This year during the World Radio Team Championship (WRTC 2010) not a single team out the 48 entered the arena with an SDR Radio. These guys are top notch contesters and most of their callsigns can be found regularly of the highest rankings throughout all major contests. Why didn’t anyone trust SDR with its superb characteristics?
Let’s have a look to the market: By today FlexRadio offers already SDR solutions designed and manufactured against industrial standards. These radios are at least as reliable as the Yeasu FT1000MP or Icom IC-756 Pro IIIs. So it can’t be the (hardware) reliability.
Before we go one let’s recall the differences between a classic radio and a software defined Radio.
Three fundamental building blocks
Any radio can be broken down into three fundamental components (also called building blocks):
- Signal Processing
- User Interface
In a classic radio (like your IC756 Pro III) all three components are inevitably located within the same black box which is standing on your shacks desk (schematic below).
On the other hand, the SDR approach is much more flexible. All three building blocks are completely independent of each other. There are no physical or logical dependencies. It is up to the radio designer to combine or separate these building blocks (see schematic below).
A great example is the SDR-Cube. While the SDR-Cube takes care about the Signal Processing and the User Interface, the cube will work with any kind of Softrock like transceiver. Whatever you might have already purchased. Great reuse, isn’t it? This is how the logical view on the SDR-Cube looks like:
Almost every day there are new SDR (RF) projects announced. Apart from Softrock you might have already heard of Genesis, FA-SDR-TRX, QS1R, PMSDR, Beaglebrick, LD-1, … and so on. If you don’t trust me, check out this list of SDR projects.
But what about the third building block, the User Interface?
The User Interface
This year I had a lot of conversations regarding the User Interface of Software Defined Radios. Somehow it is just amazing that the Ham community is paying so little attention to this aspect of an SDR. By today it is still widely accepted that the typical User Interface of an SDR consists of a Mouse, a Keyboard and a PC Screen. You don’t need a degree in ergonomics to know that it is very painful to operate your radio in a 24 hour or even 48 hour contest exclusively with the mouse.
Even FlexRadio, the leading supplier of Software Defined Radios seems to be ignoring the importance of a proper User Interface – and by the way, I do NOT consider the Griffin Powermate or Shuttlepro as an appropriate User Interface! By today these devices are just simulating mouse and keyboard-strokes (which requires the focus to permanently remain of the SDR application).
Today it is easier than ever to create a personalized User Interface. Microcontrollers are cheap and the few buttons, knobs and adjustable potentiometers might already be waiting in your shack on their usage.
Modern Microcontrollers come with build-in USB protocol and easy adjustable PC drivers. There are plenty of beginner tutorials available on the web and since no RF is involved User Interface are actually the best suited building block to get started for beginners!
Who says that the radio controls must be on the front of a black box and located perpendicular to your shacks desk? SDR allows us for the first time to completely redefine and optimize the radios User Interface! Are you serious into contesting? If so, you want to pay special attention to ergonomics. Why not having the control console directly next to your keyboard? Or do you prefer portable, backpack operations? Then your focus will lie on the limited physical dimensions. N2ABPs SDR-Cube is a nice example on this.
So does SDR really suck? I think it is a promising technology, but for operational usage it still has some flaws. We still need to discover all the new possibilities which SDR enables us to do. RF and Signal Processing isn’t everything! The time is right for exploring the third SDR building block – the User Interface!
Do you have a similar opinion? Am I right or wrong? Please share your thoughts with me through a comment!