Where is The USB on Modern Rigs?

I don’t know if anyone has ever asked this question before, so I will ask. And if someone did and there is an answer, could you direct me to it. And if there isn’t, maybe someone from one of the modern Amateur Radio manufactures can answer it. Why isn’t there USB on modern rigs? What’s the catch to getting it added?

A standard USB port on a computer

A standard USB port on a computer

I mean, with USB, you could make it much easier to setup the frequencies in the memory or the radio. It’s faster through put then serial, so you could get a lot more data from the rig. It would be a simpler setup for interfacing it by just plugging it in and making APIs available for software developers to write code that will talk to it. Apple revolutionized the MP3 and smart phone markets by making it easier to interface your devices with your computer. They’ve moved on from USB to WiFi and cloud based service now. While a modern rig is still using serial ports.

When I talked about a “Smart Rig” back when Google bought Motorola, I was hoping someone may seize in that and go to the next step. But I also understand, many companies don’t share plans for upcoming products with the public. But could you give us a hint? A small clue that something, anything is going to be available at some point? I love my FT-847, but it if used a USB interface that I could hook up to my Mac, I would be in heaven. And a USB accessible rig, makes for much less clutter. Radios are getting smaller and smaller, and adding a USB based interface or even a soundcard capable to allowing you to do APRS, PSK31, etc… is that too much to ask for?

I know there will be folks that say, “West Mountain Radio” makes interfaces, why do you need USB? Simple, I like clutter to be kept a minimum myself, and the ease of one connection to troubleshoot is also nicer. Not to say West Mountain doesn’t make great products, because they do, sans the Mac support. But think of how easy you could explain how to do a digital mode if all you said was, “Yep! I just plug it in the USB port and put in all my favorite frequencies in the radio. Then I start up the software for the mode I want to run and I’m off!” compared to, “Well, you’ll need a serial to USB interface, and drivers have to be installed, then a serial cable and make sure it’s a null modem cable too…” Have I lost anyone yet? Because I need a compass right now.

Hopefully you see where I am going with this. I would have thought after the 15+ years that USB has been around, someone would have came up with a rig with USB to interface it to your computer, giving you the tools to write your own code for your computer. Windows, Linux and Mac, not to maybe mention, Amiga or MorphOS or AROS. So I ask, why don’t modern rigs have USB ports? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Rich also writes a Tech blog and posts stories every Tuesday and Thursday on Q103, Albany’s #1 Rock Station website, as well as Amateur Radio stories every Monday thru Friday on AmiZed Studios and hosts a podcast called The Kim & Rich Show with his fiance’ Kim Dunne.

Rich Gattie, KB2MOB, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from New York, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

22 Responses to “Where is The USB on Modern Rigs?”

  • Matt KD2ACB:

    The Kenwood TS-590S has a USB port for connectivity (http://www.kenwoodusa.com/Communications/Amateur_Radio/HF_Base_Mobile/TS-590S) which is quite nice from what I hear (also released last year I think? So it’s pretty modern). Otherwise, I think the FT-8xx models need a huge refresh. And it’s be a great thing to see built in USB rig control as well as a built in sound card interface…

  • KI6ZQY:

    Kenwood TH D72 has USB. Makes it real easy for programing and hooking up to APRSIS32

  • Israel, N4ZVU:

    And somebody called this hobby “wireless” at one time. HA! Modern communication devices that fit in my pocket have bluetooth microphones, stereo bluetooth audio, wifi and now NFC. The only necessary cord connected to my desktop computer (or laptop) is the power cord and I think that cord will go away pretty soon when induction solutions are more widely available. Ham radio as a hobby is a dinosaur, but it’s a dinosaur that claims to have hatched “wireless” communication. Tell that to a crisp, freshly graduated computer engineer. Always good for a laugh!

  • Fred W0FMS:

    My TS-590S has it on there, including a “soundcard” chip for digital. It’s becoming common place. For older rigs, a FTDI chip (don’t get a “prolific” based one) based USB-serial dongle is only like $20. It’s all good.

