P25 and Other Digital Voice Modes Monitoring Alternative

Unfortunately for those of us into COMINT, everything is going digital.  The stock COTS solution is a P25 police scanner averaging $400-$500US each.  A P25 police scanner, however, will not decode DMR/MOTOTRBO, NXDN, and D-STAR.  DMR/MOTOTRBO and NXDN are used extensively in the business/industrial sector.  D-STAR is seeing increasing use on the amateur radio bands.

Fortunately, there is an alternative that only costs $20: the RTL-SDR and the right software.


The RTL-SDR with the free SDR# and DSD software packages will decode DMR/MOTOTRBO, NXDN, D-STAR and ProVoice.  DSD will also work with any regular police scanner modified with a discriminator tap. Now all those old cheap police scanners have a new lease on life.

http://ukradioscanning.com/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=312 – DSD for Windows, Basic Setup – Info on how to set up DSD under Windows.

After the squad radio, on a budget.

IMG_20141012_184423325Oak Hills Research QRP Explorer II, 40 Meter QRP CW Transceiver.
$50 at local hamfest, with power supply.
Fits in Milsurp British gas mask bag, re-purposed as radio bag.  Just add simple dipole antenna, CW key, headphones, and SLA battery/charger for field use.  Probably get on HF for around $100 total.

Some of us were fortunate enough to have a decent job and an amount of disposable income that enabled us some leeway when putting together our comms kit.  Many of you out there are not, and this post is for you.

The important thing however, is not what model of radio you get for your comms, but just that you get something that works and you get on the air with it.

If you and your buddies are willing to learn CW and try QRP (low power) HF amateur radio, then you can get on the air for not much more than what your squad radio cost you.  With simple antennas you can all get on the air and help each other learn CW.  There is plenty of spectrum on the 40 and 80 meter former-Novice CW sub-bands where you can practice and no one will bother you.  Actually, some OT may notice all of you trying CW and help you out.  CW ops are like that.  Especially the ones who hang out in the old novice sub-bands.

You can even learn CW by yourself.  http://www.arrl.org/code-transmissions

The ARRL has MP3 files on that page for those of you without an adequate receiver, but even if you have something like a Tecsun PL-660 or similar shortwave portable that does SSB/CW you’ll be able to pick up the ARRL’s CW practice broadcasts. Getting it off the air is good practice, especially when trying different antennas to improve reception.

Looking for a cheap transceiver?  Go visit your local hamfest or try an Ebay search on QRP Transceiver.  There’s an OHR 40M QRP rig on there right now for $50. Also a lot of kits that use discrete thru-hole components that look like a pretty easy build.  Some are even under $20.  They will get you on the air, and you can fix them if they break.

You and your buddies can buy them, build them, get on the air and practice.

And that’s what’s important.


Tulsa, OK Enrollment Ends Soon

Zoomie_RESISTOR 2 Shoot_Move_Communicate3%/Grid-Down Communications Course

Enrollment for the Tulsa, OK course on April 11-12, 2015 ends this Saturday.  This is the last opportunity this year for those of you in the Midwest/Southwest US who don’t want to travel to Wyoming. Click here to sign up via Paypal. Otherwise, send me an email <sparks31@unseen.is> for the mail-drop address if you wish to pay via Postal Money Order or Cash.

In addition, to Tulsa, I also have two classes in Wyoming this summer, one in Alabama this fall, and a seminar at the Idaho PatCon in July. There also might be some fall classes in Wyoming, if there is sufficient interest. Other than those dates and locations, that’s it for this year.

Jade Helm or Ruby Tail Band Searches

Prepare by studying materials from previous blog post. You did print out all that reference material?

Since frequencies are unknown, but bands are known, a band search would be indicated. Don’t know what a band search is? You can learn from either the 3%/Grid-Down Communications Course or Book.

