12 January 2016

Remote Ham Radio

Lately I have been thinking a LOT about how to get a better station.  My current home does not allow any outdoor antennas, so it's been quite an adjustment from the days when I had a 40-foot tower, SteppIR beam, and several other antennas.  My old system allowed operation on any ham band from 160 meters through 70cm.

Technology is evolving but many hams are now able to access larger ham radio stations remotely via an internet link (or in some cases, a microwave RF link).  There is even a new service available called "Remote Ham Radio" (RHR) that allows you to purchase time on several superstations across the country.

I have mixed feelings about remote operations.  As someone who is not able to have my own base station setup, I can easily see the attraction.  However, I also find myself feeling like remote operations are, to some extent, "cheating" or not as "magical", because you can greatly improve your odds of a successful contact by simply accessing a better or more advantageously located superstation.  In a similar way, digital voice modes that connect to internet-linked systems leave me feeling less satisfied.

I decided to give RHR a try.  They provide you with 60 minutes free, and I already had part of the equipment necessary to establish a remote connection.  A few years back I had acquired a RemoteRig box with the intent of linking my office to my home, but never finished the process.  You can operate RHR with only a computer, but to make it more 'radio-like' you can also use a control head.  I chose to use an Elecraft K3/0 Mini control head, because the stations on the other end of RHR all use the Elecraft K3 radios so it would be a nice connection.  My thought was to test the system, see if I liked it, and then possibly use a K3 setup to establish my own remote station (I don't yet have a location, but I do have a few good leads and ideas about where I can set up a station in the local area).

So how does it work?  Well I have used it to log into stations in California (primarily, as it's closest to my own QTH), and New York.  It has been fun - but nowhere near the same feeling as making a contact from my own home.  I've worked a few DX stations, and DXCC rules allow that as long as you are in the same country.  But, I don't feel right about claiming them, especially if I worked someone from New York when I know that hams here in Arizona wouldn't be able to get through.  So I don't plan to use RHR for long at all.  But it has been an interesting experiment and I like the K3 solution.  There is a very slight but annoying time lag (latency) which makes the 2-way exchange a bit awkward.

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