2017 August 15th.
In January I finally made up my mind and placed the order for a second K3 remote set. The trigger was a won auction on eBay where I acquired an old secondhand K3. The remote SO2R setup got ready by early May for the preparation of WPX CW.
The station automation got simplified; all BPFs got replaced by HP ones into the antenna lines behind the amplifiers. The Microham Station Masters & automatic BPFs are preserved for local contesting. Band and antenna selection flexibility got limited this way for the benefit of much less hassle with a complex remote-end setup including computer and RF sensitive USB hub/cables which is difficult to manage from home.
The limitation meant only a prior decision before the contest what bands I want to work in parallel on the two radios. (Radio 1: 40/15 vs Radio 2: 160/80/20/10)
When I am offsite both antenna masts are fixed to avoid damages due to high winds. Thus, all remote activity is limited to predefined directions, mainly towards North America. The part time activity was still providing enjoyable contesting during both the WPX and the IARU.
In the meanwhile two mobile, but self supporting crank-up towers are being constructed and is planned to be installed (at least one of them) by the fall contest season. I have just finished the building and installation of a remotely controllable Easy-Rotor-Control by DF9GR. It was a decent project of the past one month, but finally got operational. Lantronix Xport works with static IP address only for the remote unit, it is not possible to set host name and domain even if a DDNS service is available..
A remote RX project has also been started in March with my old SDR-IQ. I have found a freeware server/client application for the subject SDR on the manufacturer homepage. A mini PC is required on the remote end to run Win7 or 10. Both the server and client application is very easy to install and use. This could be an ideal option for a low band remote receiver. The SDR, the mini PC, a power supply, a mobile internet router and an electric (cabinet)heater fits in a small size electrical cabinet. The new receivers are quite expensive though, and the old IQ is not in production anymore. I have seen secondhand units on eBay for about 500$..
2016 February status.
Continuous effort on improving antenna system. Managed to install a vertical for 80m and an inverted-L for 160m. They got ready by the November CQ WW. During the winter further radials have been added and a 3-directional EWE is being built for low band receiving. Temporarily a 2x2el WARC Yagi was in duty then it has been replaced by a 2 el Ultrabeam to cover 20-6m. By now all HF bands can be operated in remote, some of them with multiple antennas.
The K3 is now fully loaded and is doing a great job with its control head (K3 mini). No more trouble if a business trip is interfering with a week long DX-pedition. The recent VP8STI/SGI & K5P expeditions were a good test.
The Ultrabeam serial control caused a bit of headache though. I have not yet been able to write the appropriate software flow control to be able to "copy" trx band data to the ultrabeam controller to change band automatically. .. and did not find anything on the net either. The temporary solution is; old-slow PC connected to the internet and wired to the UB controller. There is serial monitor software called Realterm thru which I can send CAT commands to the UB controller. The remote PC desktop is accessed with Teamviewer. The band change is manual, but reliable.
By last summer serious efforts have been made to protect the station equipment against static and lightning strikes. Which seemed to pay off very soon as neighbors reported a direct strike in July. No equipment damage even if all connected..
One of the biggest challenges has been so far the temperature control of the remote compartment. It has its own heating unit; to keep temps between 13-17 degree C, when the outside temperature is around 0degC. It gets easily below -10 during winter, meaning the internal one will be around 5degC. All equipment is able to start up at that temperature but the power amplifier. It keeps blowing some of its internal fuses.. If the room temperature is set above 20degC, it gets much more safe for startup, but will be above 35degC quickly after 30 minutes of operation. The quick/big variation is due to the small volume of the compartment. So, needed to add a remotely operated fan to refresh air when overheated.
