Monday, January 4, 2010

SO2V/R A little more in depth on construction and setup

The Flex 5K was designed to operate as a virtual SO2R radio. SO2R stands for single operator twoi radios. Typically how a SO2R station works is you have 2 rigs that are joined together by some sequencing hardware and software. Usually the sequencing hardware switches the RX audio between rigs as well as telling the Key or the PTT which radio to transmit from. Most SO2R stations have multiple amps and multiple antennas as well. You set up radio A with Amp A and antenna A and radio B with Amp B and antenna B. Today there are frequency agile amps and freqency agile antenna switches, so you can technically just push the band switch to lets say 40M and your amp will switch to 40M and your antenna's coax switch will switch to 40M automatically. If you have 2 frequency agile amps and switches, you can technically have every thing set up automatically for the 2 radios in a SO2R station. Of course if you can push the band switch then you can have a program (like N1MM) push the band switch for you while you are logging contacts.

Here is a diagram of a typical SO2R setup:

The purpose of SO2R is to increase QSO rate in a contest You can be lining up a multiplier or a search and pounce QSO on one band while sending CQ on another. Here are the rules from the ARRL CW DX contest for single operator entries.

1 2.1.Single Operator:
One person performs all transmitting, receiving, and logging functions as well as equipment and antenna adjustments.
    1. 2.1.1.Use of spotting assistance or nets (operating arrangements involving other individuals, DX-alerting nets, packet, Internet, multi-channel decoders such as CW Skimmer, etc) is not permitted.
    2. 2.1.2.Single-Operator stations are allowed only one transmitted signal at any given time.
    3. 2.1.3.Single Operators may be divided into subcategories based on power output:
      1. 5-W PEP output or less.
      2. Power: 150-W PEP output or less.
      3. Power: More than 150-W PEP output (see rule 1.3).
  1. 2.2.Single Operator Unlimited: One person performs all transmitting, receiving, and logging functions as well as equipment and antenna adjustments. (Note: See rule
    1. 2.2.1.Use of spotting assistance or nets (operating arrangements involving other individuals, DX-alerting nets, packet, multi-channel decoders such as CW Skimmer, etc) not physically located at the station is permitted.
      (Exception: spotting information obtained from any source outside the station boundary via a closed or dedicated communication link may not be used.)
    2. 2.2.2.Single Operator Assisted stations are allowed only one transmitted signal at any given time, not including transmissions on a spotting net.

Notice I emboldened a relevant rule, only one transmitted signal at a time, so you can not be CQing on 2 bands at once, but you can alternately CQ on 2 bands. The F5K was designed to do exactly this as long as you have the second receiver installed. The F5K has 3 VFO's. One for receiver 1 (VFO A) one for receiver 2 (VFO B) and one for the transmitter (VFO TX). The F5K is unique since it has all three processes RX1, RX2, and TX running all the time. What this allows us to do is pair the VFO's.

You can pair the RX 1 like this (VFO A/VFO TX) or you can pair RX2 like this (VFO B/VFO TX). In PowerSDR there is a little box at the bottom of each VFO that is called TX. When TX is red in VFO A you are operating the (VFO A/VFO TX) pair. Note at the top of this shot you can see the antenna selector displayed. The antennas associated with this VFO pair R1-TX is 2,2. R2 is connected to antenna port 1

If you click the red box under VFO B you will be transmitting on the VFO B/VFO TX pair. If you click split, all three VFO's become independent and you can technically receive on two separate bands and transmit on a third.

Since the Flex has 2 VFO pairs but it is not truly 2 radios. Following the N1MM convention we will call this kind of operation SO2V for single op 2 VFO pairs. I chose this moniker because it is the convention used in the N1MM contesting software, and I think therefore its less confusing to maintain a consistent vocabulary. SO2V requires only one serial port connection to the radio whereas SO2R requires 2 serial ports so I think this is the best terminology. Because of the way Flex has implemented its radio, you can do everything you need to do on one serial port.

The second aspect of the Flex radio that allows SO2V operation is in the power of the antenna switch in the F5K. All three VFO's can address the antenna switch independently, or in pairs. That is you can have VFO A/TX pair set up for RX1=1,TX=1 and have VFO B/TX pair Set RX2=2/TX=2. This is the second thing needed to emulate SO2R, 2 virtually independent RF paths. When VFO A is chosen (click the little red box under VFO A) and RX1=1, TX=1 RF will flow out antenna port 1 to amp 1 and ant 1. When VFO B is chosen (click the little red box under VFO B) RF will flow out ant port 2 to AMP 2 and ANT 2. This allows you to operate 2 bands at once and is the second thing necessary to do SO2R type operation.

Here is a shot displaying some of the choices available in the antenna selector

Finally the Flex 5K automatically routes the audio into the headphones or speakers such that RX1 and RX2 mix in the stereo panorama. This allows you to hear RX1 in one ear and RX2 in the other or to place these signals across the stereo panorama.

The Fk5 also automatically switches on the correct amp depending on what antenna port has been chosen. The F5K also automatically shifts the focus of the keyer and other peripherals like the mic or digital input etc between the 2 VFO's These are the requisite components necessary to accomplish SO2V.

