooElec Nano3 tuned to 427.565 and then toggle in the channel down to 427.505 MHz.  Both hotspots were tuned to the same talk group of 31630 during the Tuesday evening Northstar Digital Net.

One thing to notice is that the carrier time keys up quicker and also "hangs" when a discussion drops compared to the quicker times on the duplex "China" Spot.

With SDRangel, you can "run" multiple decoders for different (or the same modes) at the same time. 

You would leave SDRangel "tuned" to one frequency and you can then tune up or down from that frequency in each decoder. This will work within the SDR's capable bandwidth. In the case of the NooElec Nano3, this is 2.8 MHz. 

Also, you can "run" multiple decoders (Analog FM Narrow, DSD for digital voice, Channel Analyzer, etc) all at the same time on the same frequency to just "hear" for example the buzzzz sound of DMR via the analog FM Narrow decoder PLUS the actual DMR demodulated audio AT the same time.

There is A LOT of capability with SDRangel. Give it a try. You will like it and the ability to customize the layout to your liking for certain tasks.

Rumble: SDR# Versus SDRangel

The new "Community Plugin" option by Rodrigo Perez of SDR Chile for SDR# allows near automatic installation of more than 27 optional plug in functions to the popular software defined radio application offered by Airspy.

Upgrading versions of SDR# is now much easier for those like me who customize this software with  helpful tools such as CTCSS decoders, recording tools, signal analysis and so much more....

While all  plugins will not be useful to everyone, this does make SDR# seem fresh and able to compete with SDRangel, my favorite SDR software for off the shelf, ready to go multi purpose wireless signal exploration. Lets compare the two!

SDR# 1713+Community Package to SDRangel v4.11.9

Only very recently did Edouard F4EXB reintroduce compiled Microsoft Windows to make the use of his fantastic SDRangel software.

Attempting to compare the two is very hard, so will start with comparing the 27 plugins first against features of applicable SDRangel functions.

Lets start out with a few of the stand out plugin options that are exclusive to SDR# compared to SDRangel.

  • Plugin Calico CAT - Used for controlling radios such as the Kenwood TS-2000 
  • Plugin DDE Tracker - Dynamic Data Exchange. For those interested in scheduling activity related to tracking satellites such as weather imaging NOAA 16, 17, 19, 20. 
  • Plugin File Player - Provides the ability to play different audio or baseband files in SDR#
  • Plugin Frequency Scanner  - Offers ability to save and scan frequencies in a list
  • Plugin Gpredict Connector - Helps control satellite tracking equipment such as Az/El rotators
  • Plugin IF Recorder - Records intermediate frequency signals
  • Plugin Meteor Demodulator - Decodes Russian weather satellites
  • Plugin MPX Output - Useful for streaming FM broadcast audio with RDS signals
  • Plugin SDRSharp Net Remote -  Allows remote access and control of SDR#
  • Plugin Time Shift - Save and replay spectrum almost like a Slingbox or VCR

What is actually missing from the larger list is more detail about decoding digital voice modes such as DMR, TETRA, D-Star, Fusion/C4FM, NXDN and P25.

While the SDR# Community Plugin does add in DSD+ functionality and Tetra decoding, it is not as straight forward to use compared to SDRangel's implementation of DSD. SDRangel also adds in FreeDV and a LoRa decoder as additional "channels".

SDR# through the television plugin allows the viewing of PAL, SECAM and NTSC analog signals, whereas SDRangel only allows PAL and SECAM but also adds DATV for amateur TV enthusiasts.  These are the older analog television protocols no longer in use, so will not enable the reception of newer digital broadcast television directly with an SDR.

Final Verdict

In summary,  SDR# along with the plugin additions may create better feature sets for those interested in certain recording and signal analysis features plus better satellite related decoding or ground station control.  SDRangel does not offer any of this, but does provide some basic recording and signal analysis.

Both pieces of software really can not be easily compared since they do many things better than the other.  The big point to make is that between both pieces of software, you have almost everything one could need that appeals to a modern radio hobbyist not just looking to monitor typical amateur radio or shortwave activities which SDRuno or SDR-Console seem to appeal towards more easily.

Hopefully this article encourages further experimentation with SDR# if you have forgotten about it or have yet to try SDRangel.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

International Space Station to be visible on Sept. 19-20

The International Space Station to be visible on Sept. 19-20. The key word being "visible" and is not the only time you can see the ISS though.

Radio amateurs can listen via wireless during most passes with the hope to either listen in during a scheduled astronaut contact with a school or to use the digital packet relay system known as a "digi-peater" to bounce short text messages through the ISS and back down to Earth.

