Tag Archives: Flex-Radio

Flex-6000 Architecture Explained – Steve Hicks N5AC Presentation

An excellent presentation on the new Flex-6000 Signature Series by Steve Hicks N5AC, Vice President Engineering, Flex Radio Systems as filmed by HamRadioNow.

Direct Link to the YouTube Flex-6000 Presentation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCdxAmMsoC4

This Autumn 2012 presentation touches on the vast potential the new Flex-6000 Radio Series will offer. Some interesting tidbits that come out in the presentation are:

  • Internally the Flex-6000 series will use a form of Linux
  • Many of the components of the Flex-6000 have been in Government Flex Radio products for years
  • Flex Radio was an advance recipient of some of the hardware chips, in some cases a year ahead of market
  • Confirmed is the first release of PowerSDR will be local network (not “remote”), which had been previsouly announced
  • Protecting use from ourselves from third-party programming issues in a fully open software architecture is an issue Flex Radio is still working through

Every Q & A session something neat things come up – at this presentation the idea of other internet users “listening in” to a Flex-6000 QSO in progress over the internet was brought up. Another cool idea!

73

Steve
K9ZW

(Note – Retroactively I’m introducing a Flex-6000 Category for readers to search this blog archives.  Will start going back and adding the Category to older posts shortly.)

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Is it Soup Yet? – Flex-6000 Series Radios in Beta Testing

The New #5 issue of  the Flex-Insider newsletter from Flex-Radio outlines the progress of the Flex-6000 Series development.  I shortened the release to the key points:

It’s Q4. Where’s My Radio?

A Word from our CEO

I am sure some of you are asking that question so we wanted to provide the answer. The short version is that units will begin shipping to our beta team in November with general availability units to follow in the first quarter. A more detailed explanation of the reasoning is as follows:

In development of the FLEX-6000 Signature Series, we have consistently assumed the position that it is more important to do things right the first time than to take shortcuts.
…..

So where are we? ….

Most of the major [software/firmware] component modules and the GUI framework are in place and we have begun integration of the GUI with the radio’s network API. ……

On the hardware front, our contract manufacturing partner, Austin Manufacturing Services (AMS), is in the process of building pre-production radios.

…..

Assuming all goes well in testing the pre-production units, we will be prepared to release and ramp production volumes when the software is ready.

…..

73,

Gerald Youngblood, K5SDR
President & CEO

The hardware has hit Beta production and some radios will be going out during November to the Beta Test team (guys this means the Alpha & bench built radio testing went well!).  To allow enough time to to do a creditable job of Beta-Testing the general launch of the Flex-6000 Series is now scheduled for 1st Quarter 2013.

Not unexpected given the hints dropped at the various hamfests on the software development taking more time than expected and Flex-Radio’s decision to not show Alpha-Software at these shows.

And I kind of noticed the Signature Series Flex-6700 Jacket was not a winter jacket… <smile>

So the answer to “Is it Soup yet?”  is “Not quite yet… check back in the New Year..”

73

Steve
K9ZW

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Flex-Radio Flex 6X00 Series – The GPSDO (GPS Disciplined Oscillator) Option

Steve Hicks N5AC has put together a rather informative article on the GPSDO option:

What is a GPSDO and Why Would I Want One?
– by Steve Hicks – N5AC, VP Engineering

All radios need one or more oscillators that are ultimately used to set the frequency where you will be listening or transmitting. If these oscillators are off frequency then you will be listening or transmitting off frequency. How far off frequency? You can tell how far you are likely to be off by looking at the stability of the oscillator and which frequency you are on. For example, if the oscillator is rated as five parts-per-million (5ppm) and you are listening on 1MHz (one million Hertz), you could be off as much as 5 Hz. A typical temperature controlled crystal oscillator (TCXO) for an amateur HF radio is 0.5ppm. To calculate how far off you might be on 20-meters, again we just multiply the accuracy in ppm by the frequency in MHz, or 0.5 x 14.2 = 7.1 Hz. Over time, all oscillators will also drift. These drift specifications are sometimes forgotten, but they are additive to the stability specifications. Aging in a 1-5ppm oscillator are often in the same range of 1ppm or so. So 10 years after purchase, your radio can drift an additional 5-10ppm (70-140Hz). If this drift is the “bad” about TCXOs, the good is that they have very good short-term stability. So even though they can drift a lot over a long period of time, in the short term they are very stable.

