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A New Radio…

by Chris G7DDN

My main device since I got into this whole Network Radio phenomenon has been the Talkpod N58.

This is not perhaps the most popular radio from a sales point of view – the Inrico T320 seems to be the big seller just now (and yes I have one of those too, and an Inrico TM-7!)

But I have a very soft spot for the Talkpod.

Why so?

Firstly the build quality is definitely the best I have experienced on any Network Radio so far. To say it is rugged is a bit of an understatement really – I have never owned a radio quite so tough!

Secondly, the fit in the hand is exemplary – just like an HT should feel, in my opinion.

Thirdly, the audio has to be heard to be believed! When I did a presentation on Network Radios recently at my local club, the audio from the little Talkpod filled the large club room completely – and it was not even on full volume at the time. Outdoors it is unbelievable!


However the Talkpod was rushed to market at the very end of 2017, and, as is often the case with anything “computer”, the firmware was a little “threadbare” at launch.

I can forgive the old version of Android and the limited memory as they do not impact my use with the radio one jot. There is still plenty of memory for all the apps I might need and they work as expected under Android KitKat. I don’t need or use a second SIM card or SD card either.

The things I had trouble with were mostly oddities like, the clock reporting the wrong time unless I did a reset. The battery percentage saying 1% when I knew that really could not be possible! Not knowing what was happening when I seemingly thought I had turned the radio “off”.  Annoying things rather than issues that upset the use of the radio.

The only major issue was the volume control, which though positively loud, sometimes couldn’t actually go low enough for more “clandestine” use.

New Firmware

Well I now have a “new radio”!

Talkpod have, just a few days ago, released a new firmware (EU) and new firmware (US) which seems to address a lot of those niggles.

To be completely fair, Talkpod have released a few firmwares since January but the latest does seem to address more issues than before.

So what’s new?

Well a lot of the new stuff is probably “under the hood” updates, but there are a few visible (audible?) differences.

You actually can’t display the battery percentage now, which is one way of solving that issue – perhaps the correct percentage meter will make a return in the future?

When you turn the unit off now, instead of going into Airplane mode without telling you, it gives you a very useful option to either go into Airplane mode or to completely power off instead, which is far more useful and user friendly.

The volume control is much improved too, though it could still do with a little more control at the lower volumes for my liking. However, that can be “tweaked” in the engineering menu, as described on this very website – though the values given in that article are certainly worth experimenting with (in true Ham tradition!)

It is useful advice too to use the paid version of the Button Mapper software to control the media volume. Android seems to have 3 or 4 different volume controls, only one of which is for traditional volume as on a radio – Button Mapper allows me to always use the “Media” volume control mapped to the physical knob.

Still in love?

All in all I still love my Talkpod – arguably it’s not so easy to use as a phone as other Network Radios, as it has no keypad (though it still works with a touch screen), but for my use case, which is as a Radio-like HT, it is perfect!

It won’t be leaving my shack for a very long time. Here’s to another “new radio” in a month or two’s time. I hope you are listening, Talkpod!

Chris Rolinson G7DDN

© April 2018

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What makes a Radio Amateur?

by Chris G7DDN

I had a lively conversation with one of my best Ham friends the other day – and it got me thinking again… (always a dangerous thing!)

It’s not Ham Radio!

We were discussing one of the big talking points about Network Radios; the problem it seems to give some people that they do not generate RF on Amateur Bands on their own.

My friend was arguing that using a Network Radio was not Amateur Radio, though when he talked about such devices accessing IRN and signals coming out on RF links via Echolink, he was happy to admit that it then could be Ham Radio, at least in part, because one’s voice would be coming out on, for example, an amateur repeater somewhere.

For him though, IRN to IRN or Zello to Zello was definitely “not Ham Radio” because no RF on an Amateur Band was generated.

I totally get this argument – it is impossible to disagree that Network Radios do not directly generate “Ham RF” or work directly on Ham bands.

But I think that this is not the only issue here, as I will come to in a moment…

You’re not an Amateur unless… what?

He went further still however and argued you are not “being a Ham” unless you are actually transmitting on Ham Bands.

