Posts Tagged ‘DVAP’

DStar and Digital Networks

If your pockets are deep and your mind open then DStar offers some useful opportunities to connect to other amateurs via a very robust network. I on the other hand am a cheapskate with very shallow pockets and a healthy distrust of proprietary stuff. So how does one get involved in a changing view of amateur radio? There seem to be a few options that are more that dongles for your PC.

FreeDV is one way. It promises a way of connecting up your existing analogue radio to the digital networks. A very brief look at it this afternoon gave the impression that if there was a signal to be heard (On 14.236Mhz) then it would decode it and display the QSO on the screen. Trouble is there where no HF signals.

DV3000 bridge is another way to connect your radio to and existing set up (Analogue VHF)

Jonathan Naylor, G4KLX also has spawned a range of hardware and software that makes use of digital voice that appears through the link.

All these little bits of knowledge came from an a hour or so when the kids were at their quietest (which is not often) so there’s clearly a bit to learn. I hadn’t paid much attention to DStar or its friends as at face value it was asking me to buy more stuff at £300+ . That was a turn off. But if there are options at a lower price point then I could be persuaded to join in the digital voice game.

On the Road With D-STAR (part 2)

Part 2 of 2 

If you purchase the DHAP with the Raspberry Pi, it includes a factory image of the OS and software. Configuration is easy enough. The DVAP software is set to auto-boot so you need only configure it once. If you connect the device to a wired network connection the Pi will boot up and obtain a connection. If you want to use the device with Wi-Fi, then you have to launch the WiFi configuration tool and set up the connection.

This is only slightly tricky because it would be handy to plug in a keyboard, mouse, and the network dongle — three USB connections while the Pi only offers two. A USB hub handles the multiple connections and you’re underway. After setting it all up once, there’s no need for reconfiguration as it all just boots up and obtains a network connection without the need for additional interface.

In other words, connection to a monitor, mouse and keyboard is only required for the initial configuration. After that, the DHAP can be operated “headless”.

Unless of course you’re thinking of taking this on the road with you and would like to connect it to a hotel’s Wi-Fi. Then you’re going to need to carry the input peripherals and a monitor, or use the TV in your hotel room if that’s possible.

This is all much more than I like to carry on out of town trips which is why I tether the DHAP to my cellphone. Carrying Wi-Fi in my pocket simplifies things considerably though this brings me to a tip I’d like to pass along when using it this way.

Wi-Fi and Tethering

If you set your home Wi-Fi and your tethered connection to have the same SSID, password, and encryption method, then there is never a need to reconfigure the Raspberry Pi. One of my home wireless networks (WPA PSK2) is called ‘GUEST’ and the password is ‘lemonade’ and I’ve made those settings identical on my phone.

When I’m away from home, I tether to my phone. When I’m home, the Pi auto connects to my home Wi-Fi. Simple. Easy. Clean.

It takes about 15-20 seconds for the Pi to boot up and another 20-30 seconds for the networking to kick-in, negotiate a connection, and begin working. When you power up the DHAP, give yourself a full minute before trying to connect to it with your radio.

Powering the DHAP

The DHAP comes with a brick charger that has an LED indicator. When it’s red, the batteries are charging and when it’s green the charge cycle is complete. Silly me. I plugged it in and started using it right away. The charger went through the cycle, the LED turned green and the voltage began to drop. Though I wasn’t paying attention and several hours later my D-STAR connection was dead. When I checked on the DHAP the voltage display showed 2.2 volts — not enough to keep the Pi or the DVAP alive.

This seemed odd. The battery voltage was low but the charger LED was green. There was no charging going on for some reason and I thought I had a defective unit.

Then I discovered that the charger is fairly “dumb”. It provides one charge cycle then stops. Removing power resets it for the next charge. This works well if you charge the DHAP, then unhook it and take it in the field. If, on the other hand, you want it to just sit on the shelf at home and provide a hot-spot, you should provide power via the USB Power socket on the front panel.

This bypasses the batteries altogether and directly powers the Raspberry Pi and the DVAP. By the way, *don’t turn the unit on in this mode* — and the voltage display will show the power being supplied via a USB power supply — probably something a little less than 5 volts.

A one amp USB power supply should do the trick nicely.

