Saturday, May 21, 2011

Praxis: Is this the inexpensive militia tactical command net radio we've been looking for?

A tip of the boonie hat and a deep genuflection to Irregular Stan for forwarding the links below about the Wouxun KG-UV2D hand-held radio.

Militia fire-team and squad radios, to the extent that most folks can afford, are GMRS/FRS hand-held "family" sets. On the border with the Minutemen in October 2005, we used these with an antenna range "booster" which consisted of nothing more than a a length of copper wire coiled at the base for attachment to the existing stub antenna. With ear buds and external mics they can be made into a reasonable tool for tactical communication. The problem has been, of course, range. With a capable command set of greater capability and range these can be made into a decent tactical net. The problem has been affordability. I'm not a radio geek by a long shot, but this looks promising:

Empty Skull posts at "Budget Comm (Radio) Gear Review: Wouxun."

Thought I'd post a review of a couple of handheld radios that I picked up to stuff in my BOB & GHB's. They are the Wouxun KG-UV2D models (don't ask me how to pronounce that, no idea). They go for around $110 to $129 depending on where you get them from (you can find them on Ebay for $88 plus some insane shipping fee from Hong Kong. Id suggest you go with a US dealer, less headache plus a local dealer can warranty it for you...)

A bit of background on these, there are 3 different models in the "KG-UVD" series, the KG-UVD1P, KG-UV2D, & KG-UV3D. They are ALL THE SAME internally, except for a few firmware differences and different plastic. Its kind of like how Best Buy and Circuit City used to have different "model" numbers on TV's so that they could claim exclusivity (and prevent you from price matching).

These radios are Dual Band UHF & VHF (70cm & 2m for you ham geeks), and also have the ability to recieve FM Broadcast (76 to 108 MHz). Within these 3 "models" you can get them in 3 different "versions", ie frequency cuts in:

136-174 & 216-280 (VHF & 220 MHz)
136-174 & 350-470 (VHF & low cut UHF)
136-174 & 420-520 (VHF & high cut UHF) this is the version I chose.

I think there are a few more 220 MHz versions but you probably wont see them here in the US, they're more for foreign bandplans.

You can software modify these radios to transmit out of Ham bands with free unlock software available on the net. The out of band unlock lets you transmit on the entire range, including public safety (police) frequencies, Marine frequencies and GMRS / FRS frequencies (the radios can receive these frequencies out of the box, just not transmit). The standard programming software is free and available for download on Wouxuns website or their dealer websites.

I know some of you Hamsters are already screaming bloody murder at your screens as you read the above, but these radios ARE type certified by the FCC as COMMERCIAL radios, which also lets them weeze their way into being legal for use as Ham radios.

The reason I bring that up, and also one of the reasons I bought these radios was for the ability to program and transmit on the GMRS / FRS frequencies aka: the cheapie Walmart/Target walkie talkies. In a SHTF scenario, not everybody will have Ham or Commercial Comm gear, but a good percentage of them may have these GMRS radios. I've programmed my radios with these frequencies so I can talk to them if I need to.

These radios come with a dual voltage charging pocket (only the AC cord is included, it can take a 12v input also (cigarette lighter adapter extra)). A dual band antenna, 1700 mAh Lithium Ion battery, belt clip, and a manual. The software is not included in the box but may be downloaded for free. Seriously not a bad deal for $110. Another accessory that is useful, and another reason I bought this radio was the "AA" battery holder pack, It lets you stuff 5 "AA" batteries in it for use when you don't have a way to charge the Li-ion pack that it comes with. Perfect for the BOB/GHB.

I have these radios programmed with a wide range of channels (128 channel capacity on these) I've got Public Safety, Ham, Weather, Marine & GMRS frequencies and the radio transmits and receives on all of them flawlessly. Power output is right at the rated 5 Watts (measured on a wattmeter). Using the "AA" battery pack the transmit drops to about 3½ watts (I think thats due to the crap batteries I was using, there doesn't appear to be any kind of "sensing" circuit or different contacts used on the battery pack vs the Li-ion pack). Audio is clean and LOUD. Receive sensitivity is surprisingly good, probably too good, it probably doesn't have tight rejection filtering.

Construction is above average for Chinese wares, its surprisingly sturdy, the plastic is on par with a commercial Kenwood radio. The channel naming is limited to 6 characters. Decent backlight (bluish white) on the display and keypad. Buttons & knobs have a decent "click" when pushed or turned. An interesting "bonus" is that there is a built in LED Light on the top of the radio, that is meant to function as a flashlight. As mentioned before, the radio can receive FM broadcast stations & has 2 banks of 9 memory spots just for the FM radio.