The ultimate goal; named SO2R remote contesting is still a long way to go, though. The K3 setup for me is an OK for casual DXing, but being a Yaesu fan I will definitely not invest into a second setup. The remoterig Yaesu twin solution is also an OK; (at least this is my own experience) when one radio control command stream & one VFO audio is "occupying" the internet bandwith only. Once the VFO-B is switched on as well things get very slow. It becomes even worse at the main dial speedy spinning, when the data transfer gets disrupted due to the amount of data to be transferred. With the K3 this does not occur (having the same internet conditions). The reason behind I suspect (not knowing the code and protocol) is this
@ Yaesu twin: the two radios are identical. they are not designed to send CAT commands to each other. All changes (encoders/pots/switches/push buttons) on the control radio needs continuous monitoring by sending CAT commands to the radio if the status has changed. Meaning; sending read commands to the serial port, then checking for the radio answer, then transferring these answers all or just the ones changed to the remote radio while in a separate thread the audio is transferred.
@ K3: No control radio status change monitoring is required. If a button is pressed on the control head, then only one specific command is (must be) sent over to the remote radio. Simple, easy and brilliant.
2015 January status.
Aerials have been installed for 10-40m. 2x KT36XA for the contest bands; they are fixed to NW & NE for general remote operations. They are locked against twist during high winds. Recently can only be rotated when I am on site as I had a serious antenna mast damage due to weather conditions after the contest season in 2013. Direction antennas are selected by a remote antenna switch.
For 40m there is a inverted vee and a rotating trap dipole for the WARC bands just to be on air.
A "KA-band" VIASAT-set has been installed to provide a reliable internet connection for both the video surveillance and the radio remote control. The viasat system has a few hundred ms delay to the real time rx/tx causing difficulities in catching callsigns at high speed CW contesting; this part needs to be improved. (In some cases after a CQ I am still in transmit while the reply is already coming and the callsign prefix is lost.)
Serious improvement has taken place in terms of station automation and monitoring since mid last year. Remote room temperature and humidity is now under control which looked to be critical for the PA startup when it is below -10C outside. Proved to be easier than a fuse remote-replacement..
The PA remote control works flawlessly as well as the control site logging/CW memory keying.
The technical part of antenna rotation has also been resolved; the only matter is I will need stronger masts than the TA-19 for the big tribanders.
The setup is now under "durability tests" in preparation for full weekend contesting, In the meantime I enjoy the benefits of the super location. Once the snow melts I will start to put up the low band antennas.
The Beginning (2013-14).
My remote control experiments started in the first quarter of 2013. The primary goal was defined as to remotely access the contest QTH rigs from home or random locations on business or family trips where adequate internet bandwith is available.
My home station is moderately equipped with aerials due to space restrictions - 320m2; while can not afford to drive to the contest location for every DX I want to work.
The testing started with a factory pre-configured Yaesu twin Microbit RRC kit (www.remoterig.com or www.microbit.se)
and the available transceivers: FT 1000MP MarkV, FT2000 and FT897D. As there was no stable internet connection on the hill that time I did all the experiments at home location; first inside the same room then in two distant corners of the property where the 2 separate 3G USB networks did not interfere with each other.
The Microbit manual I received with the kit is providing detailed information about many different setups for the different transceiver types, but not all potential combination has been put thru real testing, which is understandable.
I struggled a few consecutive nights to pair up my fake twins of Yaesu radios with not much success. The only thing I was able to do was switching on and off the remote radio. With the help of Microbit guys thru the forum I learned that Yaesu has changed CAT command coding somewhere between the FT1000MP and FT2000 (FTDx9000) series; meaning an FT2000 will never be able to control an FT1000MP or the 897D or vica versa.
Before selling the FT897D (my first factory produced transceiver that I travelled with to New Zealand and kept carrying for portable operation and antenna testing) and buying a second FT2000 I wanted to try a few things.
A Microbit RRC unit offers an opportunity to control your remote radio with a computer on the control end (one radio remote mode). For that mode one needs a rig control software like Ham Radio Deluxe or eg. DF3CB's custom remote control software (specifically coded for FT2000, FT950, FTdx5000). ...theoretically... Actually it made me very hard time to set up the system in that one radio mode with either softwares, but none of them were able to transfer CAT commands from computer to remote radio. (Both SW's are meant to control radio thru PC to PC.) It was not a complete disaster though, I was able to transfer audio with this setup. As there was no solution found for CAT communication with the subject setup, even with the help of Microbit guys. I purchased a RRC micro unit which is a match box size device with its own software connected to the control PC I was able to set up a real remote operation. I am a CW guy so sending Morse code thru typing text on a computer keyboard and tuning the radio VFO via a slide bar on the screen by the mouse is not giving much ham radio fun to me.