Odds and Ends

It makes sense to get things working with your DVAP connected to your desktop (or laptop) computer before installing it in the DHAP. It will operate exactly the same once it’s tucked away in the enclosure.

There is a small slot in the top of the DHAP that permits you to see the activity LED’s on the DVAP. You will find this quite useful.

The tiny antenna on the DVAP works well enough but it can be replaced with a more efficient “ducky” style antenna. The DHAP comes equipped with a built-in cable that can “remote” the antenna connection to the back panel. Don’t be tempted to try and interface the DVAP to a full-sized, outdoor antenna. Internet Labs has reported hardware failures that they attribute to doing just that.

Have Fun

D-STAR is not worth the bits it’s built upon if you don’t enjoy it. If you’re considering joining the growing crowd in this unique mode of operation let me first ask you one simple question: do you enjoy repeater operation?

Because at its core, that’s what D-STAR is. A global collection of repeaters and individual users who have the ability to communicate with each other using this digital technology. If you’re answer is “YES” and you enjoy rapid learning, then you will no doubt enjoy digging in and exploring this evolving mode of operation.

But if you’re answer is “NO”, well, then this facet of amateur radio is probably not for you. Don’t waste your time — or your treasure. Move on and find something you really enjoy. After all, amateur radio is a hobby with endless things to do, people to meet, and fun to be had.

[miss part one?]


Filed under: Ham Radio Tagged: dhap, dstar, dvap, hr, icom, id51a

On the Road With D-STAR

Part 1 of 2

I’m traveling this week with a DHAP and the Icom ID-51A dual-band handheld. This combination of hardware permits me to stay connected with my friends on the D-STAR network from wherever I happen to roam – no local digital repeater required. The DHAP is a custom-built enclosure and battery supply for a Raspberry Pi and DV Access Point – a DVAP.

If all this sounds like too much alphabet soup (it is!) let’s first break it down in pieces.

The DVAP is a small USB powered D-STAR transceiver that runs about 10mW of power on UHF. VHF is also available. It’s manufactured by Internet Labs. The concept here is that you plug the DVAP into a USB port on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer, running the proper software and connected to the Internet, and it looks a lot like a D-STAR repeater to your radio — albeit a micro-repeater with only about 100 yards of coverage.

With this arrangement, a user can connect to other repeaters and reflectors on the network. While it’s an effective solution, it’s not elegant or efficient to keep a desktop or laptop computer running all the time just to maintain that connection.

Enter the Raspberry Pi, a single board computer that’s smaller than a pack of cigarettes, costs $35, supports networking, and runs Linux. It didn’t take long for users to see the advantages of this arrangement over the desktop PC and the rapid migration was underway.

You can put all this together for the price of the DVAP and another $50-100 for a Raspberry Pi, memory, associated cables, power brick, and all that jazz. It will work perfectly well setting on your desk or workbench like that, but if you want to take it outside with you, an enclosure to house and organize it all is a really good idea.

Which gets us to the DHAP. Manufactured by Hardened Power Systems, this contraption is a robust enclosure for the DVAP and the Pi that conveniently brings all of the on-board connections out to the front and back panels. NiMH batteries run the show for several hours between charges while a front panel display shows the battery level.

It’s not waterproof, and I suppose you could break it if you tried. But it is a hardened, machined case that’s slightly smaller than a football. Once it’s configured and charged, you just pick it up and carry it with you wherever you go.

Of course, it requires a network connection that can be provided from a hardwired Ethernet cable or via a Wi-Fi network. That Wi-Fi link means it can be easily tethered to your cell phone, which is how I use it on the road, when I bring it home, it automatically connects to my home Wi-Fi.

It’s the ultimate in convenience and portability for the D-STAR enthusiast though it’s not cheap. $300 [US] for the unit with a Raspberry Pi, a little less if you’re bringing your own Pi. And that doesn’t include the DVAP

More about how I use all this on the road, and a few tips about the DHAP in the next post.


Filed under: Ham Radio Tagged: dhap, dstar, dvap, hr, icom, id51a

DVAP + Pi

I’ve owned my Raspberry Pi for a while now.  I purchased it around the time they were first introduced (early 2012).  Not having a lot of knowledge in the Linux OS, the most I ever really did with it was set it up and play around with it.  However, my reason for purchasing the RPI was to some how use it for amateur radio purposes. 

