China v. Japan

Up to now, the Japanese “big boys” such as Icom, Kenwood and Yaesu have pretty well dominated the amateur radio market, but the Chinese are on the march. Only last month I bought a 30W pep all mode rig for 10m: this was made in China. See also yesterday’s post about 40m Pixie kits at ridiculously low prices.

Be in no doubt: within a few years we will see the amateur radio market flooded with quality products made in China with low prices. At this point, the traditional Japanese brands will die out or be made in China. By the next solar minimum in around 4-5 years time the dynamics of the commercial amateur radio market will be very different. The writing is already on the wall.

Up to now most Chinese amateur products have lacked the finesse of Japanese products but this is rapidly changing. We are fast approaching the time when Chinese made amateur products will be every bit as good as Japanese products, but at very much lower prices.

In the end competition is healthy but this is likely to result in the death nell for all manufacturers not in China. We could well see the death of Ten Tec and Elecraft unless they design in the USA and make in China. The volumes of loyal customers who would be willing to pay USA manufacturing prices would be far too low, sadly.

Of course, we have already seen this with most consumer products and white goods. In the end, China will become too expensive and we will look for slave labour rates elsewhere. Sadly we live in a very odd world. This cannot go on for ever, but we are all complicit. At the moment we are exporting most of our manufacture to China.

Roger Lapthorn, G3XBM, is a regular contributor to and writes from Cambridge, England.

22 Responses to “China v. Japan”

  • Terry W6LEO:

    Well said.

  • peter kg5wy:

    I agree and also see it coming. I really don’t feel sorry for the big guys because I believe they are very rich and have made millions off of the hams around the world. As long as the quality from China holds up things will be interesting.

  • David WB4ONA:

    Don’t be so sure about china taking over just yet. Digital Signal Processing (DSP) and programmable logic (e.g., FPGA/CPLD) may be the real “leveler” soon enough, especially when it comes to manufacturing costs. When your entire transceiver is essentially mainly just a DAC/ADC stage & FPGA/DSP part, a transmit PA and a smattering of analog filtering/matching, it doesn’t matter where it’s made, and everyone essentially uses the same parts. Then the value is in how good the software is, how good your Engineers are, how good your documentation and support is, and last but certainly not least, how you protect your Intellectual Property (IP) from those that will copy it. These are areas where China still lags. Will costs fall with these next generation Software Defined Radios (SDRs), it is hard to say, the software.bitstream IP development is still quite expensive, but I think costs will eventually fall. All bets are off though, if the IP is pre-packaged with the parts, or they manage to clone existing high en IP.

  • Mike KG9DW:

    I’m with David WB4ONA on this one. China has not taken over all manufacturing as Roger implies. The Baofeng handhelds aren’t the greatest ever. They are OK, and they are cheap. Elecraft and Flex continue to make great radios that so far haven’t been copied by China. Roger is right that we shouldn’t expect consumers to pay extra for a made in the USA label. That isn’t how capitalism works. But calling this the end of Japan’s dominance of the ham market is premature.

  • Andy Holman (KE8ANC):

    I have a feeling it might take longer than you think. The majority of the ham community is still older and are set in their ways imho. I think it might change as the guard changes to those of us in our 40’s & 50’s (or younger).

    I also believe that there will still be a strong want for USA made radios. It might affect prices, but I also think many people will pay for a brand. Just like BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac, etc.

  • peter kg5wy:


  • Paul, W3FIS:

    Basic economics, I believe. I am convinced that the Chinese are doing exactly what the Japanese did many years ago — copy to get into the market, then innovate to firm up their position. The HTs are the classic example. Early Baofeng’s (UV-3R) are a little crude, the the UV-5R series are much better. We are also seeing a lot of “repurposed” commercial equipment, such as the Jetstream JT270M, for example. This gives them the matter of economies of scale, and the ability to sell into a world market.

    I noticed that my Baofeng UV-5R+ from Amazon (maybe a year or so old now), is marked inside the battery compartment as “specifically made for eBay or Amazon. Go figure…

    I have an X1M transceiver for HF. Some “teething” problems initially, and QC issues, but it is my main digital transceiver for the shack.

    The only real problem I see is after purchase support for stuff coming out of China. They will need dealer/repair sites in this country. Not a hard problem to bring off, IMHO.

    73 /paul W3FIS

  • Phil N4LNE:

    I am not sure of the time frame for China to take over the ham market but it will happen. While I own and love Icom and Kenwood products I will buy Chinese products if they work as well as the current big names radios do. I would love to support Ten-Tec, Elecraft and Flex but the price point is just to high. I think BMW and other high end vehicles are great also but I would never buy one because again the higher price is not justified in my opinion. The new SDR radios are nothing more or less than a computer that require another computer to even be able to use them yet the price is as much or more than a real hardware based radio in short there is a lot of greed in the companies that make them. There are people that are willing to pay 100K for a 30K vehicles or 5K plus for a 500 dollar SDR radio but there are not enough of them to supper the market in the long run. Price to sell or price to fail the choice will be made in the market place.

  • Francois 3B8GZ:

    A major proportion of those BMW and Mercedes cars components are also from China!

    so in the end even if Ham gear gets assembled in USA or Europe under their Brand names lots of the innards are sourced and made in Far East anyway since years now!

