Network Radios

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In his first regular column on network radios for RadioUser, Chris Rolinson G7DDN offers hints and tips

 

In his first regular column on network radios for RadioUser, Chris Rolinson G7DDN offers hints and tips that will enable you to participate today in this rapidly-moving area of radio.

 

Things move so quickly in the world of network radios that it can be difficult to keep up, and here’s yet another strand for you to keep up with - a new network radios column in RadioUser.

Your editor has had the foresight to take this growing format on board, and I will look more closely at developments in this new arena.

In this column, I intend to delve more deeply into the many aspects of this mode and to introduce you to some of its movers and shakers. hope you, in turn, will interact with me in the coming months and give me ideas of what you might like to see explored in this column.

Above all, I wish to encourage all of you to give this system a good try-out. With no transmitting license needed and even just by using your mobile phone, you can have an authentic taste of network radio and judge it for yourself. Mind you, it is so much better with a dedicated network device in the radio form-factor.

Please bear in mind that the ‘other side of the coin’ here is that, by the time you read this column, the information may already be a little behind the times.

Listening, or better still, being ‘on the air’ is the best way to keep up to date!

 

Personal Introduction

I have been interested in radio since I took my first tentative steps into shortwave listening at the age of about seven. Back then, in the mid-1960s, the short wave broadcast bands were alive with all kinds of weird and wonderful signals. My first identifiable station was the music-box interval signal of Swiss Radio International.

As a seven-year-old, I could not believe I was hearing voices (in English) emanating from such a far-away country! The world was a much larger place in those days, don’t you think?

I entered the transmitting world via ‘legal’ FM CB in 1981 and was also a huge enthusiast of 934MHz CB too, before sitting my RAE in 1988 and receiving the G7DDN callsign.

Six months later, that became G0MLY, via the old 12 words-per-minute Morse code test.

Therefore – like most of you – my background is very much in ‘traditional’ RF.

 

Network Radio and Me

What brings me to network radio? Curiosity, technological advancement, computers crossing into the RF world, the link with mobile technology, portability, being on the cutting edge – all these things, really.

Above all, I wish to communicate with like-minded people, whether they hold a transmitting license or not.

And this is how I would like to begin my first column: With a few thoughts on the nature of radio licensing, and how people sometimes seem to behave when they hold a licence.

 

Snobbery?

Why do people so often ‘look up’ to those who hold a transmitting license? Perhaps more pertinently, why do those who hold a transmitting license frequently seem to ‘talk down’ to people who do not?

This has always puzzled me. Yet, the only difference between someone who transmits RF and anyone else is that they hold a government-approved license to do so - and that is all.

Yes, they may have taken any number of tests to achieve that license, and it may well be a source of personal pride as to how hard they had to work to achieve it. But when push comes to shove, they simply hold a piece of paper to transmit on certain bands and not a lot more.

Both historically, and within the amateur radio section of the hobby especially, we may have heard some incredible on-the-air statements, which seem to reinforce the view that radio amateurs are garnering a reputation of being curmudgeonly, out-of-touch figures. Here are a few choice examples:

“You didn’t take a Morse test? So, you’re not a proper amateur then?”

“Your callsign is M3 what? I don’t talk to M3s”

“Oh, you are just a shortwave listener…”

You may all have heard similar things in the course of our hobby. Is it condescending to talk down to people, simply based on the date their license was issued or on what privileges it bestows?

 

An Alternative

Communicating is what the radio hobby is all about. We are Radio Users. (This magazine has a great title for a reason). Radio is one form of communication, and communication is a fundamental part of human nature. We are not meant to be alone in the world.

On a side note, this is one reason why solitary confinement is still used as a form of punishment and torture. We are social animals and we need to communicate.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise to me that network radio has taken off in such a big way. Wherever I have been, I have heard people communicating, talking, chatting about every subject under the sun.

People licensed and unlicensed, are coming together to enjoy communicating with one another. Internet propagation is ideal for this because it is open to everyone, with no need for an exam, a callsign or a license.