Here is a shot of the back of the F5K. From this shot you can see the complexity and possibilities of the antenna switching in the F5K and its AmpKeying (AMPRLY). I don't really include this in the write up but you can also include such things as pre-amps and band pass filters in the setup. There is a loop in the R1 line that can be broken for these items to be inserted (RX1 in RX1 out). If you had for example a bandpass filter that was controlled by BCD data the hardware design below will accommodate that addition.

One more thing is necessary, a program to tie all this together.

K5FR has a program called DDUTIL. This program acts kind of like the swiss army knife for PowerSDR. It allows multiple external programs to connect to the F5K's single serial port, and it also has provision to automatically control frequency agile amps and frequency agile coax antenna switches. Steve also included a means to to switch VFO's using a foot switch.

This is a copy of how I have DDUTIL configured at my station

The form is set up so that each VFO controls peripheral connections and how the Flex's antenna switch and AmpKey line behave. The first thing you notice is from this form DDUTIL can control 2 LPT ports. On a LPT port there are 8 pins available for parallel control signals. The pins are 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. These signals are returned on pins 18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25) This makes an 8 bit word. an 8 bit word can control a huge number of things (256) one at a time. There is little use to control so many things from a ham radio point of view, so we divided the 8 bit word into 2 four bit words. This allows us to control up to 15 things but you can control 2 things at a time. For example you can control an amp and an antenna switch using these 2 four bit words. So you see the headings Da, and Aa in the table above under VFO A, and Db and Ab under VFO B. We went with this format for maximum flexibility. This way if your amp uses a different code than "Yaesu BCD" you can just plug it in the matrix and make it work.

Yaesu BCD is the format that Yaesu uses in its Quadra amp, and is kind of a Ham radio standard. Yaesu BCD states the table below

band 1=160M=0001, band 2=80M=0010, band 3=40M=0011 band 4=30M=0100 band 5=20M=0101 band 6=17M=0110 band 7=15M=0111 band 8=12M=1000 and band 9=10M=1001. There is a slot for 6M as well.

The Yaesu format is this format that is read by our Unified Microsystems decoder board, as well as the Yaesu Quadra and the ALS-1300 and others. If your station conforms entirely to the Yaesu protocol then there are some hardwiring shortcuts you can use, but if you want max flexibility then using both the pin 2345 and pin 6789 data words give you that. I will show a couple different hardware set ups, one for each possibility

The zero's and ones are what show up on the LPT pins when a given band is chosen. Da (decoder VFO A) is defined as pins 2345, and Aa (Amp VFO A) are pins 6789.

You simply run 4 wires and a return to the decoder board, and run 4 wires and a return to the amp and fill in the blanks in the above matrix and you are in business.

Da, Aa, Db, Ab, are all in hex not decimal Hex has 16 characters instead of the 10 we are used to. In other words decimal is 0123456789. Hex is 0123456789abcdef. An equivalency table is below

Decimal Hex Binary

So the values you enter into Da, Aa, Db, Ab are hex 123456789abcdef. This is important if you want to turn on all pins you enter F in the column not 15.

The next columns are the antenna selector columns R1TX and R2TX

The possibilities are

  • Receiver 1
    • 0 = No Connection
    • 1 = Ant 1
    • 2 = Ant 2
    • 3 = Ant 3
    • 4 = Rx1 In
  • Receiver 2
    • 0 = No Connection
    • 1 = Ant 1
    • 5 = Rx2 In
    • 6 = Rx1 Tap
  • Transmit
    • 1 = Ant 1
    • 2 = Ant 2
    • 3 = Ant 3
Under RX 1 and TX you set up your choice under VFO A, and under RX2 and TX you set up under VFO B.

The way the F5K antenna switch is designed we have to use a little trick to make RX2 follow correctly. Under R2 (VFO B) we insert a 6, and this will choose "RX1Tap" in the R2 selection. R2 will then follow what ever choice you have made for the TX under VFO B. This is due to the way the antenna switch is wired in the F5K, and it gives max flexibility to R2 (VFO B) Confusing ain't it? A couple pictures may help

In this shot you will notice under VFO B the R2,TX choice is 6 1, and the antenna choice in the antenna selector is 1 RX1tap 1. This means I will receive on port 1 and through the RX1 tap that signal will go to RX2, and I will transmit on port 1 when VFO B is chosen.

In this shot TX has been switched to port 3, and when I switch to VFO B the antenna selector sets the R port to three and delivers the signal to R2 via the RX1 tap, and transmits on port 3 when VFO B is chosen.

In this case port 2 in TX has been chosen only on 40M, so the antenna on 40M is now the 2 port under VFO B. This gives a lot of flexibility in how you set up your station but for the most part the 6,1 combo works for me. If you have a couple antennas you can play around with this in a pair of ports and see how it works.

The adapter allows 2 LPT ports to be accessed, one for VFO A and one for VFO B. VFO A in my example is connected to LPT port 888. VFO B is connected to LPT port 632. So fill in the address for the port you intend to use. You can get that information from the device manager in windows.