Most amateurs know that a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver can help out with this problem. A GPS receiver is designed to solve a system of equations that have variables of time and position. A GPS receiver becomes “locked” when it finds a solution to these equations. The result is that the receiver knows precisely what time it is and where it is. If the GPS receiver continues to track satellites, it will continue to maintain good time and position information. But it is interesting to note that as the GPS solves the equations, there is short-term drift caused by a number of factors. This jitter presents as short-term instability that, should we rely solely on a GPS for frequency data, would be continually moving around our transmit or receive frequency. So in a sense, a GPS receiver is the opposite of a TCXO — it has bad short term stability and good long-term stability.

The GPS Disciplined Oscillator (GPSDO) is the melding of these two worlds to create something with both good short term and good long term stability. How does this work? Because of the aging problem, most TCXOs have either a voltage steering line that allows the frequency to be adjusted with a voltage or a variable control that can be adjusted with a screwdriver. What if we used a microprocessor to compare the TCXO frequency output to that from a GPS and made adjustments over time to the TCXO to keep it in line for long-term stability? This is exactly what a GPSDO is. The GPSDO module for the FLEX-6000 achieves 0.005ppm stability as long as the GPS has an antenna connected and at least one GPS satellite is in view. Comparing with just a TCXO as we did before, we might be off by 72 milli-Hertz (0.072Hz) on 20-meters. So this is the first key benefit of a GPS receiver in the radio: you will always be on frequency.

The second benefit from a GPSDO is the ability to get precise time information. Having the current time is important for a number of ham applications such as contest logging or digital modes and a GPS can help with this. It can also be used to time-stamp data coming out of the radio. Why would you want to do this? Let’s say that you are a net control station on HF and you are coordinating information from a large geographic area. Even with a good station, propagation can work against you and make it difficult to talk to certain geographic areas. Often there are others that are in a HF net that can hear other participants and these other operators can perform the relay service: they offer to relay the message from the station the net control cannot hear to the net control. But what if this could be done in a more automatic fashion?

What if we could take the RF signal from that operator and send it, timestamped, to the net control and his radio could either select between or combine the RF stream from his radio and the remote radio in order to hear better. Performing these operations is easier if you have good information about the relative time differences in the data and have data that is at the same exact sampling rates. There are three pieces of information required to achieve this: the current time, a precision oscillator and an indication for the start of each second of time (1PPS), all of which are provided with the internal GPSDO from FlexRadio. By using a GPS to synchronize the oscillators at both stations and to time-stamp the data, we are able to make better decisions about how best to combine these two RF streams. While this capability (optimal combining) will not exist with the first release of SmartSDR, it is something that will evolve over time.

Though the GPSDO will not be supported until sometime down the road, should one have the option factory installed from the get-go?

Food for thought,

73

Steve
K9ZW

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Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series – Lessons Learned and Series Wrap Up

Returning from W9DXCC where I was able to attend FlexRadio’s Greg K5GJ’s presentation and chat with him at length as well, I would like to update my predictions:

  • Amateur Radio’s leading Edge will move hugely forward.  We’re at the cusp of a huge leap forward as FlexRadio brings to market what before only a few intrepid folks (like the TAPR folks) have been able to do.
  • This technology will be a huge hit with those willing to work the leading edge.  Expect to see a SmartSDR Client on a lot of busy people’s PCs for those lunch hour QSOs. 
  • Group/Remote Stations will allow more people to get on the air.  The easy options to shack/antenna restrictions will now include remote operation as a regular possibility.
  • I was wrong on much in way I predicted that Special rules or Special Classes will being needed when these radios appear in contests and QTH collection programs (IOTA/SOTA/DXCC).  The new technology won’t be much of an issue.  Reports are that when a transmitter location criteria is used it becomes easy to to incorporate the new technology into these programs.  I was seeing a problem that doesn’t really seem to be there (and has already largely been solved where is does appear.)
  • Someone will exploit these units, forcing some security demands on owners – but it will be pretty hard for hackers to exploit.  Basically if you are smart enough to get into them you’re already smart enough to make your own. Enough said.
  • While limited advances in small run offerings by other teams may come close, or perhaps equal/exceed the Flex-6000 Series in a few areas, it will be a long wait until there is a contender.  The catch-up game for contenders is huge and expensive. 
  • They will be a LOT of fun!  REALLY a lot of fun!  Imagination will only get you part way to what these radios will do.
  • Every ham who is computer/technology savvy will want one.
  • We will have some new jargon/language to deal with – examples below.

