TYT MD-2017

First off lets start with a caution: TYT, Radioddity and probably others, supply software that is flagged as a virus by multiple antivirus companies when scanned with VirusTotal.com. If you are not familiar with VirusTotal, it allows you to scan files for viruses using multiple databases which provides better protection than a singe antivirus installed on a PC. Ok more on this later. On to the MD-2017.

It seems that the Chinese are looking to put big name radio suppliers out of business. Not that long ago Baofeng was unknown. At first people were skeptical. Now Baofeng is the ubiquitous radio. It seems everyone has one. Its a great way to get into ham radio. For under $30 its a deal. Sure there are problems with it but what else gets you dual band for $30 bucks!? It seems with the recent offerings from China that the Chinese are serious about taking business away the big manufacturers. There are new offerings that allow hams to get into digital and Dual Band to boot. Today we look at the TYT MD-2017

As of this writing the MD-2017 has been out for almost a half year or so. Its still pretty new and some bugs have been worked out in firmware updates. I would think that more are going to come. I are testing firmware version 3.036.

The MD-2017 offers dual band TRUE tier 2 DMR at a price under $200. Oh and for that price you can have GPS too. The Radio Comes with a programming cable and software (Caution: trojan malware!) and TYT offers updates via their website at TYT888.com

The build quality is good. Actually its quite good. It claims to be IP67. I wouldn’t consider this a rugged radio though. For those used to rugged commercial radios like Motorola’s or Kenwood’s you will notice that it feels a bit cheap. When I compare it to my old Yaesu FT-270 i find the MD-2017 feeling cheap mostly due to its lighter weight. The lighter weight can be a good thing if you want a lighter radio that is waterproof. There is a aluminum frame and gaskets that help keep water out of the battery contacts so expect this to do well overall.

MD-2017 Battery

As far as RF performance goes, I have yet to put it on a service monitor and do some measurements. I can say that the radio sounds good in digital and OK for analog. I have noticed that there is a hissing sound in analog much like the old analog 800mhz phones. this would suggest poor receiver performance. There are also squelch issues with radio in analog. The radio will fail to close squelch in a timely manner on some transmissions. This leads to long awkward static bursts that remind you that this is a Cheap Chinese radio. Reports from users though say that the transmissions from this radio sound good in analog and digital. Perhaps a better antenna would improve things. There are rumors about the antenna and once we test it on a analyzer we will see. I suspect that most of these issues are in part due to the fact that this is marketed for commercial use which means the antenna is probably tuned for frequencies just above the HAM bands where most people are using them here in the US.

Speaking of the antenna, There have been reports of the SMA connector breaking. This is bad news but sounds familiar. In fact My $8000 radio had the same issue. Yes you heard that right $8000 radio! the Motorola APX 8000 had issues that led to FSB11117A. It is the same issue.  So while its a problem, it seems even $8000 worth of radio can have the same issues.

Seeing that Motorola had the same issue it would further support that the Chinese are desperately trying to copy Motorola. Just looking at the New radios like the MD-2017 and its an obvious style knock off of the Motorola radios. The speaker grill has the same rounded bars. The PTT button is lined with a color plastic like the Motorola radios and the side connector is a similar style too.

The side connector brings up another point. The MD-2017 has a nice side connector but its just a ribbon cable with some thick black paint isolating the different connectors. Be sure to keep the easy lose cover on the radio at all times to ensure that this connector stays in good shape. It wouldn’t take much to ruin this connector.

Now one thing that I like about the MD-2017 is that it has programmable buttons. Something many HAM radios are lacking. I hate having a engineer decide how to use my radio. Having the programmable buttons adds to the functionality of the radio. This is something I wish more expensive HAM radio manufacturers would notice and add to newer builds.

There is also the unusual addition of a track ball. This has been a debated subject for many online. While I must admit I would prefer a directional keypad with up, down, left, right, I find that the track ball does its job. I hope it is rugged enough to last. I have much more of a issue with the fact that you cannot program zone up and zone down. One of the big issues I have with HAM radios is the lack of Zones. I work with public safety radios for my job and the idea of Zones is stuck in my head. It allows me to keep all those channels better organized. This is something that I was looking forward too with the MD-2017. The problem is that you can only assign a Zone button. This means that you can cycle zones but if you go past it you must go all the way back around. There is another option to go into the menu and search out your zone and go directly there but who wants to dig through menus?

Menus are another topic with this radio. If you are on a channel that is busy and you are trying to do something in your menu, the radio will keep kicking you out to show you the display of who is talking. This is possibly the biggest failure this radio has to date in my mind. I have to change to a unused channel in order to make changes in my radio without getting interrupted. I hope they can address this in future updates.