His reasoning was that if you use CB, you are a “CB-er” and if you use Zello, you are a “Zello-er” and neither of these constitute any form whatsoever of Amateur Radio.

Again I totally understand this, but again for me this doesn’t completely hold up.

Why not?

Let’s see why I think things have changed.

For most of the history of Ham Radio, it was clear that Hams used only the allocated bands in the electromagnetic spectrum. This was in part because they were granted to us by governments for experimental purposes and, frankly, that is all there was!

Interestingly, many hams through history have not necessarily been particularly interested in operating at all – their main interest may have been circuit design and/or construction.

They only ever came on the air when they were testing something that involved having to transmit and the choice of band may well have meant little to them. They could have been anywhere on the Shortwave Spectrum in truth, but had to stick to allocated Ham Bands, for obvious reasons.

Others may have been into antenna design – and again only came on to the Amateur bands to conduct relevant aerial tests.

But I doubt whether any of these hobbyists saw themselves not as Hams until they actually transmitted RF…

And what about callsigns?

Our callsigns are very much part of our identity as Hams.

Rather oddly, I see myself as G7DDN whether I am washing up, driving my car, or on holiday – it is almost “part of who I am”. It is strange that a government allocated identifier can have this effect on us!

To make matters worse, I am even called “DDN” by my ham friends and club members – I call other club members by their suffixes too! Even my debating friend above calls all of his friends (they are pretty much all Hams!) by their suffixes.

Why? Because our very identity as people is, in part, wrapped up in our callsigns, even when we are not specifically “generating Amateur RF”.

Into the 21st Century…

Now this gets interesting when the Internet arrives on the Ham scene in the 1990s.

Suddenly we have a new form of propagation and a revival, after many years, of the very term “wireless”.  But this is not exclusive to Hams anymore.

Anyone can use this short-range wireless radio – anyone can access the internet – anyone can have DX “Contacts” of a sort – hence the crisis of confidence Ham Radio has been grappling with for some years…

Does that mean though that the likes of Zello and IRN are not “valid”?

Does that mean Hams should absolutely not use these resources using their callsigns, because we are not transmitting on a specific Amateur Band, for example?

It’s about choice!

I would have thought it is up to us as individual hams to decide how we want to use the new forms of Internet propagation.

As I outlined in my recent article, “Taking a Break”, in my local club, we have set up a Zello channel. It is private, password protected and moderated.  But it is used just like any Ham Radio channel with correct Amateur protocols etc.

When used with Network Radios (handheld SDR computers with PTT buttons), it is not long before it “feels” like Ham Radio in every way.

Ask someone who’s used one for any length of time… PTT buttons on handhelds take away the feeling of using an Android device; chunky units in one’s palm are just like any other HT; PTT-style comms remove any vestige of “phone-like” feel, but we get the advantages of crystal-clear audio together with the benefits of modern social media, such as photo ID of members, (great for getting to know people!) ability to replay “overs”, ability to moderate and self-police in appropriate ways.

Is our Zello Group “Ham Radio”? If you define it ONLY by generating RF on an Amateur Band, then no. But it certainly feels like it…

Is there another definition?

In the 21st Century, is generating “Amateur RF” the only way to define Ham Radio? 50 years ago that may have been an easier question to answer – now, I’m not so certain…

Natural forms of Propagation are only open to the traditional Ham Bands and radios – equally the new forms of Internet propagation are only open to computer-based “radios”. Is it not just a case of “horses for courses”? Use the right apparatus for what you trying to achieve?

The fact that Hams are playing with crossing over between these devices and internet forms of propagation is even more fascinating!

D-STAR and other modes have been part of this experimentation since the first digital commercial ham radios came out in the late 1990s.

And it’s only a hobby!

The word Amateur comes from the Latin “Amare” – to love.

In other words, anything Amateur is done for the love of it. Amateur Radio is a hobby we are involved with (hopefully!) because we LOVE radio in all its forms.

But Zello (and IRN) is also a form of radio.

Yes, it might use 5GHz or 900MHz, indeed we might not know exactly what frequencies we are using at any one time, but RF is being generated. (I am assuming use of a wireless device of course!)

Splitting Hairs?

