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July-2002.2

Beechlog
 
The on-line magazine of the Burnham Beeches Radio Club.

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July 2002 Edition, Page 2

Should we expect more from our new radio?

I am sorry that there's not a lot about radio in this issue. This year seems to have tied me up doing other things, so apart from my usual morning mobile QSOs, and the odd spell on 40m, radio signals from GØHZK have been few and far between.

Apart from that, there is not a lot of exciting new stuff going on. I know that some people seem to need to update their radios each time a new model comes out, but to me these new models are just more of the same.

I bought my first amateur radio transceiver back in 1980. It had a digital display, and coped with CW, SSB and FM. Modern transceivers also do this, but not much else. OK I know that some Kenwood models handle AFSK packet, but packet is a dying mode and not much interest to anyone now.

Most of the new modes utilise a computer in some form, but the manufacturers don't seem to have done much with them. Yes, I can download Kenwoods Windows application for my new handheld, but I have to buy extra bits, or I suppose build the interface, before I can connect up to a PC. Why is this? My mobile phone can connect to my PC via infra-red or Bluetooth, my camera connects via USB, and I can even have a real hard drive inside it.

If I was to consider a new transceiver, I would expect much more than a few extra buttons and more ways to operate CW. As well as supporting traditional modes, I would expect proper support of popular modern modes such as PSK31. To use this on a computer, you need a sound card which need cost ony £15 in any high street. This card need only contain one chip! There's no excuse for not having this in a radio - most already have a DSP chip which should be quite capable of doing the job. Of course you would need a keyboard, a standard PC model costs about £10. You don't need a fancy display for PSK, I am sure a modern transceiver display could handle a few lines of text.

My spec for a modern transceiver would include the following:

An independant CPU like the ARM variants popular in PDAs and cameras, running an efficient operating system.

Memory - standard PC type DRAM, upgradeable.

Storage - A compact flash socket, to accomodate standard flash memory and CF hard drives.

User programmable DSP chip, capable of running PSK31 and similar modes.

USB or Firewire interface to my PC, allowing the PC to become part of the radio system.

Port to connect external displays, VGA or DVI type. This display should supplement the transceiver display - normal frequency display etc. in one window, user apps in others.

Keyboard socket, standard PC type.

Decent software to run on PC, allowing modes such as SSTV, fast TCP/IP modes, PSK variants, etc. to be used without having to mess with extra cables, input and output levels, etc.

Standard ethernet interface, with IP address and SNMP capability, allowing remote configuration and control via any IP network.

Built-in help system, and proper menu system. Even todays transceivers can be a nightmare to operate. There are still too many multi-function knobs and buttons, made worse by the lack of a proper navigation system. This needs to be addressed. It can be done.

All this extra digital stuff should not affect the RF performance either!

Of course, not everyone will want all this stuff in their transceiver. Some people are still keen on classic WW2 receivers, despite the fact that they weigh a ton, you can't get decent valves easily, and they drift all over the place. Homebrewers can still roll their own, I don't want to discourage that. But we should have the option available.

I don't see any great expense in building RTTY and PSK31 modes into even a budget-priced transceiver. The parts needed are cheap, a simple CPU, a DSP chip, a simple RF-proof keyboard, and a VGA socket for an external display. Perhaps an extra £100 on the retail price, but this would have a real selling advantage over all the other budget radios. The prestige transceivers already have big colour displays, so the whole lot could be built in, apart from, say, a Bluetooth keyboard!

By incorporating user programmable CPU and DSP components, the manufacturers would open up a new market for software improvements. The likes of Yaesu, etc., would be able to offer new modes and facilities via software packages, as would independant companies and even amateurs themselves.

Unless transceivers start to offer the modes that radio amateurs want to use, there will be little incentive to upgrade. It's time the big manufacturers woke up to this.

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Copyright and Technical Stuff.

This issue is Copyright Burnham Beeches Radio Club 2002.

Any opinions inside this issue of BeechLog are those of the authors, and must not be assumed to be also of the BBRC.

BeechLog is written in XHTML version 1.0 and contains a few differences from the last issues. However different browsers handle XMTML and the associated style sheets in different ways, so there is the possibility that you may not see BeechLog as I intended! If there is anything that seems amiss, please let me know:
Roger GØHZK, Editor