We went with this format so that if you had only one agile amp and one agile antenna switch you would need only one decoder board to get your station up and running. A more complicated station topology would require the second port and a second decoder board. You can see how things are wired in the example below.

The foot switch (called TX switch) goes in on a com port of your choice. I use com 3. To use this you can have a momentary pedal or you can have a push on push off arrangement. When pins 8 and 4 of a 9 pin serial port are shorted VFO B is chosen and if they are open VFO A is chosen.

The AmpKey is one of the three ports that control the AmpKey line coming out of the back of the F5K. You can assign any amp key line to either VFO, so if one goes out on you in the middle of a contest you can change them on the fly. The other two check boxes turn SO2R off and on, and there is a choice for a single amp and antenna switch to be controlled off both VFO's. In other words you can run both the CQ portion of the station and the Search and Pounce part of the station off one amp/switch combo.

To wire this up I decided to use a prototype board from Radio Shack.
The reason I chose this board is that it gives one an easy way to add things and make changes as time goes on and as your station grows. Here is a shot of how things can be wired NOTE the wires actually reside on the other side of this board, and are fed through the holes and are soldered on this side of the board

As you can see you can easily parallel additional devices (like a BCD switched band pass filter or pre-amp) off of the prototype board simply by soldering to the empty holes. This is the reason I went to the extra work of using this board, because it allows for very clean expansion in the future, as well as a strait forward way to trouble shoot and analyze signal path, plus its easily reproducible for the average ham. In addition I added 12V distribution from this board. The band decoder boards require a 12V input. I added a phono connector and a DB9 connector to use as a foot switch. The wires on the right side of the screen connect to the DB25 connectors that plug into the LPT ports on the computer. Note that the "Common" on the DB25 side of the board goes to pins 18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25 on the DB25. I just laid a wire across these pins and soldered them all together to create the common. Overall this makes a nice central way to add modules to this project without disturbing what is already there if you don't want to build the full blown interface from the start.

If you use only the Yaesu protocol in your station you can just parallel the amps and the decoders off the lines connected to pins 2345 of the LPT. I presently am doing that with my antenna switch and ALS-1300. I wired that up to make sure it would work and it works fine. If you elect for this design you do give up some flexibility, for example with the full interface you can make the program choose the same relay if you happen to run a tri-bander off one coax, while choosing different bands on the amp with the separate connection of the full blown interface. In fact I implemented both full blown and modified on the same board to test out how the modified board would work.

The decoder boards and this board all go in the same box. For I/O, between the amps and the antenna switches I use CAT5 cable I just cut a male-male piece with RJ45's on each end in half in half and wire that to the coax switch or what ever. I use RJ45 F to F inline couplers , and this allows me to use what ever length of CAT5 cable I need between switches amps etc. If I move things around and need a longer cable I just grab another longer CAT5 cable, plug it in and I'm on the air.

Below is a typical usage of the Unified Microsystems board for a typical ham station. This example has a 80M and 40M antenna and a tribander. Note the tribander requires only one position on the antenna switch box. The same position is chosen for 20,15 and 10 using diode steering. Using the DDUTIL matrix you can accomplish the same thing by just using a "5" in the 20, 15 and 10 slots on the matrix. This will turn on the 20M relay for each of band of the triband beam. If you had a Steppir for example you would just use a "5" under the Da column for 20,17,15,12,10,6.

I use this feature with my antenna switch since I use the 80M vertical as my 30M antenna as well

This is a shot of my "ports" screen on the hardware manager of my computer

As you can see I have 3 real serial ports, I have 2 LPT ports and a whole slew of virtual serial ports. The virtual ports are provided by VSP. VSP or virtual serial port can be downloaded from the DDUTIL web site. Install according to the directions and then make some ports

Here is a shot of my VSP manager

I use port pair 13:23 between DDUTIL:PowerSDR (called Radio Cat in DDUTIL), 10:20 between Commander:DDUTIL (the first RCP in DDUTIL), 11:21 between Skimmer:DDUTIL and 8:18 between N1MM:DDUTIL (both in the second RCP screen). N1MM only has 8 serial ports available so you have to put that in your plan when you configure ports. Here are a few shots of how I have DDUTIL confgured

There is a hidden window in DDUTIL called "sleep". This window has some effect on traffic flow in the CAT pipe. To acces double click the background in the "Other" tab in DDUTIL and set the value to zero and double click the background again

Here is a shot of the overall control and RF flow of the integrated system.
Finally DDUTIL has to connect to other programs. Here are some screen shots of config screens of the various programs I have connected to DDUTIL

DX lab commander

CW Skimmer

And N1MM

This should be more than enough information for you to set up your own SO2R/V contest station using a Flex based radio system. Some of this could be used to set up a Flex 3K in SO1V as a contest station. DDUTIL has the capability and will easily allow for the F3K to run in a frequency agile mode.

Here is a shot of one of the interfaces wired with 2 Band decoder cards ready to mount in a box

There is work to be done for sure. Due to the limitations of VAC at the present it would be difficult to implement SO2R in the digital arena. The F5K works fine as a SO1V digital entrant so there is radio fun to be had in that arena.

The rest is up to you and your ingenuity.