Put another way, if I have a 10 minute conversation with a fellow Ham on Zello, and then I repeat that conversation verbatim for another set of 10 minutes on 2 metres, why should one be considered “valid” and the other not?

If the only thing that validates it is the fact that it is on 2 metres, I think we need to ask if we are not beginning to “split hairs”.

It’s technology that has caused the problems – we never had to address questions like this in the past.

CB and 446MHz were very much separate from Ham Radio, but the advent of new technology is what is causing new (almost philosophical) questions to be asked about our hobby and where technology is taking us.

If you read my articles regularly, you will know I think this is not a bad thing.

Keeping an open mind is surely a good thing? A closed mind maybe less so?

But I love Ham Radio!

I do! I love Ham radio in all its forms – Zello/IRN to me is another “form” of Ham Radio, maybe not on a specific government-allocated Ham band, but to all intents and purpose, it feels like it.

I am certainly not going to pooh-pooh it – just because it is sending a certain number of cycles per second into my local atmosphere.  I love learning how radio works and constructing things, but why should that stop me communicating with my Ham friends and using Ham protocols, via 2.4 GHz Wifi if necessary?

When I use Zello and IRN, I am still being “G7DDN” and I use Ham protocols accordingly. I don’t have to maybe, but I do, especially as our club Zello group has our own home-grown rules to say we should do so.

It was so much easier without the Internet!

Ham bands were Ham bands, broadcast bands were broadcast bands, numbers stations were numbers stations and jammers were jammers.

Now the internet has come and ruined everything by making the fullness of the radio experience available to everyone, Broadcast radio, Spy radio, Business radio, Emergency services radio, Hobby 2-way radio and now it’s even “infected” Ham Radio. 🙂

We don’t have to let new technologies be polarising though. We can still stand up for and use “true” Ham Radio and simultaneously embrace Network Radios.

We can say, “OK this is not direct Ham RF but is something we can work with and use for our own ends.”

Perhaps the strangest quirk is that, if the Internet had been around when Amateur Radio first began, I wonder whether my best Ham friend and I might not even be having such a discussion today!

It’s a thought…

© April 2018

Chris Rolinson G7DDN

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Using 4G-only SIM cards on 3G-only Network Radios

Some 4G SIM cards will not support 3G-only radios. If that’s the case, using a small trick, you can make the Android radio think it is 4G and still allow it to run 3G, using a 4G-only SIM.

Here, is the 4-step procedure:

1 – Dial *#*#3646633#*#* (This will enter the engineer menu)
2 – Now, select Preferred Network Option
3 – In the drop down list, you need to select 4G LTE/WCDMA/GSM. Then, save and reboot the radio.
4 – Once done, just insert a 4G SIM in the first SIM slot and you may keep the second SIM slot empty.

Your device will now run on 3G speed, connected to the 3G network but using a 4G-only SIM card.

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Taking a break!

by Chris G7DDN

It’s been nice to have a few days away from the pressures of the day job over the Easter period.

My wife and I got to spend some time in Wales and do a few of those things that we all like to do when we are away from home. We particularly enjoyed a little walking and driving around the beautiful hills and mountains.

Technology and modern life

This involves using a map of course, especially to navigate around some of the tiny mountain roads.

This was when, once again, what I suppose I could term the “dilemmas” of modern life, in similar ways to the the ways I see them affecting our Ham Radio hobby, rose up to start me thinking again…

How so?

Well, I picked up my brand new Ordnance Survey (The UK Mapping Agency) paper map of the area and found myself reminded of a great new feature, as advertised on the front cover…

Ah yes, because I purchased the paper map, I qualified for a free mobile download of the paper map for my iPad & iPhone! Yay!

I’ve always been a “paper-map” kind of person, but I really like mapping applications on my personal computer devices, so I thought this would be a good thing – and so it was!

Positives and Negatives

It was like the best of both worlds having the paper map exactly as on paper but on my tablet screen instead…

  • I loved being able to zoom into the map without needing my reading glasses…
  • Having my position pinpointed on the map at all times via GPS was fantastic…
  • Knowing that the map would be automatically updated with new geographical features, such as new by-passes and roads was reassuringly future-proof too…
  • Less cool was the fact that I couldn’t get a large overview of my area in any great detail as I can with my paper map opened out – Boo…
  • I was pleased thought that I knew my paper map would never run out of battery!
  • And when the sun was out, which one do you think was easier to read?

