Icom IP501H LTE PoC (Push-to-Talk Over Cellular) User Review

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Keith Rawlings takes an in-depth look at the Icom IP501H LTE PoC Radio, investigating its technical features and possible user scenarios

 

Keith Rawlings takes an in-depth look at the Icom IP501H LTE PoC Radio, investigating its technical features and possible user scenarios

 

The phrase "It's life, Jim, but not as we know it", has been misattributed to the TV series Star Trek for many years now, but the phrase "Its radio, but not as we know it" can, perhaps, more aptly be applied to the brand-new Icom IP501H.

This 'radio' is an LTE (Long Term Evolution) transceiver that operates on the 3G and 4G mobile cellular phone network. It offers full two-way radio operation, with features like Push to Talk (PTT), Simplex and Full Duplex operation anywhere where there is a mobile phone network.

When my friend and ex-workmate Owen M3OIL from Essex Radio Hire called me up on the radio and asked, "would I like to have a play with a pair of them", I readily agreed!

 

Not Another Network Radio

Ok, I can hear you all crying "not another network radio" and you will all be correct, this is, indeed, not another network radio. It is a two-way radio, which operates over the cellular mobile phone network.

There is a difference.

The IP501H enables ‘individual’, ‘group’, and ‘all calls’ operation, in exactly the same way as a conventional two-way radio does. Presently aimed at the business user, an example of use could be a large storage and distribution company, who requires communication to be made by personnel in a large warehouse with staff in the office. Those same users may also need be in contact with a company driver who may at the time be driving at the other end of the country.

This system allows that to happen by the simple press of the PTT (Press/Push-To-Talk) feature – as if the users were all within conventional radio range. The system is also great for use within buildings where communication using an ordinary two-way radio may be restricted by the way the building is laid out, or where building materials may adsorb signals.

Even a small vehicle recovery business could find benefits where drivers may be required to recover a car to any part of the country. Being hand-portable, the individual can be equipped with the radio, rather than a vehicle, so a company with three drivers but five or six classes of truck only needs four radios, one each for the drivers and one for the boss! This is similar to the way police officers are issued with their own personal radio. They can jump in any vehicle or work at any location and be contacted straight away, without anyone having to find out where to contact them.

Therefore, in many ways, the Icom system is similar to the Tetra Airwave system of group / private calls.

 

No Repeaters

By using the mobile phone system, the IP501H does away with the need for costly items like repeaters, masts, towers, aerials and the expense involved with the running and maintenance of equipment, not to mention the pricey OFCOM site licenses needed in some cases. The infrastructure is already in place, the service providers pay for the provision, upkeep and upgrade costs of the mobile phone system.

With full duplex, users can enjoy ‘telephone-style’ conversations; both can talk and receive at the same time. As well as this, group calls are possible involving three or more people. At any time, for instance, during an emergency, a user can break into a conversation.

Another huge advantage of this system will be appreciated by users in areas such as London and other large cities, where it can be difficult to get a site licence, due to a lack of available spectrum.

 

Description

The IP501H is a small and compact device, measuring just 59 × 95 × 32 mm. It weighs just  240g and it is easily carried. Being IPX7 waterproof, for 30 minutes at a depth of 1m, it is safe to use outside or in any place, it is likely to get wet. When using the optional BC-218 charger cradle and HM-215 speaker-microphone, calls can be made with the microphone, while the IP501H is being charged.

There is a large number of options available, including chargers, earphones, speaker microphones, headsets (including Bluetooth-enabled ones) and carrying cases.

The attached SMA aerial may be removed and connected to a base or mobile version if required.

As with every item of Icom equipment I have used, the IP501H feels like a quality product.

 

Features and Coverage

The set is powered on and off by rotation of the top mounted volume control, which feels firm and is unlikely to be accidentally turned. The front panel houses the LCD display, the five-button keypad and the speaker/microphone. On the left-hand side are the PTT switch and an Option key.

The right-hand side houses the socket for the external add-ons such as Bluetooth/ Speaker-Microphone and so on. A sturdy belt clip attaches to the rear of the set.

Returning to the front panel, the keypad is used to select the operating condition of the set. For example, the Address button is used to select a calling party or group from a pre-programmed list. In a similar way, text messages can be selected to be sent to various parties.

The operation is simple and intuitive.

The charging of the radios I had, was a simple matter of placing the handset into the base charger and letting it get on with it. The charging time was around three hours, and Icom quotes an operating time of 17 hours approximately. I never had the set go flat on me during normal operations, but I did unintentionally leave one on overnight and found it flat in the morning.

The audio quality was sharp and clear, even at high volume levels, and the IP501H is quite loud when turned up.

Network coverage is provided by a custom Icom SIM card. This card switches between the EE, Vodaphone and O2 networks, with EE being the ‘priority-network’. The others will be switched to in poor-signal areas.

The IP501H switches between cells, just like a mobile phone would and – again just like a mobile phone – it will work in other countries too. However, European and UK coverage is based on UK national roaming.

To demonstrate this the directors of Icom UK use the IP501H to contact their colleagues in Japan!

The system will be supplied through the Icom-authorised business dealer network, which will also undertake the radio programming. Various monthly contracts will be made available to suit customer requirements (see later). Each contract will include a dedicated built-in sim card compatible with the previously mentioned service providers.

