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Sunday, October 14, 2018

NEAR-FEST: What is under the tarp?

Since 2006, amateur radio operators, electronics hobbyists and camping enthusiasts have been making the pilgrimage to New England to experience an interesting two day long event known as "NEAR-FEST"


What is under the tarp you ask?  Some interesting electronics with a military
history for sale at the 24th NEAR-FEST in Deerfield, NH on October 12-13th 2018

Held twice annually, every spring and fall at the the Deerfield Fairgrounds has been the home of a unique event called NEAR-FEST.
Part electronic swap meet, educational session, casual gathering, food destination and opportunity to purchase brand new and interesting radio related equipment offers a little of something for everyone in the family.
Over the years, the New England Amateur Radio Festival has attracted those from both far and wide.

The October 2018 edition was no exception with those spotted from Quebec, Ontario, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Japan, Haiti, Puerto Rico and of course the entirety of the North Eastern United States!
Event attendees can camp on site in a tent, roll up in an RV or camper or stay at any number of area hotels. 
This makes it a very convenient "ham fest" as compared to other amateur radio or even "maker" oriented events.


New England Tech Trek gives another reason to not leave NEAR-FEST too early
if you are not interested in purchasing something which is one of the
top reasons to go to a "fester" like this bi-annual event 

There is no need for every attendee to contend with an early morning drive or risk there getting late out of fear vendors will pack up early.  Once someone is at NEAR-FEST, they are generally there for a while.
Everything from food, ATM machines and restrooms are available to prevent people from leaving 

Helpful NEAR-FEST Tips

It is recommended however, to bring a backpack to hang on to anything acquired at the "fester".  A bottle of water, comfortable shoes, various batteries, rain repellent are recommended to have on hand too.

Need a rain jacket before going to NEAR-FEST?  L.L Bean h
as you covered at its various nearby outlet locations.
Most of these "forgotten" supplies however can be purchased at an L.L Bean Outlet in nearby Concord or Nashua.  This may be especially of interest to those with interests such as QRP kayak portable, SOTA or other converged ham radio/other stuff sort of activities. 
Over the past years, more commercial vendors both at NEAR-FEST and other similar events take credit card payment, so save your cash to support the tail gate community.
Also, if going with friends, agree on what "secret channel" to use and program a few options in advance to your hand held radio of choice.  All of the common "simplex" channels may be in use, but its still good to have those programmed too.

Frequency Suggestions for NEAR-FEST

If you have a DMR radio, the NEDECN has pre-populated code plugs for all area repeaters of interest to NEAR-FEST attendees.

All you need to add are your simplex and "secret" channels along with configuring them in the correct zone, scan list or receive group. Some "amateur radio" suggestions include:
  • Standard FM analog frequencies such as 146.520, 146.535, 146.550, 146.580, 446.000 and 446.500 with no PL tone.
  • Digital voice DMR frequencies such as 145.510, 145.790, 446.075 and 445.925 saved with TG 99, TS1, CC1. 
  • Your own "secret channel" using FM analog, DMR or some other mode like Fusion or D-Star on 433.0125, 433.920, 147.030 or 223.500
Various DMR radios by Anytone, TYT, Vertex, Motorola and a few others can
easily be programmed for NEAR-FEST thanks to NEDECN's informative website


You can also try one of the "unlicensed" channels for FRS and MURS in order to include your not yet licensed amateur radio friends. A great radio for events like this are the Xiaomi Mijia with smart location sharing reviewed in the past on HVDN.



This inexpensive radio not only is a great discussion topic, but also serves dual purpose for both amateur radio and unlicensed operation in one friendly looking design. No internet is needed for this to work, compared to trying to share location with Google Maps or verbally explaining your location over the radio.

Time To Learn & Get Edu-ma-cated... 

An exciting addition to NEAR-FEST recently is the second annual New England Tech Trek or NE(T)².

This mostly hands on educational event engages children as young as 8 years old all the way up to and beyond the age of 80 years old.

For those not familiar with amateur radio and its infinite list of complexities, NE(T)² helps capture some of what amateur radio is all about to prospective "hams", existing hams or those newly licensed thanks to exam sessions also available at NEAR-FEST.
This year, New England Tech Trek showcased a range of well known habits of the amateur radio hobby that have seen modern changes as well as purely new and innovative applications and technologies relevant to any communications focused hobbyist.
NEAR-FEST XXIV Report

Friday October 12th and Saturday October 13th were the planned days for attendees to enjoy the event and rain only impacted part of Saturdays festivities before the event officially came to a close at 3:00 PM Eastern Time.

Inside three buildings were vendors of brand new equipment and small components. Outside and scattered between various food stalls were tail gate and "tent gate" vendors selling everything from surplus "militaria",  antennas, computers, rechargeable batteries, VHF/UHF radios, HF amplifiers, microphones and test equipment.

Some of the commercial vendors or service providers at NEAR-FEST XXIV included:
Not Just "For Sale" Stuff

There also were organizations focused on various parts of amateur radio visibility scattered throughout these rain proof building to help raise awareness of different parts of the amateur radio community that are built upon like minded members.

The Nashua Area Radio Society was just one of the
organizations that made the NE(T)2 event possible at NEAR-FEST XXVI


Was the ARRL there?

