Stepping back to explain our choices. All engineering judgement involves compromises to accommodate important factors like money, space, availability, and what one is comfortable with or what one already has experience with and so on. Choices we made are strictly ours and your choices will be controlled by your own engineering judgement.
- A feeling at home of sitting in front of an actual radio
- No pc on either end
- Knobs and an actual front panel
- As little duct tape and baling wire as possible
- Will receive as well as the Cloud-IQ remote sdr receiver I’m already using
- Must work with JT65 digital mode but be capable of CW and SSB, too ( I am a JT65 junkie but I don’t want to give up the other modes totally).
Perhaps the most key decision is what radio to use. My choice is the Kenwood TS-480SAT.
Information at: http://www.kenwood.com/usa/com/amateur/ts-480sat/
The decision was made easy for me because I already had the TS-480 on hand. It had been my HF mobile rig for a few years and was available now.
A separable front panel makes things a lot easier for a remote operation. All we have to do is simulate the umbilical cable over the Internet. There are only a few models that have this feature. Elecraft goes one step further with the K3/0 which has a front panel mounted on an empty radio cabinet.They also have a K3/0 Mini which is just the front panel without the empty cabinet. Had I not already had the TS-480 I probably would have chosen the Elecraft K3,K3/0 Mini combo. A key requirement was whatever radio I choose must work with the RemoteRig interfaces. Either of these radios have that capability. When it comes to dynamic range I had some reservations that the TS-480 might not have the best receiver and I believe the Elecraft does have the best. I promised myself if the Kenwood doesn’t work out I’ll switch to the Elecraft.
I already gave away my choice on this one. It’s the Microbits Remote Rig model RRC-MkIIs.
Remote Rig RRC-MkIIs
An interface should take away headaches not cause them. There is a lot of good competition that I considered. Many need a pc at one end or the other (or both) which is a deal killer for me. I’ve tried to keep pc’s running in unheated hutches with strange power before. It’s a challenge. Remote Rigs have processors built in at both ends. These units are as close as possible to being a transparent connection between the TS-480 base unit and control panel. No pc at either end. They satisfy the requirement of replacing the umbilical cable with the Internet. I could not tell any operational difference on the bench when I was testing between the Kenwood supplied cable and the Remote Rigs running over the Internet. Some of the competitors require a pc to control the radio remotely AND a separate Skype connection for voice. What a headache. When I read Remote Rig has it’s own built in automatic Skype connection included I was sold.
Remote Rig (Microbits) has new models coming out all the time. Since my purchase decision Remote Rig has made available “twin mode” models. It requires two identical transceivers. One is at the remote site, the other on your desk at home. Every operation you perform on your desk is duplicated on the remote transceiver. Certainly not the least expensive option but it has one real advantage. When troubleshooting at the remote site just putting the TS-480 in transmit mode requires heroic efforts. I have to drag my Remote Rig control unit and TS-480 front panel to the site each time, along with some way to power it and to access the Internet. Having a full transceiver would eliminate that chore and make troubleshooting much easier. At home that desktop transceiver would feel like a real transceiver…because it is! I like RemoteRig’s update.
Rig Runner 4005i
This isn’t a critical need but it sure makes power control comfortable. I hadn’t even considered this item until I ran across it at Dayton and started discussing what it does. It controls power ports over the Internet so I can power cycle a single piece of equipment without driving to the site. It has fuses built in. Not just ordinary fuses but poly fuses. This means if one blows it restores automatically once the fault is cleared. Again no trip to the site (unless the smoke got out). It also displays amperage and voltage on each port. Nice for piece of mind.
Internet access is that so called umbilical between the radio and the front panel — a very critical component. Latency should be low, probably below 100 ms. Can you ping the site with return times of less than 100 ms? Satellite internet is typically 350 ms. I was afraid to try satellite because of it’s long path delay. Local wireline carriers were not a possibility because our site is a half mile back from the road. Ethernet won’t go that far. Wifi would require a power source. Cell phones might work but the monthly charge for unlimited data is prohibitive. Wireless internet access is the perfect solution if one is lucky enough to be within a coverage area. The have fast latency and they can put a receiver anywhere there is a signal. Fortunately we spotted a tower nearby and knew we could get service. A requirement is access from the outside world so we needed a static i.p. Without it we would have been given a private i.p. which is not accessible from the outside world. Our good fortune is thanks to this company:
We chose their least expensive offering because we don’t need much bandwidth. We are using voip (voice over internet protocol) service which requires 100 Kb each direction. Our service provides 12 Mbps so it’s a huge overkill. Controlling the rigs and accessories requires only a few additional Kb.
Note: If we had line of sight between our home shack and the remote we could have set up our own link. We would be looking at Ubiquiti Nano Stations or similar for a range up to 10 miles.
I chose the first old router I could find stored in a closet somewhere. It happened to be the Linksys E2500 from a few years back. I was happy that it’s power jack specified 12 volts. Most routers I have seen will run on 12 volts despite whatever voltage they say because they have a regulator inside. Any router is fine new or old. We are just going to use it to set up port forwarding and we don’t need much processing power for the small bandwidth we will use. We don’t need wifi but I am using it because it’s easier to connect to the system when I’m at the site. Wifi draws an extra .14 A from the power budget.
This is the Linksys E2500 but I suggest you use the first available router your hands touch from any source as long as it’s legal.
Obviously this section is optional if you have access to ac power at your site already. We don’t. Actually we do but we wanted to stay off the grid, and what a great opportunity to learn more about the latest solar technology. The biggest challenge was figuring out what capacity we needed. We got a rule of thumb from a local solar dealer who said he had set up solar systems for hams’ remote bases before. He suggested 400 watts and a PWM controller rated at 10 A per 100 watts. I could count up the usage of things that run 24 hours like the router and the Remote Rig. What was perplexing was guessing how many hours of radio operation I should plan for. How much listening time and how much transmitting time? In the end I just took a guess and went with the dealer’s numbers. I used NREL’s solar calculator site
to determine how much sunlight in Colorado, and at what angle the panels should tilt. I only bought three 100 watt panels because the mounting for 4 would have doubled the cost. Amazon had free shipping and no sales tax on panels and the price is coming down all the time. I chose a 30A controller from the same company, Renogy. Battery capacity totaled the same amp-hours as the panels produce minus the equipment load. Rather than a commercial mounting I used perforated angle iron from Home Depot and staged it in the back yard.
Here’s what the panels look like after being moved to the site. By the way the camera is pointed toward Europe so this is what it’s look like toward the DX. Exciting. Can you see the Eiffel Tower?