The screen has some issues too. While it is a nice color display it only shows up when the back light is on. This means less battery life as you have to keep the back light on in order to see what you are doing. The Radioddity GD-77 doesn’t have a color screen but you can read it better outside and without having the back light on.

The last few points on this radio is that at this time I am unaware of anyway to adjust the radio. There are only two squelch settings: Normal and Tight. While that sounds great, I have no idea what levels they set the squelch at. Also if there were any need to adjust the reference oscillator, I don’t see anywhere to do so in the software. This is a big difference between the cheaper Chinese radios and bigger names. If you buy a Chinese radio, plan on it being disposable rather than an investment you spend money on repairing. The thing is though that at under $200 you can get a whole new radio. That’s cheaper than any flat rate repair cost. In fact I bought this radio at just above the cost of one hour of shop repair time. So if the shop has a one hour minimum it just doesn’t make sense to repair the radio.

Now about that software. It seems that these days anything coming from china (software wise) has some sort of malware on it. China it seems, is trying to get their claws into anything and everything and know that cheap goods are hard to pass up. Its hard to say what the motivation is behind the malware but in any case it makes this radio a NO-GO for recommendations. I was able to install the software on a old PC that had no network connection and no personal information on it nor anything I was worried about loosing. If you are associated with RACES or any other official group I would absolutely stay away from any of the Chinese radios for risk of bringing a computer virus into govt. systems. If the IT security officer finds out that a HAM brought malware into the network you can bet that it will not go well.

My conclusion is that IF you have a dedicated computer that you will never put on the internet nor have any personal or sensitive information on then go ahead and play around with this radio. Its a good but not great radio that gets you into DMR and with some firmware updates could turn into a great radio.

 

 

 

MD-2017 Top view
MD-2017 side
MD-2017 side

 

Whats on my desk?

My Desk

I figured I would show some of what I have been up to. I have been playing around a lot with Cisco LMR gateways and VoIP systems lately. The more i use them the more I like them which is in contrast to my experience with the Motorola MCD 5000 remotes and RGU’s. I have found that the more I have to deal with the MCD 5000’s the more I hate the interface. The MCD 5000’s need a lot of tweaking to get the audio to sound ok and the work flow is horrible. Cisco’s call manager express on the other hand is a Phone system. Its a little bit of apples to oranges but if you combine call manager express and cisco’s LMR gateways then you get a great platform to play with. Now if you are thinking about a real radio system then i suggest looking at Cisco instant connect to work with your choice of radio. I have mentioned Instant connect before but its worth mentioning again because FirstNet is picking up steam and things like Cisco Instant connect seem to be the way of the future. Mixed networks of data and LMR. Anyway If you are at all interested in radio SYSTEMS then I would highly suggest getting a voice lab off ebay that includes a couple IP phones, a 2800 series router and a PoE capable switch. Get a VWIC2-2E/M for the 2800 series or if you have a 2900 series router get a VWIC3-2E/M and add your choice of analog FM radio and you are ready to have a good time.

Anyway you can see that I have a collection of things that I have been working on sitting on my desk. The Cisco 7940 Voip phone is old but configuring it has helped me better understand the Motorola Systems that i take care of. I have a 3D printer that I use to make random parts including custom cases for things like the Android E/M interface. I have a Sonim XP6 as my main PoC platform with its built in push to talk button. The Motorola XTS 3000 astro25  trunked radio is on the left. A yaesu VX-7 so I can get on my local repeaters and a Baofeng UV-5X3 triband is on top of the computer. I also have a NESDR SMART RTL-SDR from NooElec.com that is feeding my SDRsharp program you can see on the monitor. What you don’t see is that off to the right I have a small rolling 19″ relay rack with a Cisco 2811, 2821 running Call manager express, and a 3560 PoE switch. Both routers have E&M cards so I can configure them for LMR gate ways and I currently have an Icom IC-208H connected for testing. The setup has been working great. I plan on advancing and getting into multicasting and using the T1 interface cards for some tone interfacing but haven’t got to that point yet. So far my LMR gateways can only serve one phone at a time.

So those are some of the toys I have been playing with. I plan on doing a write up in the future about setting up a LMR gateway and I have some sample audio of what they sound like. If anyone has questions on Cisco LMR gateways, feel free to send a comment. I am no expert but have some basic knowledge. I also have some plans for adding a VOX circuit to the android E/M interface that would allow it to be connected directly to a radio. It seems that most people that come to this page are looking for a way to connect android to a radio and not to a E/M port. There isn’t much difference. I als ahve a family so this stuff happens at a slow pace.