Aside from the expected ARRL attendance via a small table, other leadership and influencers were at NEAR-FEST also making a much larger presence known.

One of the non-commercial sellers had a monitor
that said "My wife said to take all reasonable offers" 


Key organizations present included one of the longest operating female oriented amateur radio clubs called YLRL which showcased its bi-monthly newsletter called YL Harmonics.

Niece, KA1ULN  was enthusiastic to engage with those who braved the weather to attend NEAR-FEST XXVI and it was great to meet her in person.

A national women's only amateur radio organization promoting the hobby since 1934


Booths for various geographic focused clubs such as White Mountain Amateur Radio Club, Nashua Area Radio Society, and the New England Digital Emergency Communications Network to name just a few helped make this a great way to decide who else to spend precious "membership" dollars with too.

Many of these organizations use NEAR-FEST as a great way for its membership to see each other in person as well as to raise funds for club activities through the sale of surplus member equipment, spare parts and even member driven projects.

Craig, N1SFT, oversaw some VYL (Very Young Ladies) complete
a small kit that required soldering 

Pictures, please!

The mixed smell of pine needles and grilled pepper & sausage sandwiches permeated the damp fall air across the fair ground which added to the overall great atmosphere by a well run and planned event by those responsible.
Thank you for all your hard work and effort for yet another NEAR-FEST!
Here are some further photos and commentary related to the event.

Most Curious Antenna Award

At the fall NEAR-FEST of 2016, Steve K2GOG (Co-Founder of HVDN) was seen walking around with a high gain 2.4 GHz antenna which attracted a lot of attention.  For the asking price of $5, it was hard to pass that up. This can be found on his QRZ.com profile page

This year, he was on the look out for something else very interesting to add to the antenna collection, but decided to pass on this 900 MHz corner reflector antenna based on its size and price. This could have been easily modified for 440 MHz, 1.2 GHz or maybe even a lawn chair!



Best Convergence Hobby Tailgate Vendor Award

There is much to say about this photo ranging from the precision GPS antenna attached to the roof of the Toyota RAV4 with the license plate of  "Hiker" to the bumper sticker that could relate to the load of vintage test equipment or his other favorite activity that is not ham radio

Hiker Trash:  Certainly, you wont win any feather-lite
pack tips if trying to take any of this gear out on the trail
Most Popular NE(T)² Discussion Topic Award

Anything to do with satellite operation was a big topic of interest inside the NE(T)² as well as outside. The impressive antenna array used for satellite communication demo  that made use of crossed polarization  14 element 435 MHz Yagi, 7 element 145 MHz Yagi and a 20 element 1200 MHz Yagi on a azimuth/elevation rotator. This is one impressive (and expensive) antenna system!

This impressive satellite communications array is capable of receiving
very weak signals as well as for transmitting very high power for
long range line of site communication


On a much more simple and cheaper scale was the Elk Log Periodic antenna found inside the NE(T)² building. T\

This much less expensive but effective antenna can be used to make contact through low earth orbit satellites such as those covered in the popular "Amateur Satellite Basics: Where, When & What to listen for" article from March 2018.

Not to be left out with all the satellite communication focus is a
high altitude balloon presentation at the right of the small crowd.


Digital Mobile Radio Robustness Network Award

The New England Digital Emergency Communications Network connects over 80 different repeater sites over much of the north eastern United States in order to create a very robust communications network.  The KM3T and W1RCF repeaters located on the fun to (mis)pronounce Mount Uncanoonuc  are part of DMR-MARC which is a different network than the popular Brandmeister network.


Both DMR networks are mostly able to talk to one another though due to great interoperability between those responsible for these tremendous contributions to modern amateur radio communities globally.   NEDECN had many radios on display such as the popular Anytone AT-D868UV along with some Motorola equipment for sale by one of NEDECN's members.
NEDECN did a fantastic job or promoting DMR at NEAR-FEST and they even operated a repeater for NEAR-FEST communications.
Reach For The Sky Award

Any time a number of amateur radio enthusiasts gather is the time to see who has the largest antenna on a car.  Here is one example of an HF mobile operator with a 8 foot long vertical antenna on a station wagon. License plates have been blanked out to protect the identity of this super ham-heros!



The Not Just Ham Radio Presentation Award (Tie!)

Computer and Maker enthusiasts were represented by a presentation about what can be done with a Raspberry Pi.



And, for those looking to get out and do something fun with a Raspberry Pi or antenna project can experience hidden transmitter locating or "Fox Hunting".
A very effective directional antenna can be constructed out of PVC pipes, hose clamps and a measuring tape.


The Last Picture Award 

With the weather getting a little more wet on Saturday, even the "hard core" military ham radio crowd started to pack up early.


Mystery Picture Award


Care to take a guess as to what this is? Sound off in the comments...


Thursday, October 11, 2018

SDR: Let's Walk To The Space Station?

I had high aspirations on Wednesday to do a base-band SDR recording of a scheduled International Space Station (ISS) contact with a school in Ashford,  Connecticut. 