  • Francois 3B8GZ:

    6 months after buying a new FT857d had it sent back to change ceramic filters, cost nearly $200 to ship and labour etc…made in Japan.

    At present have Baofeng, Puxing and TYT vhf & uhf, FM HT’s and mobile, 2 years zero problems!

    Guess will look at Chinese sourced radio next time round in a year or 2 when they will be seriously competing on the ssb market.

  • Marty AG3EK:

    …and then as China becomes a more industrialized nation, some other country will do the same thing to them. Look at the history of chip manufacturing to see this principle in action.

  • Jeff n1kdo:

    Elecraft has nothing to worry about from China.

    The Chinese will never equal, much less exceed, Elecraft’s level of customer service and support.

    US-built is not comparatively that expensive for high-end, relatively low-volume stuff like Elecraft makes. You might be surprised. And, there is a lot to be said for working with local suppliers.

    One of the reasons why Chinese manufacturing is so inexpensive is that the Chinese do not have the same kind of environmental regulations we have here in the USA. That cannot last, and it is going to be a very costly lesson for them.

  • Chris VK2UW:

    Competition is great and we as Hams need a break on prices after the glut on new equipment and overly priced, just for the changes to allow Black Box operators as such with the changes is license conditions.
    These so called companies have made a big hit with those.

    Bring on the competition china.

  • Michael VA3OTA:

    SDR is the future of ham radio, and I see no reason why the Chinese can’t take over on this. New hams are very friendly towards Chinese gear, with practically all of them starting with a BaoFeng or similar. In fact, it’s the reason for the resurgence of the hobby, for $50 you can get started on the repeaters, instead of $500 for a Japanese HT. Give me a quality $500 SDR transceiver and I’m all over it.

  • Eddie - KJ4FGI:

    I own the ELECRAFT KX3, PA100 some test equipment. I have purchased China radios and some Japan radios, Kenwood, Yaesu and Icom.

    The quality of Elecraft is second to none, just about all the parts are made in America, high quality metals and electronic components.
    They have the Best Customer Service that you won’t get with Japanese radios, if you buy a China radio, good luck.

    You pay for what you get, reading QST and CQ magazines the top contesters use the ELECRAFT K3, yes , you can get a radio made in Japan with more bells and whistles, that still can’t compare with the performance Elecraft radios.

    Look at QST comparison charts, again, if you can afford or are able to save for an Elecraft buy it.You will never find a complaint about their customer service only high raves about it.

    Check out E-ham reviews and QST reviews, china is in the dust and Japan still can’t match the Elecraft performance with a $10,000.00 radio.

    If you want to get started in ham radio and your wallet is light go Japanese, those radios can be programed manually easily, no China radios can they need software, no good if you in the field.

    You Get What You Pay For, again, if your wallet is lite try for the best your money can buy Just Do Your “Research” On It First,

  • On6uu frank:

    Eddie — the K3 is taken to dxpeditions because it is light.

    then, Tentec already has a Chinese radio which can do more or less the same as a KX1…the Tentec is made in China, Youkits has the same, HB-1A, I have a HB-1B from Youkits and it is really good.

    If Elecraft wants to invest in more dealers in Europe they would have a bigger market, I want a KX3 but have to go to Germany or Italy for that. Yes I want a dealer in my country…why…because there is something like service.

    If Elecraft is not carefull they could become the next Heathkit…and then I mean they will not exist anymore in 10 years time. But I hope they do.

  • Stephen G0PQB:

    I bought a Standard Radio c156 2m handheld in 1997 and whilst the radio was made in Japan, the battery packs were made in China even then.

  • peter kg5wy:

    See what you started Roger. I guess this was a popular subject.

  • John Crowell KE5GFJ:

    All my Collins and Heathkits were made in the good old USA. And I can still buy parts for them or get them repaired by expert techs here in the states. I have several Yaesu, Icom and Kenwood radios as well. But the old tube radios will still be running when all my plastic radios have died. It’s getting difficult to get replacement parts from the big three. And if the big EMP event occurs as some predict, all the solid state rigs will be toast. But with a little care the old tube radios will still be usable. Everyone should have at least one. If for nothing else they keep the ham shack warm in winter!

  • HP1-CHQ:

    Hi 73 for all, so I need info about prices and modeles of amaterur radios
    like HF for móvil and Base, and others Ítems.
    Best Regards
    Jose Urribarri Chu.

  • KI7WGC:

    There is more tho the Chinese plan than cheep radios. They subsidies their business so they can dominate. They plan to run everyone else out of business so they can demand you comply with their plan. Buy American or Japanese!

  • N4FWD:

    The thread is a bit old. My take: Everyone is forgetting the influence of politics in the manufacturing business. I understand that of late, certain Chinese companies were caught breaking an export ban placed by the US on a mid-east country. As a result, the US government has placed a moratorium on those companies and US based companies are prohibited from selling parts to those Chinese companies. As I understand it, one of those companies has closed down as a result of the moratorium.

    So, narrowing down the scope of my statement to the Chinese Amateur Radio market, it is not hard to imagine those companies being negatively impacted by politics.

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