As I have mentioned before on my blog, I also own a D-STAR Digital Access Point Dongle (DVAP).  I purchased it in 2011 and had been using it connected to an older Windows XP machine.  I wrote a “first look” post as well as one where I was experimenting on the DVAP range away from my QTH.   However, in following my own advice given in my podcast, The Practical Amateur Radio Podcast episode 64 about the Microsoft Windows XP End of Life, I decided it was time to explore how the DVAP might be used with the Raspberry Pi.

In most situations, Google truly is your friend.  Just doing a simple Google search for DVAP and Raspberry Pi led me to more information than I had time to read.  However, the very first search result happened to provide all the information I needed to setup my Raspberry Pi to work with my DVAP dongle.  Special thanks to Bill, AB4BJ who had blogged about his experience in setting up his Pi for DVAP purposes. 

If you have a Raspberry Pi, a DVAP Dongle and a D-STAR radio sitting around your ham shack, it’s very easy to set it all up just as I have done.  In the below picture, I have my ICOM ID92-AD, the DVAP Dongle and the Raspberry Pi setup.  Once configured, the Raspberry Pi will function stand-alone (without keyboard, mouse and monitor).  I can access the RPI via VNC from my iPad if needed. 

2013-11-24 13.39.52

Raspberry Pi running Debian Linux and the DVAPNODE and IRCDDB software.  DVAP is connected to REF001A in Aurora, Illinois.  Screenshot from iPad VNC session.

photo

For now, my setup will remain in my ham shack.  I know many build this setup for mobile/portable use.  At the present time I do not have wireless capabilities for the RPI.  I also want to see just how stable this setup is before making any additional changes.   I was pleased to wake up this morning and find the RPI was still running and the OS was stable.  Time will tell…

Until next time…

73 de KDØBIK

DVAP Tests–Range

As I recently blogged, I purchased the DV Access Point Dongle a few weeks ago.  It really came down to trying to do something to enhance my interest in D-STAR or sell my ICOM IC-92AD.  I was first introduced to D-STAR back in early 2008 and purchased the IC-92AD in the fall of 2008.  I spent the first several months having QSO’s on the local repeaters with the growing number of D-STAR users in the Rocky Mountain region.  But I’ll admit I did get a little bored with just speaking with the same group of guys.  I mean no disrespect, but I never really got into the local VHF/UHF repeater scene.  I think I would have more interest in local repeater operation if I had a longer commute.  But with less than 5 minutes in the car, there’s just no time to try. 

Anyway, a few months ago I grabbed the D-STAR radio and re-educated myself on how to use it and connected to the local Denver repeater and connected to the REF005 London repeater. I really enjoyed just listening with that reflector dialed up in the background.  Not wanting to tie up the local repeater just for my enjoyment, I began looking into the DV Dongle and the DV Access Point Dongle.  I was first leaning towards the DV Dongle as I figured I would do more listening that actual talking and it could just play in the background.  I could use my IC-92AD when I wanted to QSO.  But as I began comparing the two dongles (no dongle is created equal) I began leaning more towards the DV Access Point Dongle with the ability to still use my radio. 

It didn’t take long before I had a short list of ideas on how the DVAP would come in handy around the house and in the office.  In the office I work in a lab which is a RF black hole.  Nothing comes in and nothing gets out.  I could take the DVAP and my IC-92AD to the office and either just listen or perhaps even strike up some QSO’s during lunch.

If you’re not familiar with the DV Access Point D-STAR Dongle, it is a simple looking little device that connects to your PC via USB and allows you from your D-STAR radio to connect into the D-STAR network via the Internet.    The DVAP has a small antenna and transmits at a mere 10mw.  But the nagging question was just how far will 10mw travel?

I had read many blog postings from other hams who were enjoying the world of D-STAR from their DV Access Point.  They were finding out they could successfully operate from other rooms, the back deck, the back yard and even to the henhouse as in the case of my friend, Tim Kirby G4VXE in the United Kingdom.

