A Newbie seeking advice

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G6WOV
Posts: 27
Joined: Thu May 13, 2021 12:47 pm

A Newbie seeking advice

Post by G6WOV »

Hi Everyone
I have not been On The Air for quite some years now, but as I will be retiring later this year, I hope to return to what was my favourite hobby when I was a lot younger. It seems the world of Amateur Radio has changed a lot and not just from Analogue to Digital. As did the changes that I learned in the Industry that I have worked for the last 33 years has changed. I started with Analogue Controls using a Screwdriver, a Soldering Iron, and an Oscilloscope. But will be leaving behind a Scredriver, a Laptop, and a Mobile Connection.

But I have recently been reading up (and watching YouTube) on what has been happening in the Ham Radio world, and it looks like I have a lot more to learn again! But a lot of fun too!

I have no Shack (yet) and no aerials, but I kept my FT290 safe, and in the attic (somewhere?) I have a box containing a pair of home built AX.25 Packet TNCs, an old single channel Pye Crystal 70cms, a converted ex-Utility PLL 70Mhz, and various Cables and "Parts". All stuff a Radio Archeologist might find interesting. So a good but affordable DMR Dual Band Radio is also on my Shopping List.

I was very interested and drawn towards what I saw regarding HotSpots, MMDVM, and Pi-Star, and so after reading a lot on your forum, I have just joined you here. I was wanting to ask for some pointers or links to getting me started, as I have been a bit overloaded with the plethora of information.

I would like to put together my own Hotspot, but there are so many versions of the Main Board it seems? I know a little about programming a Raspberry Pi (but only a little). I have been programming Industrial PLCs most of my working life, so I do have some programming skills. I just need to get the right exposure and/or tuition on Python and Linux. I would like to be able to add a larger than 0.9 inch Display eventually (as I might need a magnifying glass to read the small writing). Although I read with interest that someone had attached a 1602 or 2004 LCD, which I am familiar with and have used for other projects. But a larger colour Display looks really good for me to add later.

I am looking forward to enjoying the Radio World again, and thank you for allowing me to join you all.

Kind regards

Keith
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W1KMC
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Re: A Newbie seeking advice

Post by W1KMC »

Well Keith, first welcome. second, DMR is the worst one to start with if you are just coming back into the hobby. Do not start with DMR, get into this one slowly the learning curve to program is the Matterhorn (not quite Everest, but steep)

With a hotspot you can do many modes, DMR (stay away for now), Fusion (a Yaesu FT70DR is a good starter, or if you want a really thin wallet, a FT2D or FT3D are better). Hotspots do System Fusion Wires, but NOT WiresX, but if you have Fusion repeaters in youtr area, the FT70, FT2, and FT3 can all do Wires--X. There is also D-STAR, NXDN, P25 and then the crossover modes of DMRtoYSF, DMRtoNXDN, YSFtoDMR, YSF2NXDN, YSFtoP25 (these allow you to try the other types with the radio you have (DMRtoXX requires a DMR radio and the YSFtoXX requires a Yeasu Fusion capable radio) so ifyou get a Yeasu FT70DR, you can try DMR without the climbing the programming mountain. Downside is you can't change the DMR rooms on the fly (or at least I haven't done it yet) so a computer nearby would be needed.

I am not saying don't get into DMR, just that the programming of these radios is a BEAST. I have seen people gung ho to get into hobby, they take their test (Technician here in the US allows you to use 2 Meters and above, so hotspots are not an issue, I think you are in UK and the Foundation(?) license doesn't allow this (from videos and such I have seen 2E0UKH (forgot his youtube channel name), M3HHY (Lewis of RIngway Manchester on Youtube) ). Then they get their first radio (a DMR), try to program this beast , give up, sell the brand new never used radio, and leave the hobby, simply because they could not figure out the programing.

I have Analog and DMR only where I live (No D-STAR, No Fusion (we just got a Fusion radio in the last month up here)) so I had to teach myself how to do the programming. Now I simplify the order of DMR programming as Tiny Child Zombies (Talk Groups first, then Channels (as DMR you need a Channel for each talkgroup you want to use (or at least use on a regular basis for convenience), and if you don't have the talkgroups first you can't create the channels for DMR), then to use the channels the need to be in a Zone, so if you remember Talk Groups, Channels, Zones (Tiny Child Zombies), you have the basics, but it's still a beast.

I have a Fusion radio too, so I use my hotspot for that (the new Fusion I have near me, I cannot hit with an HT (FT70DR) ), this is a bit easier to use. I have no experience with D-STAR, NXDN, or P25 so I can't speak on those.

Take your time, and if you must start with DMR, get help from a club or a friend who has it already, don't go this one alone. I can help (sort of) but the time difference (GMT-4 EDT here now) may be a hinderance for both of us, but I can be found on [myCallSign].us -- I can do video, or Hamshack Hotline (another thing you may want to try) my extension is on my site.

