Microsoft Surface for Ham Radio | Icom IC-705 Wireless Station

Hello Operators.
During my “spare” time, I’ve been quietly working with the Microsoft Surface GO 2 and Icom IC-705 in hopes of coming up with the most portable data mode configuration we’ve ever seen on the channel. Since the last firmware update for the Icom IC-705, Wireless Wi-Fi access point functionality has been enabled. It can function in client mode attaching to your home, mobile hotspot.  It can also act as a standalone Wi-Fi AP, alleviating the need for raspberry pi.

Choosing the Surface Go 2 was practically a no-brainer. Its entry-level price, excellent support, and easy to configure Windows 10 OS, is far less intimidating than the Linux or Raspberry Pi options we’ve tested on the channel over the years. It also has everything already built-in, for data modes with your favourite QRP rig.

Details

  • Surface Go 2
  • Pentium Gold | 4 GB RAM
  • Screen Size 10.5 Inches
  • Operating SystemWindows 10 S (free update to Windows 10 Home)
  • Memory storage capacity 64 GB
  • Colour Platinum Grey
  • Connectivity Type Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
  • Item dimensions L x W x H24.5 x 17.5 x 0.8 centimetres
  • Weight 0.54 Kilograms

Although this article focuses on the wireless capabilities of the Icom IC-705, the Surface Go 2 can also be used “wired” with other rigs, and your favourite audio/cat control interface, such as the Digirig Mobile.

Left Chuwi Larkbox Pro and Lab699 TX500. Right IC705 connected wirelessly with Surface Go 2.

Unfortunately for operators with other radios, the wireless set-up isn’t possible without at least one USB cable or an intermediate computer. It’s the reason we’ve used the Raspberry Pi and more recently, the Lark box Pro. These intermediate computers Bridge The Divide between our tablets, and the radios we’d like to use with them.

Since the latest IC-705 firmware update, the IC 705 no longer requires an intermediate computer to make the connection between itself, and something like the Surface series of tablets. Of course we could connect via cable, between the 705 and any Windows/linux tablet/laptop. What’s special now, is we can do this completely without wires between the radio, and the tablet, regardless of what data Mode app we happen to be using. No USB cable, nothing but an antenna cable connected to the Icom IC 705. All of this happens over the Icom IC 705 built in Wi-Fi adapter.

I’ve also tried this on my Lenovo Yoga c940. It also works fine, but the laptop is too large for fieldwork. That’s why I went ahead and pulled the trigger on the surface go 2, budget model.

Off grid Power & Charging

To power and charge the Microsoft Surface Go2, I use a cigarette socket charger/adapter from JGo Tech. The Surface Go2 requires 15 volts via its Surface port to fast charge. Here are some images.

My solution uses the PowerFilm Lightsaver Max as a power bank. Since the JG0 tech adapter has its own boost converter built in, the 12v supply from teh lightsaver max is perfectly suited. The 12 volt cigar socket from the Lightsaver Max had its cord shortened, replacing on end with anderson powerpoles. I also made a short distribution cable with muliple outputs which plugs into the Lightsaver Max, to power my Surface Go 2, and Icom IC-705.

JG0 Tech Adapter
The JG0 tech adapter is a cigarette lighter socket adapter and surface tablet cable. One end of the cable is USB-C. The other end is the Microsoft Surface tablet connector. The cigarette socket adapter has a single USB-C PD output with 5, 9, 12, 15, & 20 volts.
– The J-Go Tech Surface Cable from Ebay https://ebay.us/koCRBk
– J-Go Tech USB-C PD 45 watt cigarette socket adapter https://ebay.us/4tHzKG


