There was a time when a handheld radio transceiver was an object of wonder, and a significant item for any radio amateur to own. A few hundred dollars secured you an FM walkie-talkie through which you could chat on your local repeater, and mobile radio was a big draw for new hams. Thirty years later FM mobile operation may be a bit less popular, but thanks to Chinese manufacturing the barrier to entry is lower than it has ever been. With extremely basic handheld radios starting at around ten dollars and a capable dual-bander being yours for somewhere over twice that, most licencees will now own a Baofeng UV5 or similar radio.
The FCC though are not entirely happy with these radios, and QRZ Now are reporting that the FCC has issued an advisory prohibiting the import or sale of devices that do not comply with their rules. In particular they are talking about devices that can transmit on unauthorised frequencies, and ones that are capable of transmission bandwidths greater than 12.5 kHz.
We’ve reported before on the shortcomings of some of these radios, but strangely this news doesn’t concern itself with their spurious emissions. We’re guessing that radio amateurs are not the problem here, and the availability of cheap transceivers has meant that the general public are using them for personal communication without a full appreciation of what frequencies they may be using. It’s traditional and normal for radio amateurs to use devices capable of transmitting out-of-band, but with a licence to lose should they do that they are also a lot more careful about their RF emissions.
Read the FCC statement and you’ll learn they are not trying to restrict the sale of ham gear. However, they are insisting that imported radios that can transmit on other frequencies must be certified. Apparently, opponents of these radios claim about 1 million units a year show up in the US, so this is a big business. The Bureau warns that fines can be as high as $19,639 per day for continued marketing and up to $147,290 — we have no idea how they arrive at those odd numbers.
So if you’re an American who hasn’t already got a Baofeng or similar, you might be well advised to pick one up while you still can.
UV5-R image via PE1RQM
To a radio amateur who received their licence decades ago there is a slightly surreal nature to today’s handheld radios. A handheld radio should cost a few hundred dollars, or such was the situation until the arrival of very cheap Chinese radios in the last few years.
The $20 Baofeng or similar dual-bander has become a staple of amateur radio. They’re so cheap, you just buy one because you can, you may rarely use it but for $20 it doesn’t matter. Most radio amateurs will have one lying around, and many newly licensed amateurs will make their first contacts on one. They’re not even the cheapest option either, if you don’t mind the absence of an LCD being limited to UHF only, then the going rate drops to about $10.
The Baofengs and their ilk are great radios for the price, but they’re not great radios. The transmitter side can radiate a few too many harmonics, and the receivers aren’t the narrowest bandwidth or the sharpest of hearing. Perhaps some competition in the market will cause an upping of the ante, and that looks to be coming from Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone manufacturer. Their Mijia dual-band walkie-talkie product aims straight for the Baofeng’s jugular at only $35, and comes in a much sleeker and more contemporary package as you might expect from a company with a consumer mobile phone heritage. Many radio amateurs are not known for being dedicated followers of fashion, but for some operators the sleek casing of the Mijia will be a lot more convenient than the slightly more chunky Baofeng.
This class of radio offers more to the hardware hacker than just an off-the-shelf radio product, at only a few tens of dollars they become almost a throwaway development system for the radio hacker. We’ve seen interesting things done with the Baofengs, and we look forward to seeing inside the Xiaomi.
We brought you a look at the spurious emissions of this class of radio last year, and an interesting project with a Baofeng using GNU Radio in a slightly different sense to its usual SDR function.
[via Southgate ARC]
There was a time when just about every ham had a pricey VHF or UHF transceiver in their vehicle or on their belt. It was great to talk to friends while driving. You could even make phone calls from anywhere thanks to automatic phone patches. In 1980 cell phones were uncommon, so making a call from your car was sure to get attention.
Today, ham radio gear isn’t as pricey thanks to a flood of imports from companies like Baofeng, Jingtong, and Anytone. While a handheld transceiver is more of an impulse buy, you don’t hear as much chat and phone calls, thanks to the widespread adoption of cell phones. Maybe that’s why [Bastian] had bought a cheap Baofeng radio but never used it.