Again, welcome and good luck. 73
I am no developer, guru, expert, nor do I claim to be or want to be. All advice I give is purely from experience and my efforts to help others.

W1KMC - Kevin M Carman
Bangor, ME
Jumbospot on a Pi0W
DMR 3123142 & 3123143
HHUS Trunk Ext 4329
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W1KMC
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Re: A Newbie seeking advice

Post by W1KMC »

Oh, I forgot to answer the second part.

Hotspots. There are many out there and most work/do the same thing(s), but the Zumboard (it's white) and some of the MMDVM boards built by fellow hams (multi-colors for the boards, but usually blue or green) are a better way to go, and thenn there are the Chinese JumboBoards (kit or prebuilt for you) all over Ebay and Amazon (I think). The Jumbo Boards usually come with a small OLED scren pre attached in a case using a RasPi-ZeroHW (wireless on board), but you can get Nextion Screens that are larger (and buy cases for them to go in. But make sure they are Nextion NX in model Number(e.g. NX3224_K028 -- Nextion 320X240 pixels and 2.8 screen size K=Enhanced -- a T is Basic) -- there are chinese clones that have a TJ in the model, these won't work (or last I knew they didn't)

The program, Pi-Star, you want to download the latest version from the main website here pi-star.uk/downloads/ and right now it's 4.1.4. You will need an SD card of at minimum 4 GB - but around me the lowest I can find is 16GB (don't go higher as it's overkill for a hotspot), you will need to 'burn' Pi-Star to the card (many use Balena Etcher, but I have never gotten it to work for me so I use Win32 Disk Imager (Windows only though)

To use DMR you will need an ID number (radioID.net) you will need to provide them with an OFFICIAL copy o your license (in US anyone can print a Reference Copy, but only the License holder can get the Official copy (as a PDF, so you can send it to them) )

The Pi-Star can work wired (RasPi3b,3b+ (the 4's also work but for a hotspot the higher memory ones are a bit of overkill (a 1GB will do you) ) ), but if you get a PiZero, it only does 2.4GHz wifi so the set up is a bit more.

You need to tell it your wifi, but it doesn't know of it yet, so now what? Well Pi-Star.UK has a wifi builder utility that will create a file for you (call WPA_Supplicant.conf -- you stick this in the /boot folder of the SD card you just created before you put it in the Pi. -- If you can start it wired it makes setup easier. If you do not want to use the builder, then put the SD in the PI-and wait...keep checking for a new WiFi (Pi-Star-Setup) and connect to it, then go to 192.168.50.1 (this is the hotspot's dashboard address) and continue with your setup.

UK may have other issues (Repeater Keepers) that I cannot speak on, A UK ham will have to answer those issues)

This should at least get yopu started.

73
I am no developer, guru, expert, nor do I claim to be or want to be. All advice I give is purely from experience and my efforts to help others.

W1KMC - Kevin M Carman
Bangor, ME
Jumbospot on a Pi0W
DMR 3123142 & 3123143
HHUS Trunk Ext 4329
G6WOV
Posts: 27
Joined: Thu May 13, 2021 12:47 pm

Re: A Newbie seeking advice

Post by G6WOV »

Hi Kevin
Many thanks for your replies, very informative and helpful. Very nice to know that there are others out there willing to help us newbies. Some of tthe hings that I wanted to know, so that I wouldn't go blundering in. Age does bring less impulsiveness, also I have not retired just yet, so I still have some time to learn more before taking the plunge. Plus whilst still at work I won't have as much time as I'd like to learn more at the moment. But a HotSpot sounds something of great interest for me to experiment with. No Soldering Iron, but pluging together Boards and Configuring Software and Hardware. Just the way that things have changed over the years in my working life. Also it sounds a great way for me to get back into Ham Radio again after all these years.

Thank you again

73

Keith
KE7FNS
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Re: A Newbie seeking advice

Post by KE7FNS »

