Flex-Radio SmartSDR – Annual Fees and Possibilities

The new SmartSDR format, where the heavy lifting of DSP is done all in the radio and the computer has only “thin client” duties, has captured my imagination.

I’ve also been reading all sorts of (shadenfreunden) speculation about what the annual fees will be about in postings on the net.

The Signature Flex-6000 series radios are a hardware platform that will only slowly evolve as hardware – especially in comparison to the likely rapid and very noticeable SmartSDR software’s updates.

SmartSDR appears to have two main parts – the massive heavy duty part living inside the Flex-6000 and the light GUI & related services portion out on the thin client.

For discussion purposes as I speculate, I’d like to divide these into SmartSDR-6000 Software and SmartSDR-Client Software.

My guesses about the SmartSDR-6000 Software:

As this is the “machine” – the guts – that has evolved from FlexRadio’s experience in high capability radios for special markets, my guess is that this software is fairly well along in a basic form. Obviously the specific FPGA chip tweaks and oddities of amateur radio needs to be handled, but the “in the box software” capability is something FlexRadio has been successful with in these specialty markets.

This software could be expected to have various features “unlocked” from time-to-time as FlexRadio develops the software, gains approvals, and bluntly per a marketing plan.

To my lay person’s eyes the SCU (Spectral Capture Unit) onwards software architecture may be subject to continuous rounds of improvements.

This is the “guts software” that annual update subscription fees will provide an ongoing improvement every year. Basically the radio will keep improving itself over time with SmartSDR-6000 Software Updates.

My guesses about the SmartSDR-Client Software:

This is the frosting on the cake, and the part my impression is still a ways from ready for prime time.

I didn’t learn how this program is being codes, but thinking if I were in Flex-Radio’s shoes I would certainly not miss the opportunity to do multi-platform programing from the start.

Withe the SmartSDR-6000 Software doing all the hard work, and being very “managed by FlexRadio” there could be a chance of the SmartSDR-Client launching on more than Windows right from the start. Eyeing how every FlexRadio staff member appeared to have an Apple iPad an iOS/OSX SmartSDR-Client Software package is only a matter of time.

SmartSDR-Client has a role of acting as “the gatekeeper” for access to SmartSDR-6000 when third party programs would like to access the radio. This would appear to be at a couple of levels.

First would be the usual hooks for Loggers, Digital Mode Programs, and the usual Ham Auxiliary programs. Anticipate these hooks to be emulated close enough to keep legacy software happy. This level of access to classic CAT type hooks and audio streams should be open to anything the user wants to run. This software will include paid-for programs, donation-ware, shareware and freeware programs.

Second would be a new set of hooks for a SmartSDR-Client enhanced set of hooks for this same level of software. The same basics but enhanced and optimized to make the combined software show its best. Access to this level may require the third party software developer to become authorized by FlexRadio in some sort of Quality Control program. These programs most likely will be paid-for or trial-ware programs given the added developer costs.

Third level would be for third party software that deeply accesses SmartSDR-6000 directly. Complete alternate interfaces could happen here. To get this deep into the SmmartSDR-6000 Software expect the third party developer to be in a tightly monitored program, the programs to pass some sort of QC to be acceptable, the third party developer to need some sort of API key (perhaps several levels will be available) and perhaps each instance of the software needing a user level API key as well. Expect this level of third party software to have fees – perhaps large fees if custom work is done. The possibilities of what could be available at this level is profound!

Fouth level in theory could be direct access to the Series-6000 hardware and very deep into the SmartSDR-6000 Software. Think all the restrictions of the Third level with corporate level NDAs if any third party developer would ever be approved as a product partner.

Thoughts on SmartSDR Software Annual Update Fee:

FlexRadio announced that to receive annual updates to SmartSDR there would be a fee – initially set at $199/year.

To clarify they said over and over – there is NO obligation to pay an annual subscription – your radio software never “expires.”

The fee is if you want to receive Updates, period!

I’ve seen postings on various forums and blogs claiming if you don’t pay your annual fee that your new SmartSDR Flex-6000 series radio will stop working. FlexRadio assured everyone at the Dayton FlexRadio Dinner that the fee buys Upgrades and is NOT necessary to keep a radio running.

FlexRadio’s PowerSDR update process has appeared to be about quarterly, with extra releases when something changes in the bands or there is an important fix to get out.

If the SmartSDR update program is similar I can’t think of anything much more exciting than to have a major upgrade to an stunning new radio a couple times a year! Of course first year updates are included in the purchase cost and for early adopters their “Limited Edition” package includes a second year of update subscription prepaid.

