First DMR QSO!

Accomplished my first DMR QSO today with K5IMO (thank you Larry!) on the TG3184 (TalkGroup for the State of Texas). Thanks to KE5ZW & his DMR repeater located in Cedar Park, TX – 25 miles away, I was able to access the machine with the Connect Systems CS580. The local amateur radio club here in Austin that i’m involved with, the N5OAK, has decided to go forward with a DMR Repeater after much anticipation! I’m glad the club finally decided to go forward with DMR, as popularity has been growing as of late. Open Source is the main reason i’m hearing from a lot of folks on the reason for picking DMR. Not necessarily because they support Motorola, but C4FM is proprietary, and as such DMR kills C4FM in the “expand & evolve” department. I’m not saying i’ll stop using C4FM, it will have it’s place as long as the FTM400DR keeps kicking! I just like to dabble in different digital modes!

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I don’t want to be quick to jump the gun on audio quality with DMR, but the clarity was amazing even just using this handheld DMR radio that I recently picked up from Grapevine Amateur Radio. The radio is absolutely solid, then again, this is probably the best HT that i’ve owned to date coming from Baofengs & WLN’s! I usually don’t like monoband radios, no matter if their HT’s or HF radios, but apparently most DMR activity is on UHF in the U.S., however there are VHF repeaters out there too.

More to come on the radio after i’ve had a bit to use/evaluate it. I was pleased to find out that it accepts my Nagoya NA 771 antenna that I had on my Baofeng HT. It has an advertised gain figure of 2.5dBi (take that with a grain of salt though). It’s just a really good antenna that’s worked well for me.

na771

A huge thank you to KV5TX for helping me out with the radio & getting it up and running quickly so I could be on the air while I learn more about creating my own ‘codeplug’. Which is just another fancy word for programming file! The programming software is simple enough to use, some of the options/features still don’t make sense to me though. The operating manual is a bit dry as well too. I think I learned more from watching YouTube videos and asking questions to current users! There are a few DMR ‘etiquette’ videos out there too on YouTube to help you get acquainted with using this powerful system, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t making a goof out of myself getting on for the first time!

Interested in the quick specs? Here’s a quick shot of the specs taken from the CS580 manual:

cs580stats

Who knows… if DMR continues to become more popular,  I may want to have a bit more ‘capable’ radio in terms of more power & more features. There are a few options out there currently, including the CS800 from Connect Systems. An HT is a nice compromise though, using the adapter, i’m able to connect to my base station antenna which is a Tram 1480 VHF/UHF collinear antenna. The Motorola options out there just seem too expensive especially after the cost of the programming software. Connect Systems seems to have met the sweet spot on price for folks interested in getting their feet wet in DMR.

As I understand it, the use of Talk Groups is similar to Yaesu WIRES ‘Rooms’, though a bit different, which I still have yet to explore fully. Hoping to gain a better understanding through a bit of practice! There’s so much information out there it can be a bit overwhelming though, that’s when your local DMR expert comes in handy! Hoping to participate in some upcoming nets as well to listen to the experts!

Looking forward to many more DMR contacts & the expansion of this cool technology!

73

K5ACL

Using a GPS Repeater Antenna with the Yaesu FTM400DR

My Yaesu FTM-400DR has had a difficult time ascertaining a GPS lock inside of my vehicle. Some others have also complained of this, but when my radio is in my 2nd story shack @ home, or if its out in the open during field day, it picks up a signal relatively fast (<30 seconds usually). I’ve decided to keep the FTM400DR in the truck due to the interactive screen (as opposed to the plain ole TM-V71A’s face). I just found that having a touch screen in a vehicle can be really convenient, especially for quick adjustments when your stopped.

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On a trip out a few weeks ago, the FTM400DR took almost 30 minutes before it was able to get a lock. I figured it was the laptop blocking the signal, so I completely rotated it out of the way, but still no dice. Found another YouTube video by KC8MTV showcasing this GPS repeater antenna he found that just might be a good option.

I paid about $25 for quick shipping w/ Amazon, but you can find them cheaper on eBay (or possibly other retailers). If so, and you’d like to share, please comment below! I think this is a relatively easy and cheap enough fix.

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A GPS lock is not exactly necessary to do C4FM, but it is necessary for the APRS modem to start sending out your beacon. Plus it also puts some additional ‘neat’ factor in – when you know exactly how far away the other guy is! Even when it would get a lock on a signal, it would occasionally lose signal. So this device is a huge boost because of the external antenna having a clear view of the sky. My truck is essentially a big shield, this is why HT’s never work well with their attached antennas inside a vehicle. To add to the mix, my truck was tinted by an aftermarket guy, and I’m pretty certain it’s a metallic tint of some sort (as opposed to ceramic) which blocks signals even further. Putting the FTM-400DR on the dash, just wasn’t an option for me, that would’ve been the only ‘patch’ that I could apply, but with this, the unit has a clear view of the sky. I’m guessing this device could also provide a better GPS signal to your phone, but phones primarily use cell towers anyways to obtain a gps lock.

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The external antenna is magnetic, but I plan on mounting something under the unit to prevent the usual problems associated with mag mounts. We’ll see how long the unit lasts in the brutal Texas heat, i’ll have to keep an eye on it over the coming months. I’m tempted to silicone the coax attachment point better, as I see this as the only possible point of water ingress. The coax was thin enough that I was able to slide it in between the rear window and rubber seal, the coax was extremely long though, I had lots of excess so had to loop it up and stow it away. The wires really are starting to pile up in my truck, I’m determined to keep them neat and tidy though!

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As I understand it, the FTM-400XDR has an improved GPS antenna (it has an improved 66 channel GPS receiver) and doesn’t suffer from the same ailments, but even a good GPS antenna inside a shielded car will still suffer from occasional spottiness I imagine. I’m sure this is no new device to most, but I had no clue GPS repeater antennas existed, so I had to share!