Surecom SW33 wattmeter review

For those looking to purchase the surecom SW33 power/SWR meter, I have included my findings of the one I purchased.  It can be found on Amazon.com for around $50 at the time of this writing:

I would say that this would be a waste of money overall. I’m sure most of you would agree. At $50 expectations are low. As you can see from the data, the SW33 is somewhat useful in the 2meter band. Unfortunately the device doesn’t perform well when you get to the top end of its range. UHF is sadly un-accurate. I suppose that if you were just looking to see if your radio was in fact doing something that it would show that. As you can see though, Its power reading is half of actual power at the top end if its range. For Ham use, which i would think is the major market for this device, the SW33 doesn’t perform well. I would like to see it cover up to 440Mhz with better results. It tends to perform better just below the 70cm band.

The VSWR function seems to perform better. If I get a chance to compare this to a vector network analyzer I will post that data as well but I suspect that the SW33 will be a better tool as a VSWR meter.

SW33 data

UV-5X3 and Nagoya NA-320A Antenna review.

The Baofeng UV-5X3 is a Tri-band radio offering operation on 2m,1.25m, and 70cm bands. Most popular portable radios are on 2m and 70cm because its easier to manufacture a radio that performs well on these bands. 1.25m however makes things a bit harder to do. Specifically it is difficult to make an antenna that is resonant on all three bands. The UV-5X3 gets around this by giving a dual band antenna for use on 2m and 70cm and an additional antenna for 1.25m. Right now it seems that there is a lot of hype surrounding the Nagoya brand antennas and Nagoya offers a tri-bander, the NA-320A. I decided to order a UV-5X3 and the Nagoya NA-320A to see if I could get a radio that does better on 1.25m than my old Yaesu VX-7R. This

Here (See below) is a screen shot of the Dual band (2m/70cm) antenna that comes with the UV-5X3. As you can see its not too bad. The UHF portion is tuned to a lower frequency and the VHF side is still a little high in VSWR to call great but as far as cheap rubber duckies go I think this is expected results and usable. The UHF is getting rather poor when you start operating in the repeater portion of the band but it looks like the antenna is longer than it should be. A trim might improve this.

uv-5x3-dual-band-ant
UV-5X3 dual-band antenna (VHF/UHF)

Below you will see a screenshot of the 1.25m antenna. Marker 2 is about where you will be operating for this band. As you can see the antenna is tuned for a little bit lower than this. I was able to trim off about 1.25 inches from this antenna which put 223Mhz right in the sweet spot.

uv-5x3-222-ant
UV-5X3 1.25m antenna

Here (See below) is a Picture of the Nagoya NA-320A. They managed to get the VSWR lowest in all the right places. At first look its a great trace for a portable antenna. Then you notice that almost the entire trace is above 3:1! what?! I spent some time looking for specs for this antenna but couldn’t find any. My guess is that its for a reason. I would not recommend this antenna based on this and the fact that its a rather large antenna. My guess is that most people will see a gain in receive signal and call it good but the TX will suffer and they have no way of knowing. Tools like this Anristu LMR master don’t come cheap so many Amateur Radio operators have little to go by other than on the air reports.

nagoya-na-320a
Nagoya NA-320A Tri-band antenna

Motorola MCD 5000 Radio Remotes

IP is the future of LMR radio. There, I said it. Many of you are thinking “Duh!” and a lot of you are saying “uggg!”. The Motorola MCD 5000 is proof of the fact that IP is only getting a firmer grip on the last holdout of Legacy technology that is Land Mobile Radio.

I recently was able to play around with a MCD 5000 remote system for a recent project. I had to add a Radio Gateway Unit (RGU) with an APX 7500 Consolette. I knew the system was IP based but due to the fact that I have been using Tone Remotes up to this point I still approached it with the attitude that you configure the remote here, the radio there, and woo hoo! Right? Boy was I wrong. There is a reason Motorola refers to the MCD 5000’s as a SYSTEM. No longer are you able to quickly configure a tone remote, set your levels and walk away. No, the MCD 5000 system was designed to solve any radio remote need. With functionality comes complexity.

I like the MCD 5000. Its a top notch device. It better be at Motorola prices. However configuring the System makes me feel like I am working with a Prototype. Constantly changing My laptop IP address to go from Default IP to LAN IP. From Browser to CPS configuration on the APX to the Configuration Tool for the RGU  and MCD Remote not to mention Excel. Nothing seems to flow from device to device. Then there is the MCD 5000 CT software.

Maybe Motorola wants their configuration tools to be so horrible that you give in and pay one of their techs to install the equipment. The interface feels very old. The fact that you edit a CSV file makes me wonder if Motorola put any effort at all into making this a mature product.  It reminds me of the old radios that had to be programmed with HEX. I get CSV files and their use but why Motorola couldn’t have made a user interface within the Configuration tool that took care of that for you is beyond me.