 

First Steps

How does one venture into this new form of radio? It is simple, really: You can use your smartphone, laptop or PC. There are two apps you will need to get started, Zello and Teamspeak 3.

Zello is free and gives you access to many channels; Teamspeak 3 does cost a few pounds but allows access to the International Radio Network (IRN). You can also, having purchased it, use it on any device which uses the same Operating System (OS).

 

Zello

Zello is a Push-to-Talk (PTT) application, and it is highly favoured by many network radio users. You can download it from any App Store or from this URL (Fig. 1).

www.zello.com/personal/download

The next step is to create an account. If you do have a callsign, it is a very good idea to use that and maybe your first name too; ‘G7DDN Chris’ for example.

If you do not have a callsign, a relevant username, fabricated callsign or maybe better still, your first name and location might work well; ‘CR42 Chris - Solihull’ is an example of this.

It is worth noting that Zello does not allow you to change your username once your account is created, so it is worth getting it right! When I started, I ended up creating 3 or 4 accounts before I got it right for me.

 

Search Woes

Anyway, once that’s done you need to search for some channels so that you can add them. This differs slightly from iOS to Android to PC. However, in the main, look for an ‘add channels’ icon first.

Many of us have fallen foul of Zello’s search facility! If you just click the first Search button you see, it may simply try to search your channels or contact list for the channel or contact that it thinks is in your list and, naturally, if you have none, it finds nothing!

Therefore, first, hunt for the add channels icon and then perform a search (Figs. 2 and 3).  

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There are thousands of Zello channels, but the most popular ones for our use (at least so far) are in the Network Radios suite.

You can differentiate these from others calling themselves ‘network radios’ (in various guises) by the blue icons with large numbers inside them for the different numbered channels (Fig. 4).  

A word of warning: Do be careful here - the success of the original channels has been replicated recently by ‘copycat-channels’; some – but not all – of them are run by the radio community, looking to increase their membership.

Some of the language you might hear on these ‘fake’ channels is not pretty!

The ‘original’ network radio channels are moderated. Depending on which channels you choose, you may even need to have a brief chat with a moderator first before full access privileges are given. It’s very simple!

However, you can listen around to your heart’s content and get a feel for how it all works without having those privileges. Then join in! As the saying goes, the water’s lovely! There are lots of folk around here. You could even meet the likes of me or Tim G4VXE who writes columns for both RadioUser and Practical Wireless.

 

Teamspeak 3

Teamspeak 3 is a piece of German software originally designed for talkback purposes with serious computer gamers in mind. It uses very robust codecs and provides, like Zello, very high-quality audio, perhaps even slightly higher quality in fact. Here you will find the International Radio Network (IRN) (Fig. 5).

IRN is hosted on a server connected to the Teamspeak system; it provides a mixture of Radio over IP (RoIP) and RF crossover links. Therefore, you can talk directly over the internet to another contact; alternatively, you might exit the system on an amateur RF link.

Clearly, for the latter use, you would need an amateur radio callsign as you would be transmitting on an amateur band at some point in the chain. There are safeguards so that you cannot accidentally transmit where you shouldn’t though, so don’t worry too much about that at this stage.

The best way to get started here is to visit the IRN website at this URL:

www.internationalradionetwork.co.uk

I hope to be taking a closer look at IRN in a later column and, hopefully, talking to its founders and main protagonists.

 

News & Events Roundup

The RSGB National Hamfest takes place at the Newark Showground on Friday 28th and Saturday 29th, 2018. This year is the 10th year of this UK-wide event, but of most interest to network radio operators will be the fact that this will be the very first year that network radios will be on sale from the major retailers.

It may, therefore, be the ideal place to get that first device.

Many of the largest retailers are already confirmed to be there, so save those pennies!

There are rumours flying around the various NR channels too that there may be an informal meet-up of network radio enthusiasts. I cannot confirm any details on this yet, but if you tune into one of the network radio channels and just ask, you are bound to find out more relevant information.