Software running on the Surface Go 2

  • Icom RSBA1 and Icom Remote Utility
    The Icom remote Utility is the critical part of wireless data and rig control with the Icom IC-705. It creates the virtual audio interfaces, Wireless comm ports, and manages the connection to the RSBA1 Server, running on the Icom IC-705. The RSBA1 Remote control is your radios virtual front panel. You can control every aspect of the Icom IC-705 with this software, in combination with the Icom Remote Utility. If using this software with the Icom IC-705, you only need the software, not the version with the hardware included. The IC-705 has it all built in.
    Ebay: https://ebay.us/XnQHwL HRO Ham Radio Outlet

  • Winlink Express
    Winlink Express Winlink Express (formerly RMS Express) is the preferred Winlink radio email client because it supports all new system features, and it is the only client supporting the Winlink Hybrid Network for email delivery with or without the internet.
    https://www.winlink.org
  • VARA HF Modem
    VARA is a software modem using orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) modulation. VARA is capable of HF speeds comparable with Pactor 3. It does this using 52 carriers limited to 42 bps thus satisfying the FCC symbol rate requirements of 300 baud or less for any carrier.
    https://rosmodem.wordpress.com/
  • VARA FM Modem
    VARA FM WIDE provides up to a 20X improvement in speed over 1200bps Packet. VARA FM is rate-adaptive, meaning that it adjusts to the strength of the signal, maximizing message throughput, even during weak signal or poor conditions. Vara FM Wide 25,200bps modem rate is regularly achieved, without witchbcraft or unusual propagation.
    https://rosmodem.wordpress.com/
  • JS8Call
    JS8Call is a free and open-source multi-platform software package developed to test the feasibility of a digital mode with the robustness of FT8, combined with a messaging and network protocol layer for weak signal communication on HF, using a keyboard messaging style interface. It is not designed for any specific purpose other than connecting amateur radio operators who are operating under weak signal conditions. JS8Call is heavily inspired by WSJT-X, Fldigi, and FSQCall and would not exist without the hard work and dedication of the many developers in the amateur radio community.
    https://www.js8call.com
  • JS8Call Utilities
    If you have a GPS connected to your computer JS8Call Utilities will allow you to send your maidenhead grid to JS8Call to set its locator and/or to transmit to @APRSIS. It also allows you to send messages into the ARRS system, APRS, Email or SMS message types.
    https://m0iax.com/downloadfiles/
  • Vara Chat
    VARA chat session allows keyboard to keyboard chat and file transfer between two VARA HF or VARA FM stations. Operators can type at the same time, with VARA Chat managing the timing. Messages sent to you are displayed on screen, like a mesaging app eg Skype, Telegram, Signal, … Initiation a VARA Chat session is very similar to a P2P connection on Winlink.
    https://rosmodem.wordpress.com/
  • GPS2Time
    GPS2Time is a means of syncronizing your computers clock via a GPS reciever, connected physically or tirelessly to your computer.
    https://vk4adc.com/web/index.php/software-projects/55-vk4adc-utils/181-gps2time
  • FLRIG
    FLRIG is a transceiver control program designed to be used either stand alone or as an augmentation for software packages like FLDIGI, JS8Call, WSJT-X, … The supported rigs all have some degree of CAT built-in. The FLRIG user interface adapts to accommodate the varying degrees of CAT support, available for the transceiver in use.
    http://www.w1hkj.com/flrig-help/index.html
  • FLDIGI
    Primarily used by amateur radio operators, FLDIDI (short for Fast light digital) is free and open-source multi-platform application allowing data mode communications, using a standard computer sound card. Ham Radio trancievers are connected to a computer using an audio interface or soundcard, for the reception or transmission of supported data modes, offered by FLDIGI.
    http://www.w1hkj.com/
  • WSJTX
    WSJT-X is a free and open-source software suite implementing communication protocols or “modes” called FST4, FST4W, FT4, FT8, JT4, JT9, JT65, QRA64, ISCAT, MSK144, and WSPR, as well as one called Echo for detecting and measuring your own radio signals reflected from the Moon. These modes were all designed for making reliable, confirmed QSOs under extreme weak-signal conditions.
    https://www.physics.princeton.edu/pulsar/K1JT/


VK1MF asked if the keyboard was really necessary for the Microsoft Surface Go 2, or if it could be used in tablet mode primarily. Well, it can be used either way. For my own station, the Surface is primarily used in tablet mode. The surface pen is used to input data, rather than utilizing the keyboard all the time. The keyboard is usually available, especially since it protects the screen when the device is not in use. When rapid input is required, of course the keyboard is the best way to input data.