Then there is the issue with the need to have the CSV file to make changes to an existing system. There is not a single device that holds the configurations. Having a PC with the CSV file IS the master database or so it seems. This presents a problem if you loose the file or perhaps decide to go with another company for your service. I can’t help compare the MCD 5000 with Cisco’s IP telephone systems like Call Manager Express (or take your pick of any other IP phone system). When you get down to it, you are doing the same thing. Sending Audio from one machine to another. I feel like Motorola is far behind here. Have you looked at Cisco IPICS (Now Instant Connect)? You should. Cisco has been able to take an IP deskset and use it to make calls, connect to radios, among other things like check your sports team scores. Not only that, Cisco is doing this on the same hardware that IT folks have been banging on for years. Chances are your IT group already has a Radio Gateway at every location, they just don’t know it. Cisco has been doing RoIP/VoIP for a while now. When you compare Cisco’s solutions to Motorola’s you start to see how new Motorola is to the IP game.

Its not all bad though. I’m sure I have some wrong information in this article  as my experience with the product is still young. When you compare the New remotes with what they replaced you start to see a method to the madness. The MC 3000 was a great remote but it was rather rigid in its implementation. With the MCD 5000’s you gain the ability to connect to radios from long distances. You gain the ability to connect to a system of radios, not just one radio. Security features like User permissions and login screens prevent unauthorized use of radio resources, something the MC 3000 had no control of. The build quality on the MCD’s is excellent.

Bottom line is that Motorola has moved on from the old analog days and for those of us that lived to see the hay day of Analog LMR systems, well, we just have to live with it. This isn’t the first time there have been technology changes in the industry and it wont be the last (LTE?). I think the younger technicians that are more IP savvy will have little issue with the MCD 5000. The key now is to take the new technology and go out and build better radio systems!

Motorola RLN6554 Bluetooth Mic

2016-01-25 07.08.56

Motorola’s RLN6554 Bluetooth microphone.This could be the best bluetooth mic on the market. Well built when compared to the aftermarket Bluetooth mics that you may be accustom to but it isn’t perfect when paired with Motorola APX radios like the APX 8000. More on that later.

 

The Top of the Microphone has three buttons fulfilling simple functions. on the Left hand side you have the power button. In the Center you will find the volume up and volume down functions, and to the right you will find the familiar Orange emergency button. Simple.

2016-01-25 07.07.08

On the right hand side you will find a Headset jack. A feature many officers will appreciate. This takes the standard 3.5mm plugs.

2016-01-25 07.10.01

On the left you will find the PTT button that is in the same styling as the APX line of portable radios. Just Below the PTT button is a light button (sorry we forgot to get a picture of the LED on the bottom of the mic).

2016-01-25 07.05.41

On the rear of the mic is a rotating clip that allows the mic to mount to clothing at different angles.

As for the performance of the Microphone, Audio is loud and sounds better than most Bluetooth mics. Running the volume at full blast produces a rather impressive level of audio. The PTT button has a crisp break so you can feel if you are keying up. The layout is intuitive and consistent with existing shoulder mics so users will have no problem figuring out how to operate it. Pairing is where Motorola has really made it easy.  With the Portable radio on (Bluetooth turned on as well) simply turn on the microphone and  bring the blue dot on the microphone to the blue dot on the radio and the pairing process will start automatically. No need to scroll through menu’s, search for devices etc. With Motorola’s Accessory Programming Software, users have the ability to customize how the microphone acts. For example users can turn off tones, change the functionality of the light button etc. but what about when used with a APX radio? When we used this mic with a APX 8000 radio we found that the Bluetooth mic had much more gain than the radio mic. This caused audio levels to change depending on what the user was using. We had to tweak with the audio profiles in our radios to get the mic to sound more like the radios mic. I would have expected Motorola to have had this closer right out of the box. A note to technicians setting up APX 8000’s, Pay close attention to the audio settings in CPS. Don’t count on Motorola on this one. Where was I? ahhh yes on with the review…

The Range of the Microphone is quite good. Some of our facilities are in dense concrete buildings. It turns out that a lot of work we do is right were the radio doesn’t have coverage. With the Bluetooth mic, we are able to leave our radio by a window or in a room closer to the exterior where there is coverage. I found it is also nice to leave my radio on my tool bag and just carry the mic with me if i’m up on a ladder. As you start to reach the limit of Bluetooth range, The microphone will beep letting you know you are going to far. The beep is also a good reminder that you might be leaving your radio behind.