G6WOV wrote: Mon May 17, 2021 10:36 am I have no Shack (yet) and no aerials, but I kept my FT290 safe, and in the attic (somewhere?) I have a box containing a pair of home built AX.25 Packet TNCs, an old single channel Pye Crystal 70cms, a converted ex-Utility PLL 70Mhz, and various Cables and "Parts". All stuff a Radio Archeologist might find interesting. So a good but affordable DMR Dual Band Radio is also on my Shopping List.
For DMR I would recommend a BTECH DMR-6X2 (https://baofengtech.com/product/dmr-6x2/) or an Anytone 878.
G6WOV wrote: Mon May 17, 2021 10:36 am I would like to put together my own Hotspot, but there are so many versions of the Main Board it seems? I know a little about programming a Raspberry Pi (but only a little). I have been programming Industrial PLCs most of my working life, so I do have some programming skills. I just need to get the right exposure and/or tuition on Python and Linux. I would like to be able to add a larger than 0.9 inch Display eventually (as I might need a magnifying glass to read the small writing). Although I read with interest that someone had attached a 1602 or 2004 LCD, which I am familiar with and have used for other projects. But a larger colour Display looks really good for me to add later.
A display for the hotspot is not really needed. It is only extra fluff, you can monitor the hotspot using a webpage, known as the dashboard. If you are going to add a display I suggest a Nextion, they range in sizes from 2.4 inch to 10 inch. Obviously the bigger the display the more information you can display and the larger the text. 3.5" or 5" is perfect in my opinion.

You don't need to know how to do any programming unless you want to help develop the underlying software. Familiarity with Linux is a bonus. There is no Linux GUI, so everything is done remotely from the web based dashboard or a terminal (command line). If you can get around in the Linux command line, you'll be fine.

As far as differences between the main board (MMDVM_HS), they are all basically the same design with some minor differences. There are also clones where people have taken the opensource documentation and substituted lower quality parts and spun up boards. Clones are much cheaper than the "official" boards, and I've seen some clones with errors like missing traces, people have also reported incorrect placement of parts. I'm not saying to steer away from clones completely, but some have some flaws, some will work just fine.

Its really about your interest and how much money do you want to spend or how much time do you want to invest. If you want a prebuilt they are available where you just order it and plug it in and pretty much are ready. You could also buy the individual parts (RPi and MMDVM_HS) and assemble and configure them yourself.
If someones previous actions are any indication of their future actions, then I predict the deletion and removal of access will happen at any moment. 7-11-2020.

"07/13/20 This Website Has Been Taken Down" ... again :lol:
G6WOV
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Re: A Newbie seeking advice

Post by G6WOV »

Thank you for your reply with helpful advice and information. I was looking at building a HotSpot, even if it is just assembly components, as that to me will be part of the fun. The programming of the software, or configuration of the HotSpot is also intriguing to me. From what I have read, I was looking to 3d Print a box for the HotSpot to allow me to look at details on it's screen without the need of a computer to access it. The other reason for a larger Display. Although I had thought the Nextion displays more expensive than OLED displays, I have read that these are a lot easier to configure.

I had read about some of the Boards missing Tracks on the PCB, or cheaper components used to make them. But as a starter, and as I was looking to assemble my own, I will probably buy one of these to start off. I did think to buy a RPi 4 for it, but have read that thiis a bit of overkill, so will probably get a Pi Zero WH initially. Then perhaps later look at a RPi 3 for the bigger Display if deemed necessary, or just because I feel like experimenting with that. It all seems very intriguing and new to me and I am looking forward to retiring and having the time to enjoy Ham Radio again. As I say to the Apprentices "If in doubt - Ask". So it looks like I'm going to be the new Apprentice, and I might have some more questions when I get started.

As for a suitable Transceiver I realise my Analogue Radios aren't suitable, so I will be doing a lot of research into choosing that. But no rush, I have the rest of my life to enjoy it.

73
KE7FNS
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Re: A Newbie seeking advice

Post by KE7FNS »

G6WOV wrote: Mon May 17, 2021 10:21 pm The programming of the software, or configuration of the HotSpot is also intriguing to me.
There really isn't any "programming" needed. You flash the SD card with the Pi-star image, insert it into the RPi and then load a webpage to configure it and you are ready to go. Thats why I was saying the whole screen thing is just extra fluff and not needed. Its not like its a screen where you can interact with the RPi to configure it.
G6WOV wrote: Mon May 17, 2021 10:21 pm From what I have read, I was looking to 3d Print a box for the HotSpot to allow me to look at details on it's screen without the need of a computer to access it.
I've seen some designs available on thingiverse, but most of the cases that are sold commercially are made from laser cut acrylic.
G6WOV wrote: Mon May 17, 2021 10:21 pm The other reason for a larger Display. Although I had thought the Nextion displays more expensive than OLED displays, I have read that these are a lot easier to configure.
Nextions are more expensive than OLEDS and LCDs. They are also much larger and capable of displaying more colors. Most OLED's are single color (white or blue) a few of them are two color where one section is say yellow or blue, and the lower section is white or blue. LCD's are usually single color.

I would say that the OLEDs and LCDs are easier to configure. You simply select which type you have and they start displaying things(they use i2c to communicate). Nextions are a bit more quirky. There are two different ways to connect them and you have to also command (preprogram) them to the correct baudrate since the two different ways use two different speeds. They communicate using RS-232 serial, so one of the ways to connect them is to use a USB/TTL adapter and the other is to use a specific port on the MMDVM_HS board, which some boards might be missing but most of the designs have them (4 pin port labeled as Nextion on the silkscreen).