It is hard not to be pumped about this new series.

BTW I am not selling my Flex-5000A – it is too good of a radio to part with.

Some things learned from the W9DXCC Presentation.

New word for most hams – “Netcentric” reflects the connectivity by internet of this new gear.

Another new concept is “Radio Server” where your Signature-Series Flex-6000 could be thought of as a just another sort of server on your net.

“Super Browser” is the descriptive for the thin client software.

“Phase Noise Dynamic Range” will be the axis for measuring one Radio Server against another, as we see the developments focus on letting us hear well.

The amount of data going through one of these Radio Servers is stunning – where a clasic Multi-Conversion rig runs at roughly 96 ksps, and a Single-Conversion doubles that for 192 ksps, this new Direct-Sampling implimentation is zooming at 246,000 ksps (or 246 Msps).

Likewise the distortion of conversions which with Mutli-Conversion happens at 3 or 4 places, and with Single-Conversion halves, this new Direct-Sampling drops it to zero hardware points and single software point… well sort of as each technology typically has a few more points.

Signal to noise is the game – with Radio Servers offering a major step forward.

Also I am VERY humbled to realize that the Folks at FlexRadio have thought through much of what I have pondered upon, and years ago.  In conversation Greg K5JG was gracious enough to share some of the OB/OM (Organizational Behavior/Operational Management) philosophy they have implemented at FlexRadio Systems and pointed me at references where I could learn more about their successful management style.  The W9DXCC was also a flattering experience when I learned that people actually read & remember the content of these posts.  I am humbled and grateful.

Back to the this new world of Generation 3 SDR radios and the Flex-Radio 6×00 series – simply put “The possibilities are amazing!”

73

Steve

K9ZW

……………….

First post of this series Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series

Planning in a few weeks to have another first hand look at the Flex-Radio Flex-6000 series radios at the W9DXCC Convention in Illinois.

Flex-Radio Flex-6000 Series

Flex-Radio Flex-6000 Series

……one can imagine, dream and scheme can’t one?

Reading the Flex-Radio literature, Insider newsletters and reflectors there is one massive amount of promise to this new radio an architecture!

I’d like to touch on a few items that have caught my eye, and what I imagine they might offer for the future of amateur radio.

Be absolutely certain I am speculating, I have no extra insight or sources (nor would I betray information given to me in confidence) and I am doing analysis based on what it out there.  I’m going to have fun speculating what might be.

Putting some guesses and construction to the pieces of information over the next few weeks, we’ll see if I guess right on anything announced at the W9DXCC or later when radios ship.

I’ll try to get a thought out every few days in the lead-up to the W9DXCC Convention and then an assessment in the week or so directly after the event.

I’ll link them to this “Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series” starter and again in the wrap up.

73

Steve
K9ZW

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Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series – Deep (and Total) Impact – Predictions

Returning to the initial question “What will the Flex-6000 series actually bring?”

Here are my predictions:

  • Amateur Radio’s leading Edge will move hugely forward.
  • This technology will be a huge hit with those able to afford the leading edge.
  • Limited ability downscale versions of some parts of the technology will follow. 
  • Group/Remote Stations will allow more people to get on the air.
  • Special rules or Special Classes will be needed when these radios appear in contest and qth collection program (IOTA/SOTA/DXCC) use.
  • Someone will exploit these units, forcing some security demands on owners.
  • While limited advances in small run offerings by other teams may come close, or perhaps equal/exceed the Flex-6000 Series, it will be a long wait until there is a contender.
  • They will be a LOT of fun!
  • Every ham who is computer/technology savvy will want one.