WSJTX & FT8

Another question came in about running wsjt-x and ft8 on the surface go 2. Absolutely. In fact when that question came in a little while ago, I switched over to ft8 with the Icom IC 705, and tried my luck on 40m, then 30m. Much better luck on 30 meters but that wasn’t the fault of the surface, that was operating qrp with an nvis antenna for this test. The CPU of the surface go never got above 27%. Also memory demands were quite modest, even with deep decode enabled. FT8 was actually Child’s Play for the Surface Go 2.


Here’s are two un-narrated previews of the Icom IC-705 and the surface go 2 running winlink express, with a Vara HF modem. There are literally no connections between the tablet and the radio. This is all working over Wi-Fi.

Unfortunately there’s a piece of software which must be purchased. It’s the Icom remote utility app for Windows.

For other radios like the discovery tx500, we can use a Raspberry Pi or Lark box Pro as an intermediate computer to achieve roughly the same functionality. At the moment there is no other way to achieve this without an intermediate computer, for any other radio.

Now the most important aspect of this is giving a huge thanks to Mark m0iax. Mark got me started down this wireless ic-705 path. He is also very often a unwilling participant, in much of this data mode testing. Marks contributions are massive!

Off grid charging of the Surface Go 2
http://oh8stn.org/blog/2021/04/19/powerfilm-lightsaver-max-microsoft-surface-charging-off-grid/

73
Julian oh8stn
YouTube http://www.youtube.com/c/oh8stn
TipJar: https://paypal.me/oh8stn/2usd

This post is always work in progress

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11 Comments

  1. This is great! I’m using my 705 with a Surface Go 2 as well. Did you have problems with audio being sent over WLAN? On WSJT-X I can’t seem to get audio to send. Would you consider sharing your 705 config for WLAN digital operation?

    73!
    KC3JXQ

    • I think I figured this out. Reduce the buffer setting to 80ms for both transmit and receive. The recommended settings for icom don’t work well for data

  2. So I’m jumping on the Julian train. Selling my kx3 to switch to a 705. Instead of a surface I ebayed a Panasonic Toughpad fg-z1. It’s a snappy little machine and comes with some good spec battery options. We’ll see how it turns out.

  3. I wonder if anyone has run these various apps on a Surface Pro X? This is the ARM based version of the Surface and the laptop I would like to buy as long as the apps will run.

    • That’s a great question. Personally I have no experience with that particular surface model.

  4. you mention that you got the go2 “budget ” model, Julian. what is that , what did it cost and from which retailer?

    • Well there’s only two models of the Microsoft Surface go 2. There’s the one with the Pentium gold processor and the LTE model with the M3. Mine is the Pentium gold model for gigs of RAM 64 gigs of storage. It came from Amazon

  5. Is it true that at the present time the only way to access the GPS in the IC-705 from the computer is via the USB cable? If so, what is the advantage of using wireless with the IC-705 if it means that one has to use a separate GPS dongle for time and position data?

    John WA1KLI

    • It is true! It’s also a stupid oversight on the part of Icom. Still the advantage is everything else is completely wireless. The only mode requiring the GPS is FT8. JS8Call allows Operators to use time delta to sync the time to other Operators. built in. Winlink has no time requirements.
      Even using the single USB cable, it’s a huge step forward compared to all other radios.
      Because the remote utility was not specifically designed for the 705, it lacks the second comm port which would solve this problem. Perhaps I’ll start making more noise about this oversight.

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