Remote Operation — Hamming while Travelling

Lately I’ve had the bug to work ham radio while travelling. Now I know some people carry elaborate setups that let them operate from hotel rooms, but I decided on a different approach. I want to operate my computer over the Internet.

Of course, EchoLink springs to mind, but I mostly operate CW, PSK31, and RTTY. I did stumble upon W4MQ’s excellent software to remote Kenwood radios (with a little effort you can use his station over the internet, see ). But, at least for now, I don’t have a computer hooked to the radio that will handle Windows XP.

So I took a lower tech approach. I have an old Windows 98 laptop hooked to the radio. The Kenwood TS570D I have does provide a “remote control” program (or you can use DXCommander, part of DXLab that I talked about last time or a similar program). So the control software and any digital program (like WinWarbler) ought to work if you could get remote access to the laptop.

So the first step was to install VNC (I already had RealVNC installed from , but also check out for an alternative). Or you could use other alternatives (Microsoft Remote Desktop or NoMachine at ). You just need a way to get to your screen remotely. If you are using Linux, you could still use VNC or NoMachine, or you could just use X Windows. The radio computer requires the “server” part of the software.

The next step is to load the corresonponding “client” on your travelling computer. From your local network you should be able to connect, start your radio software, and — well, have a QSO! If that works, you are half way there. I did tell VNC to use 16 colors (turn the color waterfall off) to improve performance. Although I did PSK31, you could do other digital modes or even monitor SSTV this way.

You may want to experiment a bit before you continue. I found that HamScope, for example, had the unfortunate problem of crashing when transmitting with VNC active. May be the slow machine or may just be a bug, but it is annoying. MultiPSK works great (although it is ugly as it can be) and receives CW, RTTY, PSK in many flavors, TOR, PACTOR, Packet, SSTV, Hell, and some modes I don’t even know about. So it makes a good choice. WinWarbler also seems to work.

The next step is to make your radio computer visible from the outside. If you don’t have a static IP address, get a dyanmic DNS service like the one at or . You’ll need to set it up so your laptop has an address like wd5gnr.no-ip.com, for example.

The next step is that if you have a router or firewall, you’ll need to “open it up”. How you do this depends on your router and the software you use. VNC requires two open ports. Other software may differ. You’ve probably had to do this for other software, but if not, the documentation for your router and the software should tell you what to do. If you have a firewall on your PC (Linux or XP usually do) you may have to open that up too. Obviously if you don’t have a router or firewall (some DSL/Cable modems have firewalls built in) you don’t have to worry about any of this.

Then you are set! If your address is set to point to your external IP address, and your firewall is open you should be able to connect from anywhere and work the world. Keep in mind that before you leave you might want to tune the radio to where you want to operate (I switch out my tuner and rely on the radio’s autotuner — it gives me less band coverage, but means I can switch bands remotely). Same goes if you have a rotatable antenna — either figure out how to remote control it, or point it before you leave. And, of course, you have to leave the computer on (unless you can figure out how to remotely wake it through your router). In my case, I don’t have to leave the radio on — the remote software can turn it on. But I do have to leave the rig’s power supply on.

I haven’t tried it, but I suspect that putting some VoIP software on the computer (like Skype or even EchoLink) would let me get audio back to the remote computer. This could open the door for SSB, FM, or even CW operation (with CW sending software on the radio computer — the Kenwood remote software has a keyboard keyer, for example).

I got my ticket on my birthday (today) in 1977. So I’ve been hamming for 29 years. It is great to see there is still something new and fun to tinker with after all that time!

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