Non-Visual Voice Communication

The astronauts do not have much time for casual amateur radio operation, but you might be lucky if you give the station a call on 144.490 MHz in North America or 145.200 MHz elsewhere in the world. You will need to listen to 145.800 MHz for transmissions from the Astronauts.

Using different receive and transmit frequencies is known as split operation.  Astronauts have the ISS radio programmed the opposite was as you would on Earth.   The reason for this is to minimize interference and increased reliability.

The below photo is of a post card confirming a contact with the ISS and a local amateur radio operator.  The "QSL" card was sent from a ground station on Earth and was not dropped 220 Miles above from the ISS, if you were wondering.

Non-Visual Data Communication

If you are interested in non-voice communication, tuning in to 145.825 MHz will allow you to receive APRS data through the ISS.  Your AX.25 capable radio will use the same frequency on transmit and receive.  A path of "ARISS" will help ensure your transmission is received by the ISS and passed back down to Earth automatically.

Viewing the ISS

Applications such as "ISS Detector" for Android smartphones, tablets and Chromebooks work great to "predict" when the next pass will come over your area.  Apple device users may use "ISS Spotter".  Many computer programs also exist such as "Orbitron" for Windows users,  "Gpredict" for multiple platforms and "Nova" as being the three most popular or easy to use options.

There are also additional augmented reality and web based tracking tools available that are easy to find.

It is best to adjust your eyesight to the dark for at least 10-15 minutes before looking at the night sky. This gives your eyes some time to adjust for maximum viewing benefit.

On September 19th, the pass coming over the Eastern United States will track from South to North

The following day at just about the same time will see the ISS pass over yet again, but just lower in the sky compared to the night before.

Beyond visual observation, it would also be good to keep an eye on the APRS activity via the website to see if radio amateurs are "bouncing" signals from the space station.

You can track the space station and APRS activity via the RS0ISS call sign which broadcasts from the Russian module of the ISS. It is not always active though.  The best way to confirm recent activity is by looking at the AMSAT satellite status page or by looking at the very active Facebook group focused on the International Space Station A.R.I.S.S experiments.

If anyone would like to take some pictures of the upcoming ISS pass, it would be great if they can be shared in the comments or emailed to for a future article.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

FCC Approved: Anytone D578UVIII

Anytone AT-D578UVIII

As of August 29th 2019, the long awaited Anytone Anytone D578UVIII has finally received its FCC approval.  What does this mean?   Expect this US tri-band DMR radio to be for sale, very, very soon.

T4K:  Its what you need

Every legitimate vendor who sells electronics capable of sending or receiving wireless signals requires an FCC ID per device.  Each vendor has a grantee code in order to identify themselves. In the case of Anytone, which is better known to the United States government as Qixiang Electron Science& Technology Co., Ltd, they are issued the code of T4K.

If you are interested in searching the FCC OET ID database, you can use either Qixiang Electron Science& Technology Co., Ltd, or T4K.  If you try "Anytone", you will not find anything.

Anytone AT-D578UVIII

Anytone D578UVIII  FCC ID Details

Now that you can go and find details on your own, you can visit to look at things such as an advance copy of the user manual and various photos and documents required for certification needs. As already reported, the US version would be capable of 2m, 1.25m and 70cm operation along with Bluetooth.

Anytone AT-D578UVIII

Anything else new learned?

Near all vendors of amateur radio equipment are taking pre-orders for the Anytone D578UVIII, so anyone who has already paid $35 to $50 USD should expect an update on actual shipping soon. Part of the real delay has been some FCC compliance issues for "out of band" operation which has just gone into affect and caused certain vendors to rethink how to sell radios in the United States market.

This ruling change actually creates a better radio experience for us amateurs who want to ensure no outside interference from commercial frequencies just above or below our licensed spectrum.

Anytone AT-D578UVIII

38 Pages: That is all?

Most every recent radio of Chinese origin continues to include no good printed instruction manual since the software changes often and would require massive rewrites. Most people will program the radio via computer software and the end user community generally decides to write copious amounts of user guides to help people use new equipment.  Our own collective efforts would likely be much better than the manufacturer could produce.

Beyond confirming cross band repeat and a speaker microphone with built in speaker is standard, much everything else was already known details. Cross-band digital repeat seems an interesting trick too.

For users of the BTECH 6x2,  Alindo DJ-MD5TGP or Anytone AT-D878,  this new mobile radio should be easy to use. Further updates to follow once HVDN members start to receive shipment of this new radio.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Pro Tip: Finding DMR Activity

As more and more users of digital voice amateur radio shift towards hot spot devices instead of local repeaters, it gets hard to find where people in your area are using DMR.

Since hotspots have such limited range, you would not likely be able to hear them "over the air" and there is not really any way to simply "scan the band" looking for activity like one may do on 2m or 80m.  So, how do you find DMR activity?