    Fred W0FMS

  • Stewart VA3PID:

    Icom’s IC-7200 HF rig has USB rig control and audio too. Contrast that with Yaesu’s newly refreshed 450D that *still* has a DB9 on the back.

    But this is not a hobby about usability. I mean, just look at the big contesting radios; how many switches, dials and doohickeys have they on the front? An Apple-style radio would have a rotary encoder and a power switch. I’m sure many operators like the fact that there’s all this extra “stuff” around.

  • But the question still is, why are rig makers still not making interfaces easier? The 450 is a good example. Kenwood seems to be trying it out.

    I did get a USB to Serial adapter from USB Gear that had the FDTI chipsets and it worked great with my Mac.

    I guess you can called me spoiled. I like my cake and want to eat it as well. So when it does come time to upgrade my radios, I may opt for one with USB.

  • Michael N5TGL:

    USB? Pffffft! I rock the firewire on the Flex! 🙂

  • Don N4KC:

    Slowly but surely! My new TS-590S does…as mentioned…have USB, but still has the DB9 on the back as well, for a number of good reasons. Radios are still not ALL computer. Not yet. Not even the Flex, which still requires something or other to produce RF!

  • John W3RC:

    The newer Icom rigs have usb but limited functionality as of yet. I think manufacturers are getting there slowly. But a little too slow. Perhaps they’ve hired the blackberry guys….just sayin’ 😉

  • Bruce Greiner, AC0RI:

    The has been mentioned on the Yahoo Elecraft KX3 thread. The reason given is that USB interfaces (active components in equipment) creates significant RFI in the HF frequency bands. This apparently hard to filter out since it is broadband and is data rate dependent.

  • Mark HB9AZT:

    Whenever an interface should be reliable, just forget about usb, it’s real junk! Crashing drivers, “forgotten” devices, junk deposits in the device manager etc. The good old rs-232 interface may be slow, but once configured it runs stable and reliable.

    A real advantage for the user would be an embedded webserver to bring devices on the lan or the wan!

    Another problem are the audio connections of the amateur radio rig. Every rig has its own pinout and audio levels. A true nightmare to interface that junk. Why not use commercial 600-ohm standards with xlr plugs and standardized levels?

    73 de Mark HB9AZT

  • Mitch DJ0QN:

    Do you really want to be dependent upon the rig manufacturers to continue to update their USB drivers for upcoming Windows versions, as well as other operating systems, some of which may not even exist today? Since many of us use rigs that are well over 10-20 years old or more, think about where we were even 10 years ago and project that forward.

    If the USB port is used for non-proprietary features, such as a standard serial port converter or sound card interface, then you may or may not have a problem, depending upon which chip set is being used. But who can predict the future when it comes to PC technology? How do you know that particular chip set will be supported on Windows 15?

    On the other hand, the lowly serial port is a standard that will work in 20 years with a serial converter that will be current at that point in time.

    If the manufacturers are going to add new ports to be “modern”, then focus on those that don’t require drivers, such as Ethernet, perhaps with an embedded web server.

    Mitch DJ0QN / K7DX

  • Cliff Fox KU4GW:

    Ditto Mitch! I’m off of digital modes now just because I bought a new PC! Well,I had to buy a new PC after a direct lightning strike took out $6,200 worth of home electronics including my FT-1000MP via the CAT port, no coaxes were connected! Replaced the Mark V with another one and it turns out the Prolific cables & drivers won’t run my FT-1000MP Mark V with Windows 7 although they worked fine on Windows Vista & XP. When I try them I either get a froze up program after a couple of minutes or worse, the blue screen of death, so now I have to get new FTDI chipset cables & drivers for Windows 7. I sure do miss Hellschreiber (Feld-Hell) & PSK31!

  • Michael N5TGL:

    “How do you know that particular chip set will be supported on Windows 15?”

    Who knows if we will even be around then? 2012 is right around the corner. 🙂

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