Now before I go any further, allow me to type out some fine print.  The DV Access Point Dongle is truly designed to provide a licensed ham the ability to connect to the D-STAR network from inside and around their home or location.  It is not intended to be used as a neighborhood D-STAR repeater and send RF signals across the neighborhood or across town. 

Having said all of the above, I still wanted to know the range.  My ham shack is in my basement.  With the DVAP setup and using the little stubby stock antenna, I tested by walking all around my basement, then going upstairs to the ground level, then upstairs to the second floor and then finally on my back deck and courtyard.  No issues.

Like many, the experimentation aspect of the hobby is something I enjoy.  I don’t have a lot of time to build radios and living in such an antenna restricted neighborhood, I don’t have a lot of need to build and experiment with antenna design.  So my eagerness to know just how far I could move away from my QTH really excited me.  I know I’m a nerd…but if you’re reading this so are you. Smile

So I decided to connect the DV Access Point Dongle up to my Diamond X-30A external VHF/UHF antenna.  This antenna is attached to the side of my house where a Directv satellite dish once was mounted.  The antenna works great for working the front range repeaters (including the D-STAR repeaters) and I’ve also managed to hear ARISSat-1 via this stationary antenna.  As a point of reference, the antenna is approx. 16 feet off the ground and it does not stick up above the roofline.  It is totally hidden from view of neighbors and as such it not as efficient as it could/should be.

With no other modifications to the DVAP, I connected it to the external antenna and hopped in the car to go to the grocery store.  From my QTH to the grocery store parking lot (based on Google Earth measurements) as the crow flies or the RF travels, it is .75 miles, 1.20 kilometers, 3,941 feet, 1201 meters…I think you get the idea.  I honestly figured I wouldn’t make it out of my neighborhood.  As I reached the end of my street I was able to do a successful echo test.  I continued up the road and to the exit of my neighborhood.  Another echo test proved successful.  I then proceeded down the street towards the grocery store and with IC-92AD in hand and in the car I did another successful  echo test.  I reached the grocery store parking lot, stepped outside and conducted the final echo test….yep successful.  I was .75 miles from my QTH and had solid copy on the echo test to the DVAP dongle.

Again…let me add the fine print.  The DV Access Point Dongle is intended to provide the licensed amateur radio operator access to the D-STAR network in and around their house/yard.  It is not intended to provide connectivity at 3/4 of a mile away. 

I was short on time this particular day and plan to conduct further testing to determine the limit.  The neighborhood I live in is relatively old with tall, mature trees.  Another test in the dead of winter might also prove to provide additional range since less foliage on trees will get in the way.  A final testing to just fulfill my interests will be as far as I take the range experiment.  I’m not interested in trying to amplify the 10mw signal as I believe that is taking the DVAP in a direction not intended by its developer.  However, the next time I go to the community pool which is located just about 100 yards from my QTH, I believe the IC-92AD might just come along.

Look for an updated blog post on the additional range testing to see if I can go a full mile.  I’ve read reports from hams in the NY area who have been successful at one mile in all directions (N, E, S, W).  I may just wait until winter to try this as I stated above. Finally, I do want to do a little testing to see just how this setup could perform in a portable setup using an AT&T 3G data card.  I’ve certainly read blog posts from other hams stating they have had no issues with a configuration like this.  Again, it’s more to fulfill my experimental interests. 

Until next time…

73 de KD0BIK

DV Access Point – My First Look

This is certainly not the first blog posting to be written about the D-STAR Access Point Dongle (DVAP).  If you Google the subject you’ll find many.  I would like to thank Tim Kirby, G4VXE for his excellent blog postings regarding the subject of the DVAP and his time in helping answer a few questions I had regarding the product. 

Let me start off by answering the question of why, why did I purchase the DVAP?  Yes, I am extremely fortunate to live in a part of the county which has several excellent D-STAR repeaters.  As a matter of fact, we have repeaters both here in Denver (W0CDS) and one down in Monument, Colorado (W0TLM) serving the greater Colorado Springs area.  From just about any point in Denver, including my home shack (via external antenna) I can connect to the Denver machines and generally anywhere south of Denver can hit the Monument system.  So again, why do I need the DVAP device?

