Remote History, Remote Rig System and Conclusions
Over approximately the past 18 years I have been building and de-bugging remote HF systems.
It all started when I purchased a "fixer" home on an ocean cliff in Hilo, Hawaii. This was not a full time home but I was in Hilo several weeks at a time (mostly to work on the house). What I found was that Hawaii is about the best place in the world to operate Ham Radio. Everyone wants to talk to Hawaii.
So....I had this idea. Why not use the internet to facilitate operating my Hilo station from my home in CA? (Dial-up was just going away in favor of faster broadband connections.)
After many mistakes and "refinements" I was able to dependably operate my Hilo station from CA. (There are notes about that system on this web site. Take a look at how complex it was.)
After setting up and operating the Hilo remote as well as many other remote sites, numerous hams contacted me for help in setting up their remote stations. Over the past many years, I have set up and assisted others in building many remotes; most using remote desk top software and VOIP software. More recently using the Remote Rig system and just this year, the new K3/K0 systems.
The remote desktop/VOIP systems require a computer at the remote (antenna) end. This computer can be eliminated by using the Remote Rig interface system. However, I still recommend having a computer at the remote end....for many reasons.
You will encounter problems at your remote location and if you don’t have someone there to help you diagnose the problem and fix it….you will need to depend on the remote computer for help.
I have had great success with these remote desktop/VOIP systems and after much fiddling with the audio controls, I have been able to achieve very good quality transmitted audio. (Getting great sounding transmit-audio is the true test.)
Recently (almost 5 years ago now), I found a new product in QST from Sweden - Remote Rig. I ordered a pair immediately and have been delighted.
The Remote Rig system is an internet interface box(s) that facilitates remote radio operation via the internet and has its own built in VOIP codec. (Click the blue link above for more and current details.) I also added the PC Micro (from Remote Rig) which works very well from a laptop also.
To date, this is by far the best remote system I have ever used and, I still say that after 5 years and many remotes later.
With the Remote Rig boxes I now get fantastic transmit-audio with no fiddling and it is simple (after you get past the computer setup/networking issues).
The RRC boxes will work with any radio….but….they are the best (IMHO) when used with the Kenwood TS 480. This radio is built in two parts; the control head and the larger radio box. The radio was mostly intended for mobile operation; the control head goes up front and the bulk of the radio goes in the trunk.
The ability to separate the control head from the radio is the key to great remote operation. Using the RRC boxes, the control cable (RJ 11, a six wire telephone cable) is cut between the control head and the radio body and the internet (with the two RRC boxes) is inserted in series. This system is now remotable to anywhere in the world, via the internet; or inside your house thru your LAN.
The control head and one RRC box sits on your desk at the control location and requires only an internet connection. The balance of the radio (the transmitter) and the other RRC (radio box) sit at the remote location and only needs an internet connection plus an antenna, of course.
You sit at your desk with the actual control head (in CA for example), control the radio (in Hawaii), and operate with real knobs and dials - not from a computer screen. Your microphone plugs into the local RRC box and the radio speaker is in the control head. This is no different than if you were operating the 480 at your home with the antenna connected to the radio/transmitter under your desk and with the control head on your desktop physically connected to the radio body at your feet.
Today there are other brands of HF radios that have detachable faceplates/control heads that can be used in a similar fashion with the Remote Rig boxes. Check the Remote Rig web site for up-to-date info.
Remote Rig reviews are available at http://www.eham.net/reviews/detail/8956.
When you look at the Remote Rig website you will see that the boxes also have a serial port connector DB9 at each end. This is available in order to run a linear (or other serial device e.g. rotor) such as the SPE 1K at the remote end without the need for a computer at the remote end. However, I had hum problems on my transmitted audio when using the serial port to control my SPE 1K amplifier.
I elected to interface the amplifier to a computer at the remote site instead and to control the linear from the remote computer screen. Hum problem solved.
Others are using the same equipment and I assume are not having hum issues, but I want a computer at the remote end for other reasons. So, I am not presently using the serial port function on the RRC boxes.
Lantronix makes a serial device server which will accomplish the same result and give you multiple serial ports at a remote site without a computer at the remote site. This is called a Serial Device Server and only requires an internet connection.