Burger Hill at Drayton Grant Park Rhinebeck, NY 12572

The weather was nice, so I decided to trudge up the measly 550 feet of Burger Hill for amazing views and to maybe cross paths with a passersby or two interested in what I was up to with my collection of equipment. 
What is a base-band recording?  Think of it like recording a television show with a DVR or VCR.  The only difference is a base-band recording lets you record a wide block of spectrum say from 162 to 163 MHz and be able to point and click on any activity received for later playback. This would be like recording multiple movies, news and sitcoms on different channels all at the same time.

Bummer: Well, no activity from the ISS on 145.800 MHz at 14:39 PM ET (1839 UTC). 

As it turns out, the ISS contact was cancelled at the last minute due to an experiment in the Columbus module that would have prevented the use of the functional radio in that part of the space station. 
The radio to be used was actually considered the spare radio as the main radio after years of service no longer is functional.  A replacement is supposed to be sent up before the end of 2018.
I only found out about this change of schedule on a Facebook Group that I joined once I got home which is more up to date than all my usual sources such as the official ARISS Project website, AMSAT mailing lists and various NASA pages.

Serena Auñón-Chancellor, KG5TMT preparing the
NanoRacks Cubesat Deployer-14

This just goes to show that social media is still the best spot for breaking news!

Looking on the bright side...

All was not lost though. Not many minutes later at 15:02 ET was a pass of the elderly SO-50 satellite and I quickly made a contact with Tom, K8TL in grid EM89, 500+ miles away from me in FN31 thanks to this "repeater in the sky".
All that was needed was 1 watt of transmit power & a directional antenna! 
However, the down-link for the SO-50 satellite is centered on 436.795 MHz and there was someone using digital voice on that frequency which made it hard to make more contacts as SO-50 reached its apex and started to move out of range.

I did not have a DMR capable radio with me, but I am pretty sure that is what mode it was and it was local versus coming from the satellite. 
Listen:  Do you hear a "digital sound" on 436.795 MHz?
Trespasser!!

No hot spot or repeater stations appeared listed on Brandmeister on that frequency in the satellite band, so it could be some joker or ill informed amateur about the suggested ARRL and ITU band plan just intentionally interfering. Rhinebeck is pretty much far away from any "majorly" strong out of band signals that could have interfered, so it had to be an amateur radio operator.

I knew the signal was also local because if it was somehow coming in from SO-50 by someone transmitting DMR on the VHF up-link of 145.850 MHz, it would have come from the direction of the satellite and not from another direction to my south west at a "terrestrial" elevation.

This sort of interference makes me sad because 436.795 MHz is well known for over 16 years that this is where SO-50 transmits back to earth on.
There are plenty of other frequencies that can be used for digital voice that would not interfere with those interested in satellite communications.
Lets change the subject back to base-band

While I was at the great location of Burger Hill, I decided to do a 30 second base band recording of the weather band from 162-163 though should anyone wish to test it out since every NWS channel is in use from that location.

A "Normal" Recording:

A center frequency of 162.475999 MHz with a bandwidth of 15 kHz can easily be recorded and played back using pretty much any audio player, but only just that one frequency can be heard. The file size is 1.9 MB. Play: Standard AF Recording (1.9 MB)

Play: Standard AF Recording (1.9 MB)

A "Base-band" Recording: 


Compared to the "Standard AF Recording", the base-band recording for the same 30 seconds is 60.9 MB or 3105% larger. However, you can listen to any signal of any bandwidth in any mode across the entire 162 to 163 MHz captured for 30 seconds.

SDR# will help you visualize the entire 1 MHz wide
recording without needing a radio

In order to play the base-band file, you can not use a regular audio application or otherwise the sound might sound like an Imperial Probe Droid from Star Wars.
Play/Download:  IQ Base Band File (60.9 MB)

If you are a Star Wars fan, you know the
audio I reference from Echo Base on the ice planet Hoth

Ham Solo: Return of the SDR#

Download and install the popular SDR# program and select the "IQ File" option as shown. 
Then navigate to where the "IQ Base-band File" was saved and press play in SDR#


From the Burger Hill location and its good line of site, multiple weather stations were received as well as a few other signals not related to the weather.

nws noaa 162.475
Hudson Valley National Weather Service (NWS) stations
broadcasting 24/7 on the 162 MHz spectrum

Hopefully this article gave you a taste of a few interesting things you can do with amateur radio or use equipment for a dual purpose unrelated just to ham radio.

Next time there is a planned live ISS contact receivable from the Hudson Valley, we will definitely try to get that recording, just as long as the astronauts do not get busy at the last minute! 



Friday, October 05, 2018

Review: A Crappy $40 "Smart Watch"

Two months ago while scrolling through recent Facebook activity, one of those embedded advertisements jumped out at me regarding a smart watch.
After careful review of the product description at the time, I figured for $40.79 USD, it was worth the gamble. Low expectations were set from the start....
Here is a product review of the "Radiance Z3" and to possibly save you the read, what a bloody disappointment this purchase was and totally not worth the long shipping time from China!!

Note: This has no "ham radio" or "electronic maker" relevance since that is what most of HVDN's content focuses around, but should be of interest to anyone who loves cheap electronics and making them do something other than intended (maybe)!