Let’s see if I am close to right as these radios role out in a few months.

Netx update in this series will be after the W9DXCC where I hope to spend some time speaking with the Flex-Radio folk.

73

Steve

K9ZW

……………….

First post of this series Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series

Planning in a few weeks to have another first hand look at the Flex-Radio Flex-6000 series radios at the W9DXCC Convention in Illinois.

Flex-Radio Flex-6000 Series

Flex-Radio Flex-6000 Series

……one can imagine, dream and scheme can’t one?

Reading the Flex-Radio literature, Insider newsletters and reflectors there is one massive amount of promise to this new radio an architecture!

I’d like to touch on a few items that have caught my eye, and what I imagine they might offer for the future of amateur radio.

Be absolutely certain I am speculating, I have no extra insight or sources (nor would I betray information given to me in confidence) and I am doing analysis based on what it out there.  I’m going to have fun speculating what might be.

Putting some guesses and construction to the pieces of information over the next few weeks, we’ll see if I guess right on anything announced at the W9DXCC or later when radios ship.

I’ll try to get a thought out every few days in the lead-up to the W9DXCC Convention and then an assessment in the week or so directly after the event.

I’ll link them to this “Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series” starter and again in the wrap up.

73

Steve
K9ZW

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Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series – The Down Side

What will the Flex-6000 Flex-6700R/6700 leap forward put at risk?

There is no doubt that as such a game changer, this new series of radios will have some less than positive impact on Amateur Radio.  Some thoughts on this are:

  • Internet Able and Control PC Independence will require security to control use of the Series 6000 hardware by unauthorized users.  Without this who really knows who is in control?
  • You radio may become an unwitting part of a SDR Botnet– Whether by capturing control of unused “slices” or entire machines, a very powerful RF machine could be created with control of not just one Flex-6000 series machine, but with the control of a great many.
  • Keying up several hundred coordinated Flex-6500/6700 transmitters could take down frequencies in terms of usability.  If you think the games that are played at 14.275 and 14.313 are rough and tumble, imagine one of these guys coming up on 500 transmitters across the globe at one time.
  • Signals from several Flex-600 units could be combined for to bring “contest cheating” to a new level. How will anyone know where a signal is being listened to or transmitted from?
  • The operator is moved even further from the technology of the hobby.  Outside of basic I/O and other connections, this new style of radio truly is a black box with little opportunity for the average ham to dig into the stuff inside the box.
  • The difficulties in updating competition rules will see the Flex-6000 Series potentially temporaily banned from events until the organizers figure out how to classified 8-slice diveristy and wide-area receive monitoring stations from the common ham’s shack.
  • A Part 97 update will be similarly forced by Flex-6000 Series as the advanced operating abilities exceed the vision used to create the rules.  Dozens of issues that never appear in Part 97 because they were technical impossibilies will overnight become reality.

As with any change of this magnitude there will be collateral damage, some quite unexpected.  There will be backlash and righfully some efforts to limit the downside impact.  In this case the change is as profound as many of the great leaps forward that the hobby worked its way through over the last 100 years. Big changes ahead!

73

Steve

K9ZW

……………….

First post of this series Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series

Planning in a few weeks to have another first hand look at the Flex-Radio Flex-6000 series radios at the W9DXCC Convention in Illinois.

Flex-Radio Flex-6000 Series

Flex-Radio Flex-6000 Series

……one can imagine, dream and scheme can’t one?

Reading the Flex-Radio literature, Insider newsletters and reflectors there is one massive amount of promise to this new radio an architecture!

I’d like to touch on a few items that have caught my eye, and what I imagine they might offer for the future of amateur radio.

Be absolutely certain I am speculating, I have no extra insight or sources (nor would I betray information given to me in confidence) and I am doing analysis based on what it out there.  I’m going to have fun speculating what might be.

Putting some guesses and construction to the pieces of information over the next few weeks, we’ll see if I guess right on anything announced at the W9DXCC or later when radios ship.

I’ll try to get a thought out every few days in the lead-up to the W9DXCC Convention and then an assessment in the week or so directly after the event.

I’ll link them to this “Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series” starter and again in the wrap up.

73

Steve
K9ZW

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