The following bands are of primary interest:

  • 30-88 MHz. Pay particular attention to:
    • 30-30.55 MHz.
    • 32-33 MHz.
    • 34-35 MHz.
    • 36-37 MHz.
    • 38-39 MHz.
    • 40-42 MHz.
    • 46.5-47 MHz.
    • 49.5-50 MHz.
  • 138-144 MHz.
  • 148-150.775 MHz.
  • 225-400 MHz.

The following bands are of secondary interest:

  • 118-138 MHz.
  • 162-174 MHz.
  • 400-420 MHz.

Extensive use of P25 and FHSS is expected.  Real Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum.  Police scanners with P25 capability and RTL-SDRs are indicated.  Do you know how recognize FHSS when operating an RTL-SDR?  You would if you went to the 3%/Grid-Down Communications Course.

3%/Grid-Down Communications Course Update


3%/Grid-Down Communications Course

  • April 11-12, 2015 – Tulsa, OK – Enrollment ends 4/4/2015. Act quickly.
  • July 18-19, 2015 – Riverton, WY (Fremont County)
  • July 25, 2015 – Free Seminar at Idaho PatCon. See http://idahopatcon.blogspot.com/ for more info.
  • August 15-16, 2015 – Rock Springs, WY (Sweetwater County)
  • September 5-6,2015, Birmingham, AL

Enrollment for the Tulsa Course ends in one week.  There are still a few slots left, so click here to sign up.

See you in class.

0 rto-advert-commo2

A Reader Sends: Anytone TERMN-08R mini-review

I bought one just to see and did a quick review posted over at JJS’s site under the news item about the radios.  Bottom line – a lot of radio for $139 (Amazon).

My likes –
– Decent quality.  Really.
– A lot of bands for the money.
– Crossband repeat really works and has some interesting possibilities.
– Interesting support for commercial features like digital group addressing, stun and kill codes, etc.
– Compatible with all of my KG-UV3 accessories and cabling, except battery / power related.
– Tested against KPC-3+, TinyTrak4, and Argent simplex repeater, all good.

My peeves –
– No SSB capability on the MW/SW Rx. AM only.  That kind of kills the utility for Rx and decode of digital streams via a phone app etc.
– Having to restart with magic keypress to get into GMRS or MURS mode.  No big deal, with 200 channels, I’ll just program them in over in “normal” mode.
– WTF with the ‘alarm’ button?  Replace it with something useful like an LED light.
– The software that ships with it categorically sucks.  CHIRP project website shows that driver for these four new rigs is currently in process and scheduled for next release.
– You definitely need an external antenna to have any hope of Rx for SW or broadcast AM.

It will never replace my FT-817 for the field, but I would not hesitate to recommend one as a first radio for general preparedness for a family, to live in the RV or trailer, etc.

Anytone TERMN-08R – Not A Review

Click here to buy.

I have not yet purchased this radio. It is my understanding that some will be present at the Idaho PatCon. I will bring up some test equipment and give them an evaluation at that time.  For the moment, Ham Radio Blog PD0AC has done a review and by all indications the TERMN-08R appears to be a decent ChiCom portable, and undercuts the Yaesu FT-60R on Amazon by $30 US. However, for the price you can buy almost five Baofeng UV5Rs and almost equip a fire-team with their own squad radio. By many accounts on the patriot, prepper and 3% blogsphere, the Baofengs are perfectly good radios, and God Help You if you say otherwise.  As a comparison, the last squad radio I purchased cost me all of $13 at a hamfest.

popcomm-aug1983I figured that if it was good enough for this combat-experienced operator, it was good enough for me.

The reality however, is that as long as your squad radios address certain considerations, it doesn’t matter what brand they are, or band they are on.  So, for $139 you get a dual-band VHF/UHF HT with shortwave RX capability. Excellent bargain, actually.

But, wait a minute.  Click here.

What was that? A dual-band VHF/UHF HT with shortwave RX capability made by Yaesu for the same price.

Well, the VX-3R is not GMRS/FRS/MURS compliant for those of you who wish to comply in a time where FCC funding