But by and large, the new addition was a very positive experience and led me to believe I would always want to be with both map versions when I was out and about in future, simply because the iPad version added something to an experience with which I was already very familiar.

Now what has this got to do with Network Radios?

It’s another example of how technology has created conundrums for our lives in the 21st Century. Network Radios, for me, are a bit like the online map – an adjunct that adds something to the overall experience, but can stand on its own too.

I love paper maps, always have, always will – I love RF Ham Radio, always have, always will.

But I now love having my iPad map to hand too – just like I love using Network Radios as part of my radio pastime.

They both use new technology to enhance my hobbies.

But it HAS to be a paper map only, surely?

It would be silly to adhere to the view that, unless I always use a paper map, that I am not navigating “correctly”!

Equally, I don’t take the view that, if I am using RF, it absolutely HAS to be on a specific band for me to have fun using it.

Perhaps the problem lies with the fact that all these pastimes are exactly that, hobbies. Things that are intended to bring us pleasure.

Yes, some hobbies need licenses from official bodies in order to function; shooting, driving (definitely for certain types of vehicles), aviation and certain forms of radio.

More choice

But arguably the biggest thing that technology has done in the 21st Century is give us more choice about how to pursue our hobbies.

The online map does that for me when navigating, just as the Network Radio does for my radio hobby.

And this is quite possibly what our great Ham Radio hobby is struggling with.

What do you want your hobby to be?

You see, we now have the technology to make Radio the hobby we want it to be for ourselves. We can shape it to what we want it to be and do for us.

That means we can still chase DX on 20m if we want to; we can take part in 48 hour contests if we want to; but we can also use IRN for social community-building via radio, rather like the recently-formed DigiCommCafé IRN group is attempting to do, again if we want to.

It’s not that one kind of Radio supersedes the other, it is that they complement each other, rather like the online map complements the paper one.

One example

My local Radio Club has it’s own private Zello Group – only paid-up members can join it, but the rules that we have decided upon, are that we HAVE to use Ham protocols. It is moderated and to some degree controlled. You could say we are not only the users but the equivalent of the licensing authority! 🙂 It’s the way we want it to work.

Non-licensed members can have a “Club callsign”, which they use until they get their Ham call. They can practice using Ham Radio safely in an environment where they are among friends and can make mistakes without it affecting other Hams.

Yes it is closed, yes it is private, but we are having fun using aspects of Ham Radio in a different way – one that we want to use and works for us.

It is pretty darned popular too!

Less rules?

Extrapolating a little further, we don’t have to be quite so constrained by rules and regulations that were pertinent when the hobby came into existence.

Network Radios use Internet Propagation, not Ionospheric propagation – they don’t need a license because the Internet is open to all. (Shortwave Transmitters of course, use Ionospheric Propagation and do need a license as users need to understand the implications of launching such forms of RF into the atmosphere)

But we can still have fun with these devices and increasingly many hams are doing.

Some use them simply end-to-end; others use them as part of a Ham-band to Internet link; some even use them to remotely control and PTT their remote HF transceivers.

A new tool

Whichever way, Network Radios seem to be becoming a very useful tool for radio enthusiasts of all backgrounds.

It’s very easy to knock or diss them of course – but perhaps one should actually try such a device first, before you do so?

You might well be pleasantly surprised at the enhancement they can make to our great hobby.

Online map anyone?

© Chris G7DDN – April 2018

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How to increase the mic gain on the Inrico TM-8

This will improve some reports of poor microphone audio of the Inrico TM-8

Upgrade the radio with this firmware and follow these instructions. It will also remove a “waterfall” noise. Then, you can increase the gain like this:

Go the “phone” app and dial: *#*#3646633#*#*
This will enter into Engineer Menu
Then slide the top bar to “Hardware Testing”
Go to Audio, Normal Mode and change Type to “Mic”
Choose Level 4 and adjust value to 255 then click on “set”.

This has worked for me. Some audiophiles said that after replacing the microphone electret capsule the results were even better.

And you are done!