The main difference is really customization. You only have a few things you can customize on an OLED or LCD, like if the banner which displays which mode you are in is shown or hidden (hiding it helps prevent pixel burn in). Another is to allow scrolling of the banner, again to prevent pixel burn in. But pretty much you can't change the order of the information, it is preset and you get what is displayed.

With a Nextion and a bit of learning you can say change the background graphics or colors that are displayed on the Nextion. Many people provide ready to go files and also include the source code so you can customize things. https://github.com/PD0DIB/Nextion_HAM-radio-screens
G6WOV wrote: Mon May 17, 2021 10:21 pm I did think to buy a RPi 4 for it, but have read that thiis a bit of overkill, so will probably get a Pi Zero WH initially.
A RPi 4 is way overkill in my opinion, I have said before its like driving a Ferrari 50 feet ( 15 m) to the mailbox and back. A RPi ZeroW for 10 bucks is perfectly acceptable, and will do the job. I use RPi 3 B's and 3 B+'s. The main difference is the ZeroW is single core, while the RPi 3's are quad core and a bit more megahertz. Theres also the size difference, the ZeroW is much smaller foot print, and there are even MMDVM_HS boards that are the same foot print which make for a very small package.
G6WOV wrote: Mon May 17, 2021 10:21 pm It all seems very intriguing and new to me and I am looking forward to retiring and having the time to enjoy Ham Radio again. As I say to the Apprentices "If in doubt - Ask". So it looks like I'm going to be the new Apprentice, and I might have some more questions when I get started.
No problem, things can get a little confusing but just from reading your posts I think your background and experience will benefit things and you'll be able to find the information you need on your own, but if not just ask.
G6WOV wrote: Mon May 17, 2021 10:21 pm As for a suitable Transceiver I realise my Analogue Radios aren't suitable, so I will be doing a lot of research into choosing that. But no rush, I have the rest of my life to enjoy it.
Check out this site: https://www.miklor.com/
If someones previous actions are any indication of their future actions, then I predict the deletion and removal of access will happen at any moment. 7-11-2020.

"07/13/20 This Website Has Been Taken Down" ... again :lol:
G6WOV
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Joined: Thu May 13, 2021 12:47 pm

Re: A Newbie seeking advice

Post by G6WOV »

Many thanks
A lot more reading on my part to be done.
🙂
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kd2lh
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Re: A Newbie seeking advice

Post by kd2lh »

Hi,

I've found that the "JumboSpot" platform (a MMDVM Pi Hat connected by header to a Raspberry Pi Zero W) works well, proves reliable if built with quality components, and is easy to work with.

These are available assembled with cases and small OLED displays for under $80 US and can routinely be found on Ebay and through other sources.

You do have a learning curve to surmount. These writeups are very well done, and are being regularly updated:

https://amateurradionotes.com/dmr.htm

You need to choose which, of several, voice over IP backbone networks you want to connect your hotspot to. I personally recomment Brandmeister for several reasons, including it's relative sophistication for self-care configuration as well as it's outstanding reliability.

The MMDVM Pi Hat is where the radio stuff gets implemented. It includes a chip which implements the 4FSK digital modulation used by DMR, as well as the modulation systems of other digital modes. It can dynamically switch between modes as well.

Your Raspberry Pi is where the MMDVM radio gets managed, and where voice packets get switched onto the Internet and forwarded between your hotspot and a close by VOIP network master. It's there that the magic of switching between users on different "Talk Groups" takes place. That's world wide and just like talking locally over a slower switching repeater. Just make sure you pause between transmissions.

It's well worth the work to get this up and running. Don't forget, if you get frustrated - it's a hobby... And... you can do it!
AF6VN
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Re: A Newbie seeking advice

Post by AF6VN »

kd2lh wrote: Tue May 18, 2021 11:18 pm The MMDVM Pi Hat is where the radio stuff gets implemented. It includes a chip which implements the 4FSK digital modulation used by DMR, as well as the modulation systems of other digital modes. It can dynamically switch between modes as well.
Possible clarification: the hats do NOT implement the AMBE/AMBE-2 CODECs which convert from digital to analog and back (this is why there is no DSTAR2DMR/DMR2DSTAR modes in Pi-Star. DMR and YSF use the same CODEC, so to cross over the mode, one merely has to strip/parse the non-voice data header and replace with headers compatible with the other mode. To go between DSTAR and DMR would require having both $$$ CODECs running on the Pi-Star. Instead, Pi-Star leaves the CODECs up to the radios being used, as they have already paid the $$$ for the AMBE license.

The hats only handle the modulation (radio side) <> binary (network side) conversion.

--
AF6VN
Dennis L Bieber
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