Update Your Chinese Radio Without The Pain

The new hotness in cheap radios this year has been the Quansheng UV-K5, a Chinese handheld transceiver with significant RF abilities and easy modding. The amateur radio community have seized upon it with glee and already reverse-engineered much of the firmware, but flashing the thing has always required a minor effort. Now thanks to the work of [whosmatt], it can be flashed with little more than a web browser and a serial cable.

This feat was made possible through the magic of WebSerial, a handy feature that allows web applications to talk to connected hardware. We’ve seen it in action a few times in the world of badges, and as browser support for it has improved it’s now available through browsers on all the major platforms.

The web app allows tweaking of the Quansheng settings and will, no doubt, be capable of uploading that when fully open-source firmware is available. It should be of great interest well beyond the world of Chinese radios, though, because we’re guessing there are a lot of projects that could benefit from such a ubiquitous interface tool.

If you’d like to know more, WebSerial is something we’ve looked at in the past.

Header image: [Concretedog]

Inexpensive Ham Radio Gets Upgrades Thanks To A Trojan

Love them or hate them, the crop of cheap hand-held amateur radio transceivers is here to stay. They’re generally horrible radios, often smearing spurious emissions across the spectrum, but they’re cheap enough to throw in a glove box for emergencies, and they invite experimentation — for instance, modifying the firmware to add functionality the OEM didn’t think to offer.

The new hotness in this class of radios is the Quansheng UV-K5, a two-band transceiver you can pick up for about $40, and we suspect it’ll get hotter still with this firmware trojan by [Piotr (SQ9P)]. We’ve already seen a firmware hack for these radios, one that aimed at unlocking the full frequency range of the RF chip at the heart of the radio. Honestly, we’re not huge fans of these mods, which potentially interfere with other allocations across multiple bands. But [Piotr]’s hacks seem a bit more innocuous, focusing mainly on modifying the radio’s display and adding useful features, such as a calibrated received signal strength bar graph and a numerical RSSI display. The really neat new feature, though, is the spectrum display, which shows activity across a 2-MHz slice of spectrum centered on the currently set frequency. And just because he could, [Piotr] put in a game of Pong.

[Piotr]’s description of the mod as a trojan seems apt since his new programs run in parallel to the OEM firmware by wrapping its vector table. We’d imagine other mods are possible, and we’re keen to see what people come up with for these hackable little units. Just make sure you’re staying within the law, especially in the United States — the FCC does not play games (third item).

Easy Modifications For Inexpensive Radios

Over the past decade or so, amateur radio operators have benefited from an influx of inexpensive radios based around a much simpler design than what was typically commercially available, bringing the price of handheld dual-band or GMRS radios to around $20. This makes the hobby much more accessible, but they have generated some controversy as they tend to not perform as well and can generate spurious emissions and other RF interference that a higher quality radio might not create. But one major benefit besides cost is that they’re great for tinkering around, as their simplified design is excellent for modifying. This experimental firmware upgrade changes a lot about this Quansheng model.

With the obligatory warning out of the way that modifying a radio may violate various laws or regulations of some localities, it looks like this modified firmware really expands the capabilities of the radio. The chip that is the basis of the radio, the BK4819, has a frequency range of 18-660 MHz and 840-1300 MHz but not all of these frequencies will be allowed with a standard firmware in order to comply with various regulations. However, there’s typically no technical reason that a radio can’t operate on any arbitrary frequency within this range, so opening up the firmware can add a lot of functionality to a radio that might not otherwise be capable.

Some of the other capabilities this modified firmware opens up is the ability to receive in various other modes, such as FM and AM within the range of allowable frequencies. To take a more deep dive on what this firmware allows be sure to check out the original GitHub project page as well, and if you’re curious as to why these inexpensive radios often run afoul of radio purists and regulators alike, take a look at some of the problems others have had in Europe.