About the only cheesy thing is the "rat tail" antenna that is included with it. I just cant get used to the thing, it looks like a 10ga wire with heat shrink on it. That being said, the antenna is quite sturdy and survives severe bending with no problem, and actually recieves better than some of my other commercial radio antennas. The other cheesy thing, that actually isnt so cheesy if your visually impaired is that the radio is capable of voice prompts. Every button you press or channel change is followed with a voice prompt out of the speaker. You have your choice of English, Chinese or None. Yeah I got sick of the little Chinese accented girl so I killed that option right quick.

Speaking of, I expected the user manual to be written in crappy "Chinglish" but that surprisingly was not the case, well until the back cover... lol. It was well written and easy to understand, however you will WANT buy a programming cable and use the programming software. Programming the radio with the built in menus is doable but not fun.

Overall a great buy and a bargain at $110 for all that it does, especially if youre just gonna throw it in your BOB/GHB.

You can get them from:
or at HRO (Ham Radio Outlet)

Speaking of HRO, dont let the Ham snobs / connoisseurs / fanboys that hang out there try and talk you out of buying the radio. I went into a HRO and asked to see the model that they had (they stock the UV3D) and I got a bunch of fanboy lip from some geek customer that had to put his 2 cents in. "Well I'm sorry I'm asking about one of the cheapest radios on the planet, BLOW ME." Geez, some of the Hamster mentality kills me. I also own high end Commercial & Ham gear but I don't feel the need to go fanboy and gush about it.

Empty Skull has also helpfully given us a thread index to tips & links:

See post #9 for a screenshot of the FCC grant authorization letter for this radio.

See post #16 for a "how to" on unlocking this radio for out of Ham band use.

See post #17 & 25 for Unlicensed MURS frequencies & info

See post #42 for rough estimates and explanation on range

See post #48 for available accessories & a primer on the antenna SMA connectors used on this radio

See post #52 for programming the FM Broadcast station memory

See post #116 & 117 for changing "channel increments"

See post #135 for disassembly of radio (warning, probably voids warranty... FYI)

More reviews here.

Empty Skull gives us this estimate of range:

With absolutely NOTHING in the way, on a clear day, and no interference: about 25 miles (Think mountaintop or hilltop to ground). Suburban neighborhoods (think flat land, houses, no taller than 2 stories & not too much concrete) around 3 to 5 miles. Realistic range in urban environments (say downtown LA) with a lot of concrete buildings probably 1 mile MAX with lots of dead spots. If you're inside concrete building ¼ mile max.

Remember, these radios can talk to repeaters also. Repeat function aside, the repeater has to be able to hear whats transmitting, essentially a radio on a hilltop or tower. Handhelds are no different. Granted, the antennas aren't nearly as good as whats on a repeater tower, but if you took that handheld up at the same level as a repeater, you should be able to talk to a similar handheld at roughly the same distance (again, obstructions and interference not withstanding.)

So, if any readers have experience with these units, please comment below.


flacmonkey said...

I have played with one and spoken to several hams who have this radio they all love it. It is cheap and reliable. I don't know which HRO Empty Skull went to but the one in Georgia does not have ham snobs and will gladly sell you one, provided you are a ham.

I would stress that if you want to use this radio get a ham license. The tech license is a simply 35 question test and cost $15 to take the test. The license will let you operate legally on VHF and UHF and access repeaters which can extend the range of the radio. Additionally as a licensed ham many ham club will help teach proper radio usage, which will help you communicate effectively on the air.

If you do not want to get a license, program the radio to MURS frequencies and stay there. Illegal operation will simply draw attention to yourself and get you into trouble with the FCC. You cannot legally use these radios on FRS frequencies, the transmit power is to high. You can use them on GMRS but you need a license for that, the license cost $75 and does not have any exam.

Anonymous said...

Puxing-777 is what we use in our group, which is about the same device. It allows us to work with people who have just GRMS/FRS with way more power (not quite legit, big boy rules apply)

We have been pretty happy with them, but they do need to come our with a AA battery box that goes on like a rechargeable pack, you have to wire up the cig. adapter, for AA usage, and that kind of sucks.

Great value for the money.


Anonymous said...

I understand that current digital radios are uniquely identified on transmit with a digital signature - no anonymity - can anyone confirm?

KJ6NTB said...

Thank You very much for this informative post. My wife and I are recently licensed Hams, and when we talk about emergency comms with friends they always default to the 'expensive gear' excuse. These radios certainly give you a lotta watt for the buck!

DC Wright said...

Do they make an encrypted version?

Anonymous said...

I've purchased Chinese VHF radios before and not been pleased with results. I have not had any experience with this brand however. In Ham radios, you get what you pay for IMO.

Putting on the tin-foil hat...I would not trust any Chinese radio with my life. What's to say a VHF signal doesn't shut the radio off permanently in a crisis?