Slightly further into the autumn is the RSGB Convention, which takes place from October 12th to 14th, 2018. This is noteworthy as, for the first time ever, there will be a lecture on network radios at the event.

Modesty precludes me saying who exactly is giving the presentation, but suffice it to say, it is likely to be a very ‘lively’ 45 minutes, since attendees at the convention are often the more ‘serious’ HF DXers and contesters within the radio community.

It is a good sign that the RSGB has been open enough to let the debate on network radios spill over into their most prestigious annual event.

http://rsgb.org/main/about-us/rsgb-convention

 

Inrico T320 and a Belgian Train Driver!

Those who have been around the scene for a while will be aware of the Inrico T320. This is a fantastic little handie-talkie device; a great introduction to the world of network radios. As of now, it is the only device that runs Android 7. Therefore, it is well up-to-date, in terms of firmware and it is proving to be a very capable unit.

However, some users started experiencing problems earlier this year, when the T320 started dropping off their Wi-Fi networks and began vibrating randomly.

Cellular users also found that their data usage was higher than they were expecting.

When the community investigated this more deeply, it was found that there were a couple of programs ‘baked’ into the Android firmware that seemed to be doing something odd.

Not exactly ‘stealing’ anything, as far as could be told, but they looked like connections to servers of ‘Oriental’ origin, which did not need to be present at all.

Thanks to the sterling work of Filip Everaert, a train driver and expert Android developer based in Belgium, there are now ways around this issue.

Filip initially suggested using an application firewall software called Netguard, which is free from the Google Play Store. This effectively blocks the malware ‘phoning home’, as ET might say!

Filip subsequently wrote a piece of software for Windows called Inrico Solver. This removes the offending malware, once the radio is booted up. The only downside of this is that – if you have to hard-reset your device for any reason – you will need to run Filip’s software again as the dodgy firmware is in the ROM itself and will reappear following a hard reset.

Finally, Filip totally nailed it by writing a new ROM for the T320, which is as clean as the proverbial whistle. Everyone I know, including myself, who has flashed the new ROM, has had zero issues and our T320s are now running like a dream (Fig. 6).

More information on this and links to the various solutions can be found on the network radio enthusiasts Facebook (FB) group:

www.facebook.com/groups/747365082123751

Search for Filip’s posts, and you will soon find what you are looking for.

 

Ham Radio - All at Sea

Mike 2E1GZZ wrote to me recently to tell me of a little story which he put on his qrz.com page. It is reproduced, slightly edited, as follows (Fig. 7).

I have been on a number of cruise ships - this one was between Southampton & Canary Islands. Having a UK Intermediate Licence, I am not licensed to work from outside of the UK, but even with a full licence, most cruise ships won't allow RF to be transmitted. However, I wanted to do a spot of radio this time. Echolink didn’t work, most probably because it requires certain 'UDP ports' to be open, which the ship’s internet won't allow.

“So: Come in IRN …the International Radio Network. I downloaded Teamspeak and set it up on my laptop, (I could have just as easily used my smartphone). It all worked fine, and I had several QSO's, including into Texas, UK, & Lanzarote. Was I using RF? Yes - 2.4GHz via the ship’s Wi-Fi but also on other frequencies, via the ship’s satellite dish using the O3B Satellite Constellation group, orbiting 4,970m above the Earth. Was it legal? Of course, because there was no ‘amateur RF’, it was done by RoIP. And because IRN operates within all the licence requirements, I’m ‘maritime mobile with my intermediate license!’.

“Thank you IRN!”

 

That’s (Almost) All, Folks…

With this heart-warming story of how technology is helping us to make more of our hobby, I will sign off for now. One of the great things I have found about network radio is that the community is very friendly and forthcoming. I have heard some great stories on the air and it would be great to report on them in this column.

Well, that’s probably more than enough for an inaugural piece. Remember, my aim is to be as approachable as possible. I try to get on the network as much as my day job allows and I am active on the network radios Facebook groups too, so you usually can catch me there.

I am always pleased to receive news and submissions for this column at my e-mail address; so please, do let me have your stories, thoughts and ideas for items.

 

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