What was advertised included:
  • Wireless charging
  • IP67 water resistance
  • Standalone GPS
  • Rotatable bezel for navigation
  • Embedded cellular connectivity
  • Fitness tracking functions
  • Outdoor view-able display
  • 3 different band colors!!!
None of these features were included, save for cellular connectivity.

All is not lost....

However, pairing over Bluetooth works just fine to initiate wrist worn phone calls via the watch's built in speaker. If I put a SIM card in the provided slot, this smart watch could also make calls on its own over a 3G network.

There is also a built in camera to take pictures with the watch, do remote shutter from a smartphone and play music stored on a user supplied SD card.
So, I figured even though this smart watch was not what was advertised, it still may have a sort of  "If it breaks, no big deal" value to it. 
However, the back casing of the watch is the biggest piece of crap imagined and would worry about it falling off - even with it secured on my wrist. It is friction fit to hold it on which means no claimed water or dust resistance.

The 32GB SD card was not included in the purchase of this smart watch, for the record.
So, now it is time to go back to the "Do not buy crap via Facebook, Instagram, etc websites at 12:00 AM!!" strategy I usually employ.  CAVEAT EMPTOUR!!

VGA camera resolution in all its 320x240 glory.

While doing a search for some other info for this review since I did not want to spend much time on this myself, I came across this nice video on YouTube not available when I purchased this item  that pretty much nails everything bad about this product.
Without a deep dive analysis, I am pretty sure this is nothing more than a poorly copied knock off version of the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier smartwatch minus all the more expensive components and better overall user experience.
So give it a view and prepare to be NOT amazed!! This product is now a well documented scam and this review being one of many. 





Thursday, October 04, 2018

The Official "NOT" Review of the Alinco MD-5 Series

The Alinco MD-5 series of DMR radio first appeared as a "Coming Soon" model in 2017.

Not long ago, official "for sale" release dates were announced by vendors such as GigaParts, Universal Radio and DX Engineering as being late October 2018, early and late November 2018.



Some vendors made a pre-order wait list available to help understand product demand and guess what?
The first Alinco MD-5TGP's have not only started to appear in the United States in late September, but have already sold out!
First is the worst, second is the best?

HVDN has been lucky to secure one of the first batch of radios and will be a source of  a detailed review inside and out as we did with the TYT MD-UV380 Part 1 and Part 2.

However, we will not release this until it is supposed to be officially for sale later this month or possibly early November once market supply of the product is stable and potentially available to everyone.


The now FCC certified the Alinco MD-5 series as covered in our
article "FLASH NEWS!: Alinco MD-5 Series Cleared by FCC" on September 10th 2018.
Tariffs, Certification & Type Acceptance Situation

Lately in the news, there has been an FCC ruling that states:
"Two-Way VHF/UHF radios may not be  imported, advertised, or sold in the United States unless they comply with the commission's rules"
Moreover, this also pertains to the actual users of these radios as well.  The full text of  FCC Public Notice DA-18-980 can be found here.


FCC import rules ham radio


HVDN wants to focus on being purely neutral and objective and takes no political leanings, but this FCC ruling is related to the long list of Chinese imports affected by the 1,333 product categories reduced from a much larger list proposed in Docket Number USTR-2018-0026.  

Where could I NOT get one?

Based on some vendor polling the day this article was posted, at least 350 units of Alinco's MD-5TGP have been sold in the US and were imported directly or through some other means rather than the official distribution channels most vendors usually adhere to.

So, how were these radios imported into the United States and able to be sold to amateur radio operators is the big question.

Give a listen to some of the popular DMR talk groups and chances are that you might just hear someone using one of the 350 or so radios that have supposedly already been sold in the US.

DMR talk groups ham radio burning man
Looking at the "Call Statistics" page on Brandmeister can help users
determine when may be the best time to find activity on interestingly focused
talk groups such as "Burning Man" , "Reddit" or "The Guild"

There have already been a few people in the Ohio, California and Texas areas that have made it known that they have one of these radios "On The Air", but do not seem to really know what they have or do they?

Impacts on the US Amateur Radio Community

Even though Alinco is a Japanese company, there are Chinese origin components and manufacturing  related to the Alinco MD-5 and thus affected not only by impending tariff laws but also by  US law on what equipment is permissible to be operated by an amateur radio operator within the amateur radio spectrum in the United States right now as of October 4th 2018.

Is this one reason for the delay from manufacturer to distribution to re-sellers and finally into the hands of end users?

Third is the one with the hairy chest!

The amateur radio punchline to the rhyme is that right now it is:

100% illegal to use the Alinco MD-5 by amateur radio operators in the United States because even though it has FCC certification, it is not Part 15 type accepted and able to be used under Part 97 rules.
This radio and many others like it are capable of transmission outside the amateur radio spectrum making them "technically" only operable by those with a commercial license.

Users covered under an umbrella license such as those for public safety, schools, businesses or some other organization that has permission to operate on certain licensed frequencies are not amateur radio related, so why are amateur radio vendors selling this radio to those not properly licensed to transmit with it?

Even if you are one of those people who hold a "General Radio Operator License" or "GROL", that will not allow you to use this radio currently on amateur radio frequencies.