This could be an "emergency setup" when someone feels the urge to get on air and the control radio is not, but a small laptop is handy to carry while sitting on the train, waiting at the doctor, or sitting on a boring meeting.. if others don't care why you are wearing a headset..
I practically gave up further experiments with the one radio + PC remote setup and started to seek for a second FT2000. In the meantime I had the chance to borrow a FT450 from HA7CD Jozsi for a weekend, to test another fake twin setup. The FT450 is produced with the same CAT coding as the latter released FTdx series.
That weekend made the difference; with the standard wiring and configuration specified by the RRC manual I was on air in less than 30 minutes. A large part of the radio functions were operating smoothly and was able to work W's Ja's ZL's in remote as if I would have done it in normal mode.
There were no remarkable internet latency issues even if the network was 3G on both ends. The limitations of the setup were the conveniency features that was due to the difference of the two transceivers. The FT 450 does not have a real split operation as the FT2000; the FT450 displays only one VFO frequency at a time, thus trying to switch between TX/RX frequencies on the 450 results something very confusing on the remote 2000. Working blind; like without a webcam at the remote end one simply don't know what the remote radio is doing in split mode, which could be annoying in a pileup. The other weakness is the way DSP is managed by the two radio, simply they are not aligned and made no sense to use in this particular configuration. ( It was an issue even later with the same 2xFT2000 twin setup, where the firmware and EDSP versions were different between the two radio. The FT2000 was going thru a quite few SW upgrades since they been first released ... I still like them though... )
During the summer I finally sold my small FT897D and was able to buy a second hand FT2000 and after the SW upgrade I started the real work on a serious remote setup. The next steps were then to involve the power amplifier and the G1000DXC rotator and antenna switching.
I replaced one of the manual om2500hf's to an automatic one with a remote unit. The original Microbit RRC setup does not need any PC for the remote operation, but once an OM Power amplifier is included there will be a need on the control end for a PC (laptop); to install the remote control software for the amplifier switch on/off and for operational monitoring.
The RRC units have multiple (2) RS232 ports for "parallel" CAT command transfers between the transceivers primarily and secondary for band decoding for eg. an amplifier, PC logging software. Upto now I was not able to find the right settings of the RRC serial port handling to consistently send the band data to the amplifier any time I changed frequency on the trcvr. The only way I could make the amplifier change band if I reboot the RRC. It is not very inconvenient, but is not how it supposed to be. A smoother way is to integrate in the system at the remote end a microHAM Station Master which is able to handle the amplifier as a band decoder, and controls the automatic band pass filters as well as the double ten antenna switch to select the appropriate antenna for the band in use. This subject is still in experimental phase. The same way as the antenna rotator control.
The FT2000 has a rotator control function; a straight minidin 6 cable connected in between the Yaesu G-1000DXC rotator and the radio, the antenna azimuth can be adjusted from the transceiver front panel while the radio display shows the actual beam heading. This function, of course does not work in remote operation; for some reason the control radio does not send the CAT data of this function to the remote one. I have partially resolved it with DF3CB's FT2000 remote control software; which is able to send the desired commands from the PC to the remote radio. The solution is overly complicated and requires a webcam to check the remote site rotator controller display as it is not aligned with the bearing data displayed on the DF3CB control software..
The coming trials will be with the Microbit supplied rotator control panel which has a display/control software for PC and the panel needs to be assembled into the original rotator control box. The solution is applicable for most of the rotators on the market.. still to see.
I hope this blog helps those who are looking at remote controlling their station and are equipped with some of the above mentioned rigs and will aviod running into the same issues I had.
Or if you have already found the cure for these headaches please do not hesitate to write your comments.
The picture was taken by my wife at the temporary control position while my older son trying to fix the wiring I messed up.
When you need a hand:)