For not much more money, you can get a proven, reliable Japanese YASEU. The FT-60 is a good comparable model and has served me extremely well in the paramilitary world. Other straight VHF models are very good options as well.

Pat H. said...

I'd recommend folks acquire used amateur radio handheld transceivers and mod them for out of band use (note, this may be illegal). That will give you substantially more power than any of the low cost handi-talkies now available. You may also cable them up to a gain antenna for even more range, sometimes 10 to 20 miles or more depending on terrain.

Radio Mod Book volume A

Radio Mod Book volume B

For excellent antennas see these.
M2 Antenna Systems

Dr.D said...

I am some what familiar with the Wouxun brand, I recently bought 2 of the KG-699E radios in 66-88 Mhz. They have all the amenity's including a basic "voice inversion" speech scrambler.
I feel that these radios are particularly useful is that the lower frequency coverage is better for long range coms. They can also play well with a lot of low band "green radios"(gov surplus). I am also working on developing a regular whip antenna rather than use the "rubber ducks" supplied. This can significantly improve performance. This radios have not been reviewed by the FCC and the radios have not received an FCC number (most likely due to a failure to apply for one rather than any technical short coming).
Here is the URL directly to the best seller and price I have found for these
their about $105 each including shipping and it takes about 4 weeks to arrive. I also recommend getting a SMA to BNC adapter for each radio to improve their usefulness with other than the stock antennas.
I am also including the URL for a knock off H-250 handset that can be used with these radios, the "Kenwood" version will have to be ordered. with this handset you don't need any special military to Kenwood adapters
I suggest people buy them in small lot so as to avoid attracting the unwanted attentions of customs inspectors.

Some once said it doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be good enough.

Mike quite frankly I am hesitant to have you share this information "in the clear" comsec is important even when sharing this type of info.
For that reason I suggest that you pass this on privately to those who would benefit.

yours in Liberty

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. It gives me another alternative. As far as the pronunciation goes, if you say "ocean" with a "w" at the beginning, you're pretty close. If you "unlock" the transmit side and transmit on unauthorized frequencies, especially the emergency ones, you WILL attract the attention of the FCC DFers and they WILL come down on you with federal charges. Something else to consider is that you don't always want extended range. In fact, in certain situations you may be hoping to limit your range, as in the case above, and just have your transmission picked up by your buds nearby.

Dr.D said...

To one of the "anonymous's:
Unless you cause interfere with another service particularly a licensed, one like law enforcement, fire, ambulance, business band,and other gov services, etc it highly unlikely that you will run afoul of the FCC and have them go DFing for you. their resources are extremely limited and they only deploy them if their likely to actually track you down in a short time. So use obscure frequency's, and no chit chat keep your transmissions short.


Anonymous said...

A little birdie told me of an acquaintance who was a DJ at a serious pirate FM radio station. Presumably afoul of both the FCC and RIAA, they operated for years, every day and at considerable power, from high ground in a large metro area, losing only a few (remotely controlled) transmitters in the process.

And you're telling me the FCC will come asking about some HT transmission, while Rome burns? I think not.


Anonymous said...

Forgot to add, this Wouxun has an optional AA pack:

(optional for some, essential for us)

Notsoshort said...

I have one of the UVD1s and find it quite useful. Im a Technician HAM, and use it both with the included antenna and a glass mount antenna in my truck.

The reception and transmission are good. Cant beat it for the price.

Anonymous said...

"I know some of you Hamsters are already screaming bloody murder at your screens as you read the above,"

I read multiple times on Ham boards during the Arab uprisings how no one should communicate with any foreign group seeking to get word out about governmental killings/reprisals/torture, as *that would be a violation of foreign broadcasting laws* and would cause a re-evaluation of FCC permits and licenses for hams because of pressures by foreign dictators. Don't rock the boat, in other words.

Hams are content with the little scrap of spectrum and dBm the government allows them and are only concerned about preserving this little fiefdom and feeling like big grownups when they are allowed to participate in MARS exercises.

I have no doubt that in any genuine emergency where the government has declared certain domestic groups' communications on ham bands to be "illegal and unpatriotic", the hams by and large will immediately, proactively, and obsequiously break out the DX sets to track down and report the vile perpetrators.

Also know that encrypted transmissions on ham bands are illegal per the FCC.

Be very wary of hams, they are not automatically the Threepers' friends.

Anonymous said...

The FRS's have a power limit of approximately 300 mW (VERY low power), hence the limited range. And you're NOT supposed to modify the antenna (wink, wink), which is more permanently attached to the FRS radios then the usual screw-on types.

That said -- during an emergency, as has been said by others -- if you keep out of the way of the Big Boys and their transmissions -- you should also be able to keep out of trouble.

And, as has also been said -- a rubber duck antenna (radiating dummy load) for short-range local transmissions is also a Goodness Thing.

B Woodman