Richmond Amateur Radio Club

Remote Operations, Part I

I need to start this article with a confession; I am a very lazy man. I mean it; I’ve heard it from my XYL, so it must be true! My laziness really is part of “me” – I am HAPPY spending LOTS of time avoiding something that is routine, trivial, or just not that exciting. I prefer spending time “thinking” (some might call it procrastinating, others might even call it daydreaming) about ways to make those activities not even happen – you know, ideas like paving over the front yard and putting down AstroTurf so I don’t have to cut the grass; ideas that will never fly…

As I daydreamed about ways to make amateur radio even more part of my daily life, I’d often wondered what it would be like to have a complete, remote setup. You know what I mean: every band, every mode, plenty of power, great audio, rig control, antenna tuning, logging, easily portable, all that and more. What kind of “freedom” would that bring!? How could I accomplish this? How much would it cost me?!! Does the technology exist to do all this? Even if I could, why would I want to operate remotely – I mean, isn’t turning the VFO knob part of “being” a HAM?

Recently, my XYL made the fine “suggestion” that the coax hanging from the rear of the house needed to come down and I should just put my “stuff/toys/junk” outside in the shed. Not a bad idea I thought! I’d run power (50 amps of 220) to the shed several years ago to run power tools (table saw, planer, dust collector, etc.) and I really hadn’t built a woodworking project in a couple of years. It turned out that the shed was a great idea; now I’ve got all my gear there – plenty of light, it’s quiet, great ground system, and ALL the coax is just run wherever I need it – right through the floor! There is a thermostat controlled heater which keeps the shack at a comfortable temp when I’m in it and a “maintenance mode” which keeps the shed at 55°F when I’m not. I’ve also got a window and when summer rolls around, I’ll be placing an AC in there. I’ve got a wireless router and a laptop connected to my home network – so I even have internet access. If I had a small fridge, coffee maker, and toilet – I’m not sure I’d really need to get back into the house!

By now, you might be asking, “If you’ve got a shack like that – what are you complaining about?!?!” Remember the beginning of the article – the part where I said that I was lazy. Here’s how that part fits in – the shack is outside. That’s it. WHAT?!? You’re moaning, complaining, and whining about having to WALK outside to your comfortable, DEDICATED, HAM SHACK?!?! Yep, I sure am… Ok, ok, ok… There’s a little more to it than that – I work from home quite a bit and my office is not located in my shack – it’s in the house. Additionally, when I travel, it would be really nice to work my rig – not just a 2m/70cm HT, while somewhere other than at my QTH.

Remote operation – the answer to my quest for even more idleness! With a remote control station, I could sit at my desk at home or desk at work, link up my laptop and work the world! I could use my Ham Radio Deluxe software to control my rig, DM780 for PSK31 and automatically update PSK reporter, while automatically uploading my contacts to eQSL with no delay! (LOTW still needs a manual upload, haven’t quite figured that one out…) Headset and wireless network allows me to take my laptop anywhere in the house – OR BETTER YET, anywhere with an Internet connection! I would be able to participate in the D-STAR net on Wednesday evening, attend the 50.215 6m Central Virginia net at 07:00 for the early check-in list, perhaps follow the grey line for some 20m PSK31, and if I wanted to show anybody at work what Ham Radio is about – just connect over the Internet! The possibilities are (almost) endless!

For those of us who like lists, here are the things that I really wanted from remote operation:

1. Do EVERYTHING that I normally do at my station – except be there!
2. Ease of use – Be easy to understand, use, change, and operate.
3. Portability – Operate anywhere that had wireless or Internet connectivity
4. Reliability – Works reliably all the time – not just sometimes
5. Integration – Must work with Ham Radio Deluxe, DM780, etc.
6. Laptop Compatibility – Software remote operation
7. Rig Compatibility – Must work with my rig!
8. “Reasonably” priced!

The good news is that I’ve managed to get most of that list into my current operating environment. There have been a few bumps and bruises along the way; however, I’ve got to say, I’ve enjoyed most of the journey and am quite pleased with where the road has taken me!

Until next month – 73 de KJ4WLH

Jim Bates (KJ4WLH) – March 2012