This is partly answered by saying my biggest interest in D-STAR is not for local rag chew.  I much prefer to either just listen in on an active reflector or conduct short QSO’s or even rag chews with a hams around the world.  It has been my experience that our local D-STAR repeaters are often used for local rag chew sessions.  Again, sometimes I just enjoy listening in on an active reflector and hear hams from the other side of the world talk about whatever they are talking about.  The DVAP allows me to essentially connect to any D-STAR reflector I choose and I can listen without interruption or without tying up the local repeaters for just my listening enjoyment.  Of course, I can also contribute to the conversations as well and I do enjoy that aspect about D-STAR over Echolink or IRLP.

You might be wondering exactly what the DVAP is and how it works?  Another great question.  You may have heard of the DV Dongle which came out a few years ago.  It was a little blue box which connected to your PC and allowed up to use a PC headset and microphone to access the D-STAR network. The DVAP is almost the same thing.  Notice I said almost.  It does connect to a PC or Mac, but you must also own a D-STAR capable transceiver.  I have the ICOM IC-92AD. 

photo

In my case, the IC-92AD controls all aspects of the DV Access Point Dongle and functions much the same way as my local D-STAR repeater.  The DVAP is essentially my own personal D-STAR repeater/gateway system.  I can setup my memories in the IC-92AD to connect to, communicate with and disconnect from all the reflectors on the D-STAR global system.   The DVAP has a built-in antenna and is capable of transmitting at 10mw on the 2m amateur band.  The range of the DVAP is designed to cover a range of up to 100 yards.  Depending on a few variables your results may vary.  In my application I plan for now to just operate it indoors with the stock antenna.  Of course, I’ll test with my outside mounted 2m antenna at some point to see just how far I can walk away from my QTH and still be able to use the DVAP.  But the general application is mainly inside my home and perhaps on the back deck or courtyard.

As you can tell from the photo above, the DV Access Point Dongle is relatively small.  Inside the box you you’ll find the DVAP module with antenna attached, a user guide and a USB cable.  The user guide explains briefly about the operation of the DVAP and points you to the DVAP Support Website.  From the DVAP website you’ll find additional “how to” material and links to the various software you’ll need to download and install. 

photo

Because I had done some homework on my own before hand, and again thanks to Tim for answering a few questions, I was setup and fully functional in about 10 minutes.  During this 10 minutes I downloaded the software and drivers, unpacked the DVAP from the box, connected it to a laptop running Windows 7 and programmed a few memories to connect to the UK reflector.  I’ve been playing around with the DVAP and getting my memories setup on the IC-92AD for about an hour and am really pleased with the DVAP.  As I stated, I’ll do some more testing and will make sure to blog about my experiences.  Currently I’m using the DVAP tool which is what you’ll find on the DVAP support website.  I do have plans to test another client which offers a little more functionality and allows you to connect direct to reflectors from the software client versus the need to setup from the radio.  But I wanted to first checkout this client first.

As I stated earlier, I do have a few tests I want to complete.  First, I’ll connect the DVAP to my external 2m antenna which is mounted just below my roof line.  It might be interesting to know just how far I can walk away from my QTH and still be in communication to the DVAP.  Remember the DVAP transmits at 10mw.

I also want to check out the other software client which I briefly discussed.  I also plan to setup additional memories on the IC-92AD for other D-STAR reflectors.  I’d like to see how it all works from my office location.  I do work in a lab which is somewhat of an RF black hole.  It might be nice to take the setup to work and enjoy some D-STAR QSO’s during my lunch break.  Finally, I plan to test the range of the DVAP by attaching my external 2m antenna and walking around the neighborhood.  This will probably just a be a one-time test to fulfill my curiosity of just how far 10mw will truly go.  I also have plans to test to see how well it would perform when connected to my 3G AT&T data card.  This could be useful on longer road trips where either I don’t take along HF gear or just to supplement my operation.  I’m sure I’ll share my experiences via this blog site.

But for now, it will come in handy in the shack.  Speaking of which, I just finished my first QSO on the DVAP while connected to the USA Reflector 001, module C with N9ZGE – Don in Springfield, IL.  I was his first D-STAR contact and he was my first DVAP contact.  Best of luck to Don as he continues making those D-STAR contacts.

If you would like to learn more about the exciting D-STAR digital mode, please read this.

Until next time…

73 de KD0BIK


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