Portable power and field communications

Hello Operators.

This is just a short post about the relationship between field communications, and portable power. Ham radio manufacturers would have us believe our goal is to go out and operate a couple of hours at a time, then recharge our batteries back at home. This may be true sometimes, but it’s not always true.

Ham radio manufacturers don’t recognize the importance of a decent operating run time from internal batteries, or the ability to recharge those batteries, without grid power. For example Elecraft offers one of the most amazing portable radios on the market, the kx2. Did you know it’s impossible to recharge the kx2 in the field without the Elecraft proprietary smart charger, connected to AC mains? This means if you’re off grid without additional batteries, or the ability to plug in a smart charger, you’ll have to use an external battery anyway. Despite how awesome the radio is, having to use that external battery diminishes its lightweight field utility of the radio.

The Yaesu ft-818 is another example. Its internal AA battery pack can power the radio for about an hour or two. Unlike the Elecraft kx2, the ft-818 can be recharged in the field from any DC power source 9 to 15 volts, (AWESOME). It’s Achilles heel is that it takes 8 to 10 hours to recharge its internal battery pack. What the heck is the point of having 2 hours runtime, and 8 to 10 hours recharge time? It’s freaking ridiculous! This means in practice, we need to use an external battery pack anyway.

Some operators have offered alternatives to these problems.

  • Carrying additional battery packs.
  • Using an inverter to power the smart charger.
  • Ration the radios usage so batteries last longer.

All of these ideas come from operators without a solid understanding of communications off grid. Off-grid communications requires us to be grid and energy independent. So when manufacturers tell us the only way to recharge the internal battery of their radio, is using their proprietary AC powered smart charger, we should tell them to go lay an egg. We should also tell manufacturers who have an 8 to 10 hour charge time on a relatively small internal battery, to do a little bit more engineering.

From where I’m standing, it looks like popular ham radio manufacturers have become complacent. We have become such Fanboys, that we continuously make excuses for why these functionalities are not built into their radios. Why don’t we demand amateur radio manufacturers create radios, which are grid independent!? Why do we still accept double AA packs inside our rigs, when a lithium ion or lithium iron phosphate pack are a fraction of the physical size, weight, and offer much higher capacity!? These ultra energy dense packs are standard in everyones mobile phones, tablets and laptops, so why not ham radio!? Why should I buy an Elecraft smart charger, when it’s simply a 3s lithium ion battery pack inside the radio!?

Most of the battery research and projects done on the channel, are in response to ham radio manufacturers not stepping up to offer viable solutions for the off-grid operator. Certainly Elecraft gives us low current draw, but what good is that when your battery is dead, and there’s no way to recharge it?

Although much of the research going into off-grid portable power on the channel, has been done for off-grid and field communications, some of the previous and upcoming projects, exists purely because ham radio manufacturers don’t understand our needs.

Yesterday I tried a new radio for the first time. It’s only the second time I’ve seen this functionality in a commercial radio. The functionalities are

  • Powering the radio from external power supply while
  • Simultaneously recharging the internal battery pack in a reasonable amount of time.

The two radios I’ve seen with this capability are the Icom IC-705, and the Xiegu X5105.

Powering and recharging the X5105 with a PowerFilm Solar Lightsaver Max.

In the above image I’m using the PowerFilm Lightsaver Max to keep the radios internal battery topped up, while powering the radio externally, with my solar panel. As far as I know, the IC-705 from Icom is the only other radio that does this. Perhaps the mcHF, but I haven’t had it in my hands yet to verify.

What this means is, I can take a lightweight flexible solar panel, add a voltage regulator to its output regulating it to 14 volts. Then plug that solar panel directly into the DC input of these radios, charging up the internal batteries. No long recharging times or proprietary smart chargers required!

Really the point is, we’re not all going up to a summit for just a couple of hours to operate. Some of us will actually be staying in the field, and we’re going to be there a while. If we have to carry additional batteries, if we are forced to use charging methods dependent upon the grid or AC power, then what’s the point of building an ultra-portable qrp radio for the field!? Another question, if Icom can include this functionality in the upcoming IC-705, why didn’t Yaesu implement this type of functionality with the Yaesu ft-818? Why hasn’t Elecraft implemented this functionality in the kx2? Finally, if Xiegu can implement this functionality into the X5105 at its price point, why is it so difficult for the mainstream manufacturers to do the same!?

I believe the reason is, we as the buyers and fanboys, don’t demand our favorite manufacturers, to innovate anymore. Let’s stop making excuses for them, and force them to bring amateur radio technology, forward.

Xiegu X5105

73, Julian oh8stn

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