He was working on a traffic light project and wanted to send an RF signal when the light changes. He realized the Baofeng radio was cheap and cheerful solution. He only needed a way to have the PC generate an audio signal to feed the radio. His answer was to design a UDP packet to audio flow graph in GNU Radio. GNU Radio then feeds the Baofeng. The radio’s built-in VOX function handles transmit switching. You can see a video demonstration, below.
Continue reading “Baofeng Handy Talkie Meets GNU Radio”
If you buy an amateur transceiver cheap enough to make a reasonable grab bag gift or stocking stuffer, you get what you pay for. And if this extensive analysis of cheap radios is any indication, you get a little more than you pay for in the spurious emissions department.
Amateur radio in the United States is regulated by the FCC’s Part 97 rules with special attention given to transmitter technical specifications in Subpart D. Spurious emissions need to be well below the mean power of the fundamental frequency of the transmitter, and [Megas3300] suspected that the readily available Baofeng UV-5RA dual-band transceiver was a little off spec. He put the $20 radio through a battery of tests using equipment that easily cost two orders of magnitude more than the test subject. Power output was verified with a wattmeter, proper attenuators were selected, and the output signal scanned with a spectrum analyzer. Careful measurements showed that some or all of the Baofeng’s harmonics were well above the FCC limits. [Megas3300] tested a few other radios that turned out to be mostly compliant, but however it all turned out, the test procedure is well documented and informative, and well worth a look.
The intended market for these radios is more the unlicensed crowd than the compliant ham, so it’s not surprising that they’d be out of spec. A ham might want to bring these rigs back into compliance with a low pass filter, for which purpose the RF Biscuit might prove useful.
The recent trend to smaller and smaller handy talkie (HT) transceivers is approaching the limits of the human interface. Sure, engineers could probably continue shrinking the Baofeng and Wouxun HTs further, but pretty soon they’ll just be too small to operate. And it’s getting to the point where the accessories, particularly the battery charging trays, are getting bulkier than the radios. With that in mind, [Mads Hobye] decided to slim down his backpacking loadout by designing a slimline USB charger for his Baofeng HT.
Lacking an external charging jack but sporting a 3.7 volt battery pack with exposed charging terminals on the rear, [Mads] cleverly capitalized on the belt clip to apply spring tension to a laser-cut acrylic plate. A pair of bolts makes contact with the charging terminals on the battery pack, and the attached USB cable allows him to connect to an off-the-shelf 3.7 volt LiPo USB charger, easy to come by in multicopter circles. YMMV – the Baofeng UV-5R dual-band HT sitting on my desk has a 7.4 volt battery pack, so I’d have to make some adjustments. But you have to applaud the simplicity of the build and its packability relative to the OEM charging setup.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen [Mads] on Hackaday. He and the FabLab RUC crew were recently featured with their open-source robotic arm.
For Christmas, [Lior] received a Baofeng UV5R radio. He didn’t have an amateur radio license, so he decided to use it as a police scanner. Since the schematics were available, he cracked it open and hacked it.
This $40 radio communicates on the 136-174 MHz and 400-480 MHz bands. It uses a one-time programmable microcontroller and the RDA1846 transceiver. With the power traces to the MCU cut, [Lior] was able to send his own signals to the chip over I2C using an Arduino. He also recorded the signals sent by the stock microcontroller during startup, so that he could emulate it with the Arduino.
Once communication was working on an Arduino, [Lior] decided to get rid of the stock microcontroller. He desoldered the chip, leaving exposed pads to solder wires to. Hooking these up to the Arduino gave him a programmable way to control the device. He got his radio license and implemented transmission of Morse Code, and an Arduino sketch is available in the write up.
[Lior] points out that his next step is to make a PCB to connect a different microcontroller to the device. This will give him a $40 radio that is fully programmable. After the break, check out a video of the hacked radio in action.
Continue reading “Hacking a Ham Radio”