73

K5ACL

 

High Altitude Balloon Tracking

This weekend I had the chance to checkout a high altitude balloon launch after noticing the following post over on the Reddit Amateur Radio Group:

“The Baylor Amateur Radio club has been working with Josh Ward, a Baylor Staff member and balloon enthusiast, to develop a payload for a balloon launch. The payload includes 4 go pro cameras, a cross band repeater, APRS tracking and a plethora of environmental sensors. It is our goal to reach 90,000 feet which would provide great coverage for the repeater. The launch is tentatively scheduled for tomorrow (November 26) at around 10am central from Comanche Texas. The exact time of the launch will depend on the local conditions and cloud cover and could be anywhere between 10am and 12n . The predicted track of the balloon has it going over the south side of with a predicted burst near Hwy 6 east of the loop. Those interested in live updates can subscribe to the remind.com system by going to

https://www.remind.com/join/starduster

Payload Details:

Repeater Info

Up: 146.540

Down: 445.550

PL 123.0


APRS:

Balloon – WA5BU-11


Chase: (simplex 147.555)

KK5KN-9 – Pat

N5WON-9 – Jacob

If you have a moment and are so inclined we would encourage you to listen in or follow us using APRS.

73’s de WA5BU”


I jumped on this opportunity because this is a project I’d like to complete one day! I hopped on my Kenwood TM-V71A and fired up my i-Gate using AGW Packet Engine & APRSIS32, but was unable to hear any packets coming from the balloon :(. I was able to track the balloons progress & the chasers throughout the event. The user interface on APRSIS32 is just so easy to use & very interactive, definitely my fav APRS software!


I tried reaching the input on the repeater, but was unable, heard they were using Baofengs on the input? Hey… I understand, gotta keep the cost down on these I’m sure. Imagine a dmr radio up there! Ha! I was able to pickup the output frequency throughout almost the whole event, albeit when it started to spin, issues popped up.

Josh Ward sent out the following images:


Apparently the balloon reached over 99,000 feet! Thats nuts! There were GoPro’s on board, APRS capability, Repeater coverage, environmental sensors, all packaged in this unit. I was able to spot one of Josh’ previous launches through the Waco Tribune: Waco ‘geek’ gets rare view of Earth with near space balloon launch. His first project was funded through Kickstarter – how cool is that!?

I was able to make simplex contact with AK4CM in San Antonio. When I first fired up the rig, I forgot to enter the PL tone for the repeater input & Cameron who was a bit north of San Antonio on a hill attempting to make contact with the balloon, heard me call out on 146.540. So thanks Cameron! All in all it was fun to track & listen to the qso’s going on through the repeater output, hopefully one day I can attend the launch of one of these things, better yet, track one! Hey, if this is as close as I can get to being a storm tracker, i’ll take it! 😛

Big thanks to Josh Ward & the Baylor Amateur Radio Club, for including the amateur radio community in such an event! Hopefully there are more cool pics & video coming! Here is his balloon launch in 2014:

 

73

K5ACL

Kenwood TM-V71A DIY Extension Cable Kit

I just did a quick search on the internet, and the cheapest I was able to find a Kenwood PG-5F extension cable kit was $64.95…. Which by the way would come with an extra power cord, I wouldn’t even need.

Wait, what? $65 dollars for some short lengths of cable and some ferrites & couplers? No thanks…

Luckily, Kenwood’s cables can be easily recreated, because they use the standard RJ-45 connector found on the ends of most CAT networking cables. STP (shielded twisted pair) is a bit harder to find than UTP (unshielded twisted pair) due to the cost of STP. The RJ-45 couplers were about a buck each, and I already had the snap on ferrites.

I tested it out on all power settings and got no reports of weird audio, or rf bleeding through onto my signal like some others have reported, and I have still yet to replace the mic cable with STP, rather than UTP. Maybe STP wasn’t even needed? I figured using shielded cables in any kind of RF situation is the way to go anyways. Hoping to shorten the lengths of CAT cable once I find someone with a RJ-45 networking tool. Check out the video here:

 

Having fun with Yaesu FTM-400DR

So I decided to throw the discone antenna back up this time in the attic, I suspended it from the rafters until I can get my j pole up.

There was a minor geomagnetic storm this morning, and apparently VHF was even affected:

 

Really enjoying the FTM-400DR, love the TFT touch screen. You can even send digital messages with this radio (not sure if i’ll ever have the need for that function, but Yaesu even has a hand mic with a camera built in to it!) Too cool! The bandscope is a nice function, but it is a tad slow to react to the signals, still very nice to have built into a 2m base station. I downloaded the Yaesu software for this model & the driver & all worked well on my windows computer. I’ve also heard of folks using WSPR with their 2m/70cm base stations, I wasn’t able to find this radio in the WSPR program though.

So onto my 2m/70cm antenna options… apparently the discone has no gain, a j pole has no gain, my next option would be to run a vertical, but then I imagine i’d need to run ground wires of some sort. I’ll stick with what I have for now, I need to get on simplex & get some signal reports from some fellow hams around town, more to come on those reports!

This radio is also capable of WIRES-X. But i’d need to purchase an additional piece of equipment, the HR-210, which is almost another $135 as of today’s writing. I think i’ll pass, would have been nice if that feature was included on the radio, but wishful thinking 🙂 So far i’ve been using just 5w and i’m able to reach into the local repeater no problem. This radio is also capable of 25w, & 50w. which I usually reserve for simplex testing or to reach distant repeaters. 2m/70cm repeaters are pretty thick in Central Texas it seems, I can easily ping 80-90 repeaters (both 2m & 70cm).