SPE 1K amplifier does work well as a remote amp, has included software to be controlled from a computer, and also includes an antenna tuner. However, I will say that adding an amplifier at the remote end does complicate your life.
What I have used with great success is the 200 watt version of the Kenwood TS 480 HX. This gives 200 watts output and is all in one box....no additional interfacing. The extra 100 watts really makes a difference….and it is a very simple remote. However, the HX does not have a built in antenna tuner.
If you do wish to use an amplifier at your remote location, I strongly recommend that you get the basic radio system up and running perfectly. Work out all the bugs before adding the amp.
For a quick and fairly simple remote system, the 200 watt 480 and the Remote Rig boxes make a great system. You can connect to the 480 using the Remote Rig system and/or using remote desktop and VOIP software. My remotes are always setup with this dual access.
I never travel with the control head and remote rig box. I take only my laptop and a set of ear buds. (To set up this VOIP interface, connect the radio to the computer sound card and use Kenwood CAT software on the remote computer to control the radio which is interfaced to the computer via RS 232.)
Using this system (laptop) I operated from many hotels/motels all over the continental US and Hawaii. While traveling abroad, I operated from Athens, Greece; Lucca, Italy; Hong Kong; Viet Nam; Burma; South Korea; Japan; Singapore; and Tahiti.
All you need is a high speed internet connection and now it is possible to use your cell phone’s 3G or 4G system as a "hot spot" to connect your computer to the internet. I currently have an Iphone 6+ and have used it “like a laptop” to operate my 480 remotes (using the TeamViewer app and the Skype app for Iphone). The screen is a bit small but it works and I received great transmit-audio reports.
I recently operated from two cruise ships (while at sea); m/s Paul Gauguin in and around the islands of Tahiti and m/v Tere Moana in the Caribbean.
With slow shipboard internet, latency will be a problem and you will need to "educate" your group to allow a bit more time for you to respond. The shipboard systems tend to be overloaded by too many users and to have low bandwidth - but it does work. Still, using a satellite internet connection from a rolling ship is a pretty good accomplishment.
I tried the Remote Rig PC Micro (from the ship) to the RRC box at my CA location. However, the latency was running about 700ms and that was just too much for the RRC system. I emailed Mikael at Remote Rig for advice. His recommendation was to go back to the basic system using remote desktop/VOIP. I did this and had great contacts with my group that meets daily on 3.737Hz at 6AM.
I recently tried to connect and operate from a commercial airliner while flying from Boston to Seattle. The speed available on the aircraft was only about 50k. I was able connect to my 480 (via TeamViewer/Skype) and while I could turn on the radio, I could not make out the audio; the connection was just too slow. I could hear my friends in there but not really make out any words. Given more time I'll bet this will even be possible. We just need more speed.
This ability to additionally connect via TeamViewer and Skype and several other reasons is why you should consider keeping a computer at the remote end.
In the simplest form....you do not need a computer with the RRC system. But as indicated above, you can have the RRC system completely operational and still operate your remote using remote desktop software/VOIP. This ability to run your radio remotely with two remote access systems is the best of all worlds.
I have focused almost entirely on the Remote Rig system and while it is great, it is expensive. The pair of interface boxes runs about $500.
For the price of two patch cords from the radio to the computer sound card and some free software, you can be on the air with a remote system and getting great reports….so don’t think you have to spend $500.
Test everything thru your LAN first……The initial Remote Rig setup can be very confusing. After everything is working great on your LAN and you are getting good transmit-audio reports….then….. and only then….move the control away from the radio site and use the internet to connect to your remote. With Remote Rig system you only have to change the SIP contact line in the control box “Radio Settings” tab. (This change will be from a local IP address such as 192.168.1.229:8000 to an external address like 188.8.131.52:8000 or wa6icb.homeip.net:8000.)
Here is where you will want to be able to connect to the computer at the remote site. You will probably want to make changes to the settings in the Remote Rig (radio) box. No problem; just bring up the remote computer screen using TeamViewer, etc. and type in the local IP address of the radio box, make the changes and tell RR radio box to restart.
….any questions….email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.