DMR: Get Predictive

Is this suggestion cheating? Not really.  There is a way you can use one of the many somewhat hidden analytic tools to find out what talk groups are most active and when.  This will help you learn when and where to spend time "lurking" since there are 1,439 officially set aside talk groups according to this nice Pi-Star DMR BrandMeister Talk Group page.

Using talk group 31630 (STEM) as an example, the chart below is predictive in the sense that every Tuesday evening at 21:00 hours Eastern US time, is a big spike of activity for a little over an hour. This is when the Northstar Digital Net takes place.

Another example on when you may find activity if you are traveling in the state of Louisiana is shown below by looking at talk group 3122.

How about if you want to feel really special and have "Nationwide US" all to your self with fewer people constantly asking for a radio check or signal report?   06:00 AM Eastern US may just be the time for you to sit on talk group 3100.

Where do you get these charts?

Here is where to go and find some possibly interesting talk groups and times to see what sort of activity is taking place.

And now you know how to find the best of the best on DMR. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Alinco DJ-MD5TGP: Upgrade Vocoder Process

It has been widely confirmed that the Alinco DJ-MD5TGP,  BTECH 6X2 and Anytone AT-D878 are essentially the same reference design and only have a few differences in hardware or software.

As discovered by Jason Reilly and his excellent page regarding the Anytone 868 and 878, it is possible for the user to change the vocoder.  This is done via software and is detailed here.

Alinco DJ-MD5TGP Baseband

HVDN was the first to point out that it was possible to expand the frequency range of the Alinco MD-MD5TGP.  The procedure for that was not far different than that of the Anytone, so upgrading the vocoder followed the same procedure with just a few differences.  Proceed at your own risk in doing this upgrade.

In our "Teardown: Expanded Alinco DJ-MD5TGP Review" article in November 2018, we pointed out the SICOMM SCT3258 chip and this is where the magic vocoder resides.

Go ahead and download this file from Jason's Tiny Upload link for the Anytone 878.  You can follow his instructions closely, but for the Alinco DJ-MD5TGP you will need to:

  • Hold down # and PTT while turning the radio on to enter boot mode for SCT
  • In the SICOMM software, you need to set the speed to 115200, not 9600 baud.

The Alinco DJ-MD5TGP used for this test already had version V2.01.05NJ. It was simple to upgrade to V2.01.07BA.  The receive audio seems to be even more pleasant now on DMR and preliminary audio reports seem positive, but more testing needs to be done.

Thank you Jason for all your great documentation!

More about the Alinco MD-5TGP via HVDN:

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

More SDRangel goodness: FreeDV demod added & much more

Sorry, I need to stop being such a fan of SDRangel, but new features continue to roll out worth talking about.

Latest being the better ability to decode FreeDV, which is an open source digital voice mode suitable for use on the HF amateur spectrum allocations.

This voice mode permits FM quality audio in a 1.25 KHz wide channel with no tell tale "hiss" sounds as found while using SSB.   FreeDV outperforms SSB at low SNR.  If this all makes sense to you so far, this should be exciting.   If this does not make sense, the reason why this is important is that lower SNR means better quality audio can be received at lower signal levels, which means overall better performance, range and experience.

If you are involved in transmit capable software defined radio stuff, this latest feature on SDRangel is going to be interesting, along with the already native DMR, Fusion, NXDN, D-Star decoding capability plus DATV reception and transmission for those not just looking for voice modes. No other SDR software has this range of features.

FreeDV was built by an international team of radio amateurs working together on coding, design, user interface and testing. FreeDV is open source software, released under the GNU Lesser Public License version 2.1. The modems and Codec 2 speech codec used in FreeDV are also open source.

Now back to SDRangel v4.11.8

As mentioned back in July 2019, its is now very easy to use SDRangel. A Microsoft Windows executable is now not only compiled, but installable as any other application which makes installation very easy. Linux is still the better operating environment, but there is literally no major difference now with performance on either operating system family now.

You will still need a modern computer to run SDRangel though, which means 64 bit and not 32 bit Windows XP, Vista and earlier, so time to upgrade your computer. You could even run SDRangel on a Raspberry Pi if you really wanted, but that is not the goal of this article.

Here is the latest version you need to download:


GD77: The first HT based Pi-Star hot spot

As mentioned here in the past, Roger Clarke is the wizard down under. He is known for his Git repository making the firmware upgrade procedure on MMDVM boards pretty painless and also his work surrounding an open source CPS for the GD-77 DMR radio.

For much of the summer, he has been working with Kai on turning the Radioddity GD-77 into a hot spot which is probably the most exciting thing I have come across recently.  This is such an amazing case of open source software at work and making closed hardware, much more open.