 

In Use

I had three radios and I used them extensively to evaluate their effectiveness. One thing I had to bear in mind was that they were programmed for only basic functions, i.e., individual calls to each user, group calls, conferencing, and basic text messaging.

Owen dropped two of the radios at my house and kept the other one. We then had a short 'contact', while Owen drove the short journey home. The next day we held a further contact, while I sat in front of my PC (or wandered out to the kitchen to put the kettle on!). Owen drove down the A120 from Braintree to Stansted airport on a call-out.

Communication was excellent along the route, apart from one notorious spot, where phones are known to drop out. Past this, point communication was once again excellent until the airport was reached.

Once off of the A120 and on the approach road, the signal quality degraded until it reached the point of locking up, with the audio becoming very ‘stuttery’.

It was noted that, unlike a mobile phone which often ‘shuts down’ the call in these circumstances, the IP501H hung in trying to keep the transmission open.

Phone coverage at the airport can sometimes be scratchy. Given the many delays, caused by thousands of people trying to book alternative flights on their phones, this was not surprising.

After driving to the far side of the airport and using another cell known to be less busy than those on the  'terminal side', communication returned to normal.

The next day I went out on my travels and, while we were not very distant from one another, no more than 50 miles I would say, I was still able to contact Owen at any point and at any time during my journey.

My son Ben M3EUO took the third handset out while looking for a new car. He 'checked-in' at various points to keep me updated on where he was and what he was doing. It was a simple matter to answer questions such as "should the clutch engage with a rattle right at the top" with "NO, walk away!" even when I was some 30 miles away and covered in cobwebs looking for a fuse box in an old barn!

Later, we gave the handset Ben had been using to Neil M0NAS, so that he could take it with him to the Clacton Airshow on the 23rd August. As well as a member of Essex Raynet Neil is a trained paramedic and would be on duty stationed near the Lifeboat Station on that Thursday.

Owen, also a member of Essex RAYNET, was located back in Weeley, Essex at Gold Control, along with Dave G0DEC.

I also intended to attend the Clacton Show at first, and I spent the afternoon in a leisurely and pleasant wander around IWM Duxford with my family and some friends.

As it transpired, me being at Duxford gave us a more balanced test of the system from three entirely different environments.

As the Icom radios were not part of the authorised equipment being used on the day, they were only operated informally and when time allowed.

While at Duxford with the handsets set to group call, I could listen in to the occasional non-urgent conversations from Clacton and also chat back about how the day was going.

At no time was there any break-up of conversations due to poor signal coverage, although a temporary phone cell had been set up on the Greensward at Clacton. This, undoubtedly, improved communications for the thousands of people (250,000 over two days), located within this relatively small area.

Later that day, during the lull between the daytime and evening displays, I spoke to Dave G0DEC at RAYNET control about how the day had gone and also a number of other topics. The conversation was only interrupted when things eventually started to get busy again in the evening.

The main problem I had when talking to the others was to not keep starting and ending the 'over' with my call sign!

All this being said, while we used the IP501H's like radio amateurs, this new system from Icom is not aimed at the amateur market. The whole concept is one that uses a private network and one that is aimed more at the commercial/business user.

However, our operations proved that the system could have been used to great advantage at a major public event. I should add here that there is nothing to stop anyone from buying into the system if they so wish.

 

Conclusion

The Icom system allows any company, organisation or individual, to enjoy the benefits of two-way radio communication without committing to the cost and hassle involved in providing the infrastructure or obtaining a license to do so.  It will operate anywhere there is network coverage, and we all found the system worked very well indeed.

I particularly enjoyed having ‘amateur-radio-hand-held-type’ contacts with friends at distances, far in excess of anything we were used to, and I certainly missed my set once it had gone back.

The operation is relatively simple although, if more options are programmed, this may change.

There may be some drawbacks.

In busy areas, or in times of crisis or emergency, the mobile system gets overloaded, can be monopolised by the emergency services or even shut down to public users.

Private radio systems operating independently are not affected in this way but, of course, the range may be limited, depending on the type of infrastructure being used.

However, the beauty of the system is that anyone can use it!

Yes, it is aimed at more commercial users but there is no reason a family may not acquire a set-up to stay in constant touch with one another using the simplicity of POC operation.

I can see the IP501H becoming a very popular option.

Of course, this may well mean there will be less to listen to on our scanners in the years to come….

Presently the cost involved is as follows:

A user can buy the IP501H outright for £456 (including VAT).

Monthly SIM costs are £9.60 (including VAT). This includes server connection.

Alternatively, a contract may be purchased (including an IP501H) over 24 months at £30 (including VAT). This also includes SIM and server connection).

You may also opt for 36 months, at £24.00 (including VAT) and, again, with SIM and server connection).

Finally, please don't contact me stating this is not ‘real’ radio. I am merely reporting on a new and exciting communications system!

My Thanks to Own Hutley, of Essex Radio Hire, for the loan of the sets

http://essexradiohire.co.uk

And, once again, my sincere thanks to Ian Lockyer from Icom UK for his help and patience in answering my questions. You can find more information on the IP501H LTE/PoC Radio/Handset at this URL:

https://www.icomuk.co.uk/IP501H-LTE_PoC-Radio-Handset

 

 

This article was featured in the November 2018 issue of Radio User