My guesses about possible SmartSDR-6000 Add-In Software:

I am expecting that there could be some neat Add-In packages for the SmartSDR suite.

Some will be external network focused – perhaps private Flex-6000 Diversity-Clusters, private reverse-beacon networks, rent-a-slice-of-a-station software, club multi-user software, remote operator contesting software and advanced remote ability suites.

The internal network shack Add-Ins may include external mode interfaces, unattended operations (RX) software, advance monitoring suites and contesting enhancements.

Remoting enhancements to include your amp, rotor, antenna switches and more should be part of first add-ins.


Imagination becomes the boundary, rather than conventional hardware and the PC, with the Flex-6000 and SmartSDR.

Is making the Flex-6000 and SmartSDR a leap of faith? Perhaps no more than the leap made when tubes gave way to solid state rigs.

“Hello Tomorrow!” could be the tag-line for the Flex-6000/PowerSDR combination!



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4 thoughts on “Flex-Radio SmartSDR – Annual Fees and Possibilities

  1. Jim KJ6RER says:

    The update fee worries me. I’ve been in the position of paying s/w vendors to fix bugs in what I’ve already paid for, and I’ve been stuck with my share of orphaned hardware. Still the technology has me wanting a 6000 so bad….

    Flexradio seem like good people. Their support and reputation look impressive, but even the best of intentions don’t result in completing a piece of software on schedule or sometimes at all.

    I’m relatively new to ham radio although my background is tech. (Could never pick up CW for some reason although still trying.)

    Care to help convince me that a 6000 is a good “investment”?


    • k9zw says:

      Hi Jim KJ6RER

      Thank you for your comment.

      First I wouldn’t suggest any facet of the Amateur Radio hobby, other than perhaps the purchase of land for an operating QTH, could be considered an investment.

      So I don’t think you are going to find newly built any Investment Grade Transceivers.

      With your tech background you may have had the chance to see what were once industrial grade & priced technology brought to a wider market by cost improvements.

      There is always a risk with any edgy development.

      When I sprung for a Flex-5000A the same arguments were heard. Yet my Flex-5000A went from “adequate” to “exemplary” during the first year of ownership as software improved. Having regular opportunities to operate the best rigs the Flex-5000A easily outdistances the conventional boxes – though it does require the operator to treat it as an SDR rather than as a box radio.

      My assessment is that the Flex-6X00 will outdistance the Flex-5000, and the best box radios, by a large distance.

      That does’t make it an “investment” beyond bringing those advanced capabilities to your own shack though.

      The risk tolerant have a unique opportunity to play with the SmartSDR format and hardware hopefully soon.

      For those who need a “sure thing” which is “100% ready to go” they can watch the leading edge until it is mature enough for their personal druthers.

      Congratulations on joining the ranks – wondering if you went zero-to-extra in the same test session? Regardless “well done” and welcome!



      edited to correct poor spelling/typos – sorry! K9ZW

      • Jim KJ6RER says:

        Hey Steve! Good to hear from you.

        Thanks for the encouragement on the Flex 6000. When I first heard about SDR I assumed that DDC was what they did inside the box. It was a disappointment to discover “consumer” SDR still had a more-or-less conventional front end. DDC is just so right, if you can afford the chips to do it at sufficient bit depth. It will always be the case that once data is lost, you can’t get it back no matter how much software you write. I realize many in the software community consider this heresy, and I’m sorry to “step on their frog,” but physics just is.

        No, I didn’t do zed-to-extra in one go; one at a time over about 9 months. The book I had was going to expire once the new question pool came out, so I studied, tried one more exam session and passed extra. Still trying to get my wife to try for general, which is a terrific value. Now I need to get on the air and learn what ham radio is really about. I believe there are many like me who have the interest and technical skills, but for whatever reason just could’t pick up CW.

        Bottom Line: I’ll start saving up for a deposit on a 6000.


  2. Bill Buchanan VA3WTB says:

    I have a Flex 3000 and still can’t get over the wonderful receiver it has as do all the Flexes. The 6000’s will come out as a basic platform from the start, but what will be exiting are the software upgrades. Flex has also hinted on Licensing third party’s to creat app’s that will be for a number of things. That sounds great. I think that anytime you buy a Flex, you are buying into a technology. Don’t be upset with Flex as for their shipping dates, this is a very large undertaking producing this radio. It will be bata tested for a while before final release. For many watching and waiting as the 6000’s develope will keep them away from Flex and these people will just stay with the big boxes, But this devopement only happens because of the technology it has witch lets them. In big box radio’s the most that can upgraded is the firmware, thats it. What you buy is mostly the same for years to come. Either way we see it the future shure looks interesting in this ham radio we love.

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