Head on over for a read on Roger's blog for much greater detail and get ready for some fun. My biggest questions are:

  • Will this work with the Baofeng DM-1801 and other ODM variant radios?
  • How will this impact the "hotspot" market and prices?
  • Will other radios see similar innovation (Alinco MD-5TGP, Anytone 878, etc)

Continued Reading:

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Special Event: K1A Live From The 53rd Annual Mid-Hudson R/C Jamboree & History of Flight Air Show

amateur radio remotecontrol plane

The Mid-Hudson Radio-Control Society will host the 53rd Annual R/C Jamboree September 6, 7 and 8. See well over 100 giant-scale radio control models of vintage aircraft flying all weekend from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM. 

The event is taking place at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome which is home to many vintage aircraft, including a flying reproduction of the Spirit of St. Louis.

The Aerodrome’s full-scale airshows will take place as usual on Saturday and Sunday from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM, but the morning will host a special event amateur radio station operating under call sign K1A thanks to our friends over at the Overlook Mountain Amateur Radio Club.

cq  cq

The K1A station will be making contact via the HF bands as well as via internet assisted digital voice. Details are as follows:

HF Voice (USB mode)

  • 21.300
  • 14.230 
  • 7.220 


  • Brandmeister Talk Group 31630,


  • N2HVD-R


  • Node 48878
Local Repeater
  • 146.805 (-0.6 shift, 103.5 Hz PL)

There will also be demonstrations involving digital text modes such as PSK31 on the 20m band.

Aviation enthusiasts from around the world may be on hand via DMR to talk with too thanks to the STEM talk group and the excellent convergence opportunity between the various hobbies involved it creates.

A generous $5 dollar discount is available to anyone holding an amateur radio license who would like to attend the event.  The address for the event is at 9 Norton Rd Rhinebeck, New York

Thursday, August 29, 2019

FiPy > Raspberry Pi: Wireless Rumble

Imagine 5 networks in one perfectly-formed, same-small-foot-print development board that is MicroPython enabled. The Pycom FiPy board includes WiFi, Bluetooth, LoRa, Sigfox and dual LTE-M (CAT M1 and NBIoT)  In one product, the FiPy gives access to all the world’s LPWAN networks on one tiny board.

Processing Details

  • Espressif ESP32 SoC
  • Dual processor and WiFi radio system on chip
  • Networking processor handles the WiFi connectivity and the IPv6 stack
  • Main processor is entirely free to run the user application
  • An extra ULP-coprocessor that can monitor GPIOs, the ADC channels and control most of the internal peripherals during deep-sleep mode while only consuming 25uA
  • 2 x UART, 2 x SPI, I2C, micro SD card
  • ANalog channels: 8_12 bit ADCs, 2_8 bit DAC
  • Timers: 2_64 bit with PWM with up to 16 channels
  • DMA on all peripherals and up to 22 GPIO
    Physical Interface Details

    Additional Details

    There is far too many great specifications to list, so have a look a look below for details.

    Ground Hog Day: Why does HVDN care?

    If we think about the last 100 years of wireless technology and development, amateur radio has often been closely aligned with the latest innovations and finding ways to leverage them across our globally aligned licensed spectrum. 

    Today,  far too many within the amateur radio ranks are complacent in only spending time with applications long since established and keep doing the same thing, over, and over, and over.

    While there is still much innovation taking place within amateur radio that the general public is not aware of, our goal within Hudson Valley Digital Network (HVDN) is to focus on what is next and find ways to bridge that back into our hobby interests.

    If we can share that with other communities such as those interested in programming, making and every possible convergence of hobbies ranging from agriculture to astronomy, that would be amazing

    So now what?

    Many of us involved in the formation of HVDN also work for a variety of well known technology organizations and somehow still find some time to unwind in our off hours in experimenting with new things. 

    The upcoming Pycom New York event on September 9th 2019 seemed a perfect way to dive in even further, so expect good detailed review of this fascinating workshop. 

    Spoiler alert

    Timing wise, this was also perfect as we have been busy experimenting with ways to leverage LoRa technology within amateur radio and how to integrate it in to many well known amateur radio related practices.  

    Be sure to watch this space closely as we transition much of our focus towards Micropython, IoT, LoRa and a few other related themes to keep up with the digital and innovation themes we have worked hard to build.  

    Upcoming Event Notice

    On October 24th 2019 at a soon to be determined location will be the first HVDN official involvement in "Open Source Hardware" month along with our good friends from "Squidwrench" where we collaborated on the oscilloscope build project earlier this year and HV Open, which offers great monthly presentations mostly around open source software.  

    P.S:  Would be nice if we could somehow get Bill Murray to attend since he still appears to live nearby within the Hudson Valley, even though his house is for sale. Kegger at Bill's? :) 

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