Paul Butzi |||

Towards a Modern Mobile VHF/UHF Radio (part 1)

The current crop of mobile vhf/uhf radios is, er, disappointing. It’s like they were designed in the 1980’s and have been preserved in amber all this time. Sure, features have been added - Icom’s D-STAR and Yaesu’s Fusion and DMR are examples. And on technical specs the current crop of radios from the Big Three (Icom, Kenwood, Yaesu) are all completely spiffy. In terms of practical features, some of them are only partly bad. All of the Big Three offer mobile radios with detachable control heads, for instance.

But I’d like a truly modern mobile VHF/UHF rig. My gripe list:

  • Truly detachable control heads that don’t suck. Look at the control head/faceplate display on any radio. They’re terrible! And they’re tethered to the radio by (typically) a multiconductor wire with RJ-45 plugs on each end. They’re bulky and hard to mount in a modern vehicle.
  • Even some radios with detachable control heads have the microphone connected to the radio body (I’m looking at you, Kenwood) instead of the control head.
  • like the microphone, the audio output is tethered to the radio body, not the control head.
  • No support for 1.25m band, (or in the case of some Chinese offerings, reduced power on 1.25m)
  • FM is the only mode supported. Ok, maybe FM plus one of DSTAR/Fusion/DMR. Why no SSB? Why no Codec 2 and M17?
  • user interface - the UI of mobile rigs is antedeluvian. Is this the best that can be done? Really? A numbered menu of 100+ items with cryptic labels like BCLO”? The fact that there’s a company that makes money by selling compact understandable crib notes on how to operate pretty much every radio in existence tells you that the UI of every radio is just awful.

Here’s what I want:

  • a control head that can get power independently from the radio, and is connected via RF to the radio body (my suggestion would be bluetooth). Plug this puppy into a USB jack, velcro the thing to some convenient surface, and you’re good to go. Give it a battery so you can run it with no wires at all. Wireless recharging for the control head.
  • A display which does not suck. Color, high resolution, touchscreen. A bright modern display that dims when it gets dark.
  • All of the memory’ functions of the radio should live in the control head.
  • Microphone connected to the radio via bluetooth. No more coiled cord to dangle, snag on things, and be a nuisance. Microphone can be charged using the same wireless tech my smartphone uses.
  • Speaker connected to radio via bluetooth, powered by a small box that gets power from either a battery or a USB jack.
  • Radio can be configured to use vehicle’s audio system using the prevailing profiles for speakers and speakerphone mic/speakers. That way, when the radio fires up with audio, the car’s stereo system will automatically dial down the volume on the entertainment or navigation audio.
  • Enough of this crap with 100 or 1000 memories. All of the memory’ functions should be in the control head, and there should be so much memory that you essentially can’t run out. No memories organized by channel number’, which is a stupid idea to begin with which was only imposed because radios only had 8k bits for everything. In an era of 3tb flash drives this is beyond stupid. It should be possible to have the entirety of Repeaterbook stored. It should be possible to search for repeaters based on location and distance.
  • the home’ screen of the display should show (for each VFO) the following:
  • Callsign of the selected repeater (or simplex’ if operating simplex) or perhaps a user generated label of reasonable length. Reasonable length would be something like 80 characters, not 8. Don’t force me to use GFZCGR instead of KE7GFZ/SNOVARC Cougar Mountain” nor GFZMYR instead of KE7GFZ/SNOVARC Myers”
  • receive frequency and offset
  • transmit frequency (in the case of cross band mode)
  • CTCSS/DCS setting for code to be transmitted, if any
  • CTCSS/DCS setting for code to use for squelch if any
  • visual indication of squelch level and audio volume settings.
  • Selected transmit power, in watts. Don’t tell me H’ or HI, tell me watts. Heck, show me all of the options and highlight the currently selected one, as in power 10 25 50” and let me switch by touching the one I want.
  • power supply voltage and current as measured at the radio
  • PTT via bluetooth as well, so I can have a button on the steering wheel, or maybe a footswitch on the floor with no wires.
  • full support for 1.25m at full power
  • at least 25w output power at 100% duty cycle
  • crossband repeat which does not require bizarre hold three buttons down, turn radio on and off’ sort of antics. Just select cross band repeat from the UI and you’re in business. Any pair of bands from the set (2m, 1.25m, 70cm) should work.
  • simple store and retransmit’ repeater functionality. Is it ideal? No. But in a pinch it might be damn useful.
  • the ability to record received and transmitted audio, timestamped. And the recordings should be easy to export.
  • radio sealed so it is weatherproof and can be mounted in the engine compartment. You’ll note that all of the control head functions can be performed with any current smartphone. Yay! Maybe the app that does the control head functions can also integrate with Apple Carplay and whatever the heck the Android equivalent is. Now we have an internet connected control head that can be controlled from the UI of my car and display the UI on the screen in my dashboard!

With such a radio, a mobile installation is easy. Put the radio anywhere - under the hood, in the trunk, under the seat - anywhere where it’s easy to route the antenna feedline and power. Provide power. Make arrangements for mic placement (or use the car speakerphone). Make arrangements for PTT. Make arrangements for audio output (speaker dongle, or car stereo, or out from control head). Mount the antenna and connect feedline to radio. Kaching! You are QRV. No drilling holes through the firewall.

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