FCC Rules

Part 15 certification mostly deals with radios capable of "scanning" or wide frequency operation. Part 95 is focused on certification for little to no interference to other devices. Part 97 pertains to amateur radio governance.

These are just high level summaries of a few FCC rules that often come up in amateur radio discussion.

At some later date, the Alinco MD-5 will likely be properly certified, so maybe there is nothing to worry about, or is there?

Competing single and dual band DMR radios of foreign origin that were previously
reviewed in our "Comparison of Entry Level DMR Radios (2017 Edition)"

Certain vendors such as Retevis, TYT, Radioddity, Baofeng and others seem to already by looking for loop holes to still sell radios in the US and for users to remain in compliance of US law. These loopholes include setting up US address headquarters as noted in relation to the BTECH 6X2 and also that the Radioddity GD-77 was just a re-branded TYT model

Alinco clearly is trying to do the right thing through certification, but will it succeed as it relates to Part 15, 95 and 97? Chances are it will and this could be a reason why Kenwood, Icom and Yaesu have not yet tried to sell a DMR capable radio because they will likely also want to do it 100% the right way also.


The Virtual Green Wire

Up through the mid to late 1990's any radio sold in the United States and marketed towards the amateur radio community could not have any "out of the box" capability to transmit outside the FCC Part 97 spectrum which overs amateur radio.

Some radios also had/have restrictions covered under Part 15, 47, 80, 90, 95 to reduce the ability to receive certain frequencies as well as to transmit on frequencies licensed to other services such as marine VHF, MURS (154MHz), FRS, GMRS, and CB frequencies in the US.

Many vendors had simple modifications that could allow "out of band" transmit capability and were often called the MARS/CAP modification.  Clipping a certain color wire or soldering two or more pads together are all it took to enable this functionality.  

With Military Affiliate Radio Service (MARS) or Civil Air Patrol (CAP) no longer permitting radios not capable of narrow band (N-FM) or tight frequency tolerance (<0.5 PPM) operation for digital modes, most "modified" radios while possible to operate out of the amateur bands could no longer be officially used under MARS/CAP because of how those two service changed how the treat the use of radio equipment.

Have a look at websites such as Mods.dk and other clones of it that share helpful tips on how to modify radios for different manufacturer unintended features.

Has any vendor been in trouble?

Back when Radio Shack was in operation, they got in major trouble for releasing a radio named the HTX-204 that was so easy to modify, it got pulled from stores in less than a week and most of the stock was physically destroyed.

Since that time in 1997, there has not been such an infraction, so how have certain vendors avoided the same issue since?

The HTX_204 is considered a rate collectors item
thanks to its "easy modification" to allow out of band operation


Baofeng was one of the first Chinese radio companies to sell inexpensive analog radios in the US and were capable of "out of band" operation with no modification and there was also no easy way to restrict operation to only the amateur radio bands.

With many of the DMR radios, they come fully capable to operate out of the amateur band, but can be restricted in the software to only amateur radio spectrum.

The very popular TYT MD-380 is one such radio that can be restricted this way through modification of one file that can then be uploaded to the radio. This was partially covered in the past "Radioddity GD-77: Frequency Expansion".

In mid 2018, it has been rumored that a slightly different version of this TYT radio has started to turn up with some sort of "changes" but has not been verified by HVDN. Could this be part of a start to better control radios being sold to the amateur radio community?

The Alinco MD-5TGP right now is being sold by amateur radio vendors and clearly we know who is buying these radios.  

However, this Alinco radio is not being marketed by the sellers to the amateur radio community. One vendor explicitly states:


Other vendors do not have this clause, so what we will likely learn when HVDN does its official review includes:

  • Is the Alinco MD-5 radio able to only transmit between 144-148 MHz and 420-450 MHz in the US and receive on other frequencies such as the rest of the 136-174 MHz and 400-480 MHz range?
  • How easy is it to "front panel program" the Alinco MD-5 or can you only do this in software only?
  • Are there are "green wires" that need be be clipped physically or virtually in the MD-5?
  • Anything magically different inside the Alinco MD-5 compared to other DMR radios?

HVDN will publish the first part of the Alinco MD-5TGP the first week of November and a second part shortly there after.

Register for updates to not miss
                                 this and other HVDN Notebook articles


Tuesday, October 02, 2018

October 2018 Global Digital Repeater Round Up

It is truly amazing to see such tremendous growth in digital voice modes the last two years.

What started for Steve K2GOG in 2016 as a theory can now further be validated by fact. DMR was the right technology to invest in as it relates to amateur radio digital voice technology.

In October 2016, he presented an overview of competing digital voice standards at one of the local Hudson Valley of New York amateur radio clubs located in Ulster County. 

Since that point in time, he has taken 4 probes of the total number of repeater counts globally as well as for those just across New York State.

The current global state of just what will be now further defined as "wide area digital repeaters" has seen DMR grow an amazing 78.03% in a two year span. 

Wide area repeaters are one of the best ways to measure growth of digital voice mode adoption because the equipment needed is expensive.  Repeaters usually are only worth the investment if users have appropriate equipment that can access them.

So, a little of "what comes first, the chicken or the egg" scenario usually happens when it comes to repeater deployments.

The N2MCI DMR repeater in Kingston, NY has a core coverage
area in red and extended coverage area in green.
Since repeaters can be expensive and are designed to reach a wide audience of users typically located in a 30 to 60 mile radius, the operators of repeaters typically list these infrastructure resources on the repeaterbook.com website to make it easy for amateur radio users to find out what repeaters may be worth programming into hand held or mobile radios.

The repeaterbook.com website is not 100% perfect as a data source, but comes pretty close to chart growth patterns of amateur radio repeater deployments

The below chart shows the other major digital voice mode repeaters globally at various points in time over the last 2 years.


DMR:  Reasons Why It Grew The Most

Before we get to DMR, lets explore the second highest globally adopted digital voice mode known as Yaesu Fusion.

After a few years of being on the market alongside the Icom D-Star system, both vendors offered comparably priced digital voice equipment and few options to choose from.

The average cost of a digital voice capable hand held radio was just above $300 back in 2016.  This inhibited adoption of Fusion and has certainly had a negative impact on Icom D-Star.

FT-70DR review
The Yaesu FT-2DR when released in 2015/2016 was priced at $379. The 2018 FT-70DR which
also offers Fusion and less robust enhanced features found on the FT-2DR is only $169.99. Currently there are 3 Fusion dual band handheld radios for sale compared to 2 Icom D-Star models

In 2018, Yaesu released the FT-70 dual band FM and Fusion radio which is currently priced at well under $200. This is one reason that made it easier to adopt Fusion thanks to more aligned features and pricing to help it catch up to DMR which has mostly had lower priced equipment from the start.

Prior to Yaesu releasing this moderately priced FT-70 hand held radio, they also released some nicely priced mobile radios as well to help build out the overall ecosystem of Fusion capable radios available for purchase.  Icom in comparison has not done this.

This should partially explain the flat growth of Icom D-Star compared to Yaesu Fusion.

Getting Back To DMR

DMR is an open ETSI standard which made it easier for vendors to offer a product at a good price without having to pay to license technology such as D-Star which is majority owned by the Japanese Amateur Radio League. 

In October 2016, Fusion and DMR had just about the same number of repeaters globally and almost grew at the same pace until mid to late 2017. In 2018, things are clearly different with DMR.



With more dual band DMR options available both in hand held and mobile radio design, users have certainly taken notice and likely helped influence DMR repeater deployments.

As of October 2018, there are now 5 different manufacturers of dual band hand held radios and a few more models spread among them. Examples include:



What about NXDN and P25?

NXDN and P25 are aimed at commercial users, but the amateur radio community has started to use surplus or retired equipment within the VHF and UHF amateur spectrum.

Adoption is low, but its still too early to tell if either of these options in the next 3-5 years will replace DMR as it relates to amateur radio.


Predictions for 2019 Digital Voice Ham Radio

Hopefully this is not going too far out on a limb, but here are the predictions for the coming year.

Alinco was the first main stream vendor to offer a DMR radio with its MD-40, but saw little adoption due to price compared to similar radios like the MD-380.



Alinco's new MD-5 looks like it will be a winner based on features and price and may get the later adopters interested in DMR in case they do not trust some of these newer vendors listed above.

It has been rumored that Alinco, Connect Systems and possibly one other vendor will offer new dual band mobile radios in 2019 as well which will likely go over well globally.

Excluding hotspot devices, network radios and cross connect systems which will all be covered in future articles, it seems that DMR is as close to an FM analog replacement technology within amateur radio.
Perhaps Icom, Yaesu or Kenwood will release a DMR radio in 2019 based on market demand and lost opportunity.
What do you think are some likely predictions for digital voice repeaters or radios in 2019?





Open Hardware Summit 2018 Recap

This past week in Boston was the Open Hardware Summit on the beautiful campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

An estimated 340 people attended based on the number of filled seats for the great presentations that were scheduled across the day.

Alex Camilo and Michael Welling helped create this amazing open source design for an attendee name badge.
OSH Park and Screaming Circuits helped bring this into reality for OHS 2018

Beyond the 17 scheduled educational sessions at the MIT Stratton Student Center, there were also two separate areas for event sponsor demonstrations.

Open Hardware Summit 2018 Highlights

Every attendee received a keepsake "hackable" name tag that includes Wi-Fi connectivity for users to customize the E-Ink display, just like the ones found on the popular Amazon Kindle or in shelf edge displays at Kohl's department store.

More badge functionality can be accessed or enabled by built in FTP or serial connection thanks to the embedded MicroPython based programming along with some additional add on boards also provided to attendees of OHS2018. Other features include temperature sensing, different display fonts, color changing LED lights and SD card storage to name just a few.

The design files, firmware and more details are available on GitHub.  

Additionally, a bag full of goodies including a Particle.io Photon board, DigiKey ruler, stickers, notebooks and a number of other open source circuit projects were given to each attendee too.

Since a few members of HVDN were in attendance for the official event, here are our collective thoughts on the overall OHS2018 experience.

MIT Stratton Student Center was home to the 2018 Open Hardware Summit

Wednesday Evening Pre-OSHWA Networking & Attendee Swag Bag Assembly Gathering

Held at the premier "maker" space in Boston - Artisan's Asylum hosted tours of the member space and was also the backdrop for a pizza party to fuel the volunteers assisting with the assembly of swag bags for attendees of the next day official event.

Pictures of the pre-event have been withheld to protect the identities of all involved since adult beverages may have been also consumed along side the unique veggie crust pizza

The Artisan Asylum was not just home to electronic hobbyist "makers", but others interested
in all sorts of other design projects such as this rather interesting creation.
More about Artisan's Asylum can be found here
This casual gathering with a purpose was a great way to meet others involved in open source projects with pure hobby backgrounds or a blend of commercial and hobbyist areas of focus.

Thursday OSH2018  Event Sponsor Demo Highlights

There were two separate areas for event sponsors to setup demonstrations and talk with attendees of the event.  This staggered approach made it possible for all attendees to roam around the entire event rather than just stay put in one space.  Some of the sponsors that the HVDN team met with included:

  • Import larger component databases from semiconductor manufacturers through vendors such as DigiKeySparkFun and even more module based offerings.
  • Easier ability to create custom components and pin-out labeling
  • Enhanced trace and layout tools known as "FANOUT"
  • New digital and analog testing tools 
A more detailed explanation and description of updates for version 9.2.0 can be found at http://eagle.autodesk.com/eagle/release-notes   
Many hobbyists seem to have adopted the open source KiCad software or the more simplistic virtual bread-boarding Fritzing program recently, but maybe EAGLE should be reevaluated again by some in the hobby community.

EAGLE is one of many CAD (Computer Assisted Design) programs for those
 interested in EDA (Elecronics Design Automation)

HVDN PERSPECTIVE: As a long time EAGLE user myself looking at alternatives in recent months, faith is now further restored in EAGLE (for now!!) as a commercial oriented program with a great freemium offering for hobbyists or students on a limited budget.
  • Tindie.com - Nice discussion about how Tindie can help its sellers reach an audience looking to purchase or experience authentic products rather than foreign copied versions. 
Plus, how Tindie can help individual sellers better manage customer contact and support. Products such as the N5BOC duplex board that HVDN reviewed can be found on Tindie for example directly benefit by value offered by this online store which is part of SupplyFrame.
Ever wonder how much money gets spent by hobbyist "makers"? 
Here is a view into Japan only spending power. Please note this slide was provided by a
charismatic bunny ear wearing attendee of OSH2018 and is not related to Tindie.com
  • Great Scott Gadgets - Fantastic discussion with the founder of this company (Michael Ossmann) behind products such as the HackRF One SDR platform, YardStick One and an exciting new product aimed at those looking for a peripheral expansion solution for I/O over USB called the GreatFET.
Learn more about the GreatFET by having a look
at the Great Scott Gadgets website.

Further discussion about other products such as sensor based products similar to the HVDN remote field strength project currently under redesign to accommodate a different Wi-Fi module. This to me was one of the highlights of the event in meeting Michael and talking "shop" about similar topics of interest.
  • Red Hat - Handing out premium T-Shirts to those interested in Linux and IoT edge, core compute, or other open source related projects that can harness this robust operating system as an alternative to Microsoft Windows, Apple macOS or other Linux distributions such as Debian or Ubuntu.
OHS2018 HVDN open source hardware software design CAD open source
Open Hardware Summit logo combines a few common electronic hobbyist components
to form an interesting design to promote the mission and focus of the open hardware community.
Learn more at https://www.oshwa.org/

  • OSH Park - One of the best and US domestic provider of circuit board production services. Very valuable insight on working better with them for various projects and design tips to maximize hobbyist dollars. OSH Park is also known as the "purple board" guys, so that may give a hint as to whom HVDN is working with for some of its current and future projects.
Production space for the 300 attendee badges was made available at Artisan's Asylum.
Badges were being soldered the night before and programmed up until the last minute to make f
or a great personalized attendee experience.

Other sponsors there included hackster.ioMIT Department of Mechanical EngineeringCircuit Maker and Upverter by Altium, OpenBCI, Digilent, ICFOSS, ShopBot, ChibiTronics  and OctoPart but did not have the time to engage in deeper discussion with them.

Of the scheduled presentations, here is a review of  just a few of them:

  • Sara Chipps: C++ API for Kids
Sara provided an excellent overview on how to encourage and inspire children and people of all ages that its never to early (or late) to learn how to code and enable all sorts of projects or dreams. Her company, JewelBots demonstrates the convergence of science, technology, engineering and math also known as STEM.  This is outside of her day job at Stack Overflow.
  • Robin Getz: Open Source Software Defined Radio
Robin works for Analog Devices and provided a great basic understanding of what is software defined radio, its impact on the future of RF design and its ADALM-PLUTO evaluation platform available for purchase through ADI directly or re-sellers such DigiKey

ADI SDR AT1621
ADALM-PLUTO SDR development board offered by Analog Devices

  • Neil Gershenfeld: How To Make (almost) Anything
Prof. Gershenfeld is director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms and covered the future of manufacturing through the lens of Moores Law limitations, self replicating machines and the third digital revolution. It was a fascinating presentation that generated many questions from the audience and three rounds of applause.
The ubiquity of compute enabled devices highlight the amount of underlying impact
technology has on our expanding global economy
  • Joseph Apuzzo: MicroPython on ESP32 and LoBo
HVDN's own Joe Apuzzo (N1JTA) had the dubious task of following Neil's presentation and covered the convergence of amateur radio, embedded operating systems and low cost STM32 based micro-controller hardware that can offer high relative performance. 

Particle.io comparison. The Photon, Electron and soon to be available Argon, Boron
and Xenon boards all support microPython and area all very low cost.

Various applications such as MMDVM or IoT through the easy to adopt programming language known as microPython and its performance enhanced graphical interface system known as LoBo can take advantage of both open source hardware and software.   
  • Jodi Clark: OpenCosplay, Teaching the Next Generation
Jodi took the audience on a journey through her progression of a hobby interest that turned into a life changing series events that ultimately unlocked a tremendous career opportunity.  CosPlay is the hobby of designing detailed costumes or props found in cartoons, anime, comic books and more that are as realistic as possible.  
While many costumers understand how to create amazing things out of fabric and other materials, many do not know how to integrate electronics to create even better costume experiences.  
Jodi has a popular YouTube channel that teaches some of this and a video of her presentation can be found here
  • Nathan Seidle: Founder of Spark Fun (Secret Surprise Speaker)
Nathan was the surprise speaker of the 2018 Open Hardware Summit and shared some recent projects that leveraged or improved upon open source projects.  Nathan first shared how the SparkFun team was able to 3D print different components that formed part of a "safe cracking" robot. 

He then went on to later share in detail how a community of hobbyists helped improve on a machine used in the rapid production of circuit board assembly.  
sparkfun sale hvdn ham radio
Sparkfun offers a range of kits, boards, modules and project ideas for
the modern electronic hobbyist and education community

The company Nathan founded has proved a valuable contributor to the hobbyist community over the years and his presentation certainly was exciting to be present for.
  • Ted Hayes: How to Put A Neural Network on an Arduino and Why
The topic that Ted covered rivaled the big picture thinking and complexity explored in Neil Gershenfeld's earlier discussion. The Arduino is a capable low cost embedded computing option available today to hobbyists.  
Neural networks partially involve a non-binary state of computing that unlocks amazing potential on low cost hardware, just like what Joe Appuzo covered in his microPython presentation. A more detailed article about neural networks can be found here and a recording of Ted's presentation hopefully will hopefully be made available through OSHWA soon, because I really want to go back and watch it.


  • Closing Remarks: Alicia Gibb, OSHWA Director
Alicia thanked so many people who made this event possible and let the audience know that the 2019 Open Source Hardware Summit will likely be in China next year.  HVDN may be organizing a group rate trip for those potentially interested in attending, so please sign up for updates or inquire if there is interest through our various contact forms.
Why Open Hardware Summit & HVDN relate to each other?

Perhaps it would have made sense to explain about what the open hardware movement is all about first before a review of the event, but now I know I have your attention from all the excitement covered above.

Open source design has proven to disrupt and innovate in the data center.
The amateur radio community may be able to innovate by looking at how the open source
hardware movement has already impacted other communication technologies


Within the amateur radio community, there have been heated debates about copying the design of freely available designs for projects such as the ZUMspot.   This is where the opensource overlay into ham radio comes into focus.

This hotspot device was hard to get at times and priced at a level that not everyone could afford for a niche interest.  

These contributed to a friction full experience that hindered adoption and innovation, but at the same time created a competitive opportunity.



Once a few hobbyists copied the original design for this digital hot spot and offered them for sale at more than a 50% price reduction thanks to cheap off shore manufacturing, an entire new market was created that drove additional interest in MMDVM based hotspot purchases thanks to slightly less purchase friction.

hvdn faraday open source ham radio
Will this new project called "Faraday" be the future of amateur radio?
Learn more here at: 
https://faradayrf.com/


Additional components for the copycat versions of the original ZUMspot were now high in demand such as cases, power supplies, better antennas, displays and even oscillators!

This never would have happened had there not been open source hotspot hardware available alongside its opensource software needed to create an interesting piece of communication equipment.

Copy of the original ZUMspot version that Joe N1JTA offered some tips for in the
"MMDVM JumboSPOT board: Mods you may need" article.


Amateur radio operators that had experimented with low cost DMR radios such as the TYT MD-380 or Radioddity GD-77 that did not have local repeaters to communicated with others through now had something entirely new to experiment with thanks to this open source derived experience.

The ZUMspot sparked additional purchases and areas of interest due to its open source
design and the competitive opportunities it created


Open source projects have created tremendous amounts of spending that would not have otherwise happened without this contribution to the hobby.

There is a huge opportunity for the amateur radio community to look towards other hobbyist communities in order to bring expertise they do not have related to licensed wireless communication capability.

Open Hardware Summit showcased so much synergy potential for the renewed relevancy of amateur radio outside of what some most associate with amateur radio.



HVDN wants to help promote experimentation through open source hardware, so please use the search cloud on the HVDN Notebook to find other articles tagged with Open Source Hardware in the future.

Feel free to share some links to your favorite blogs, project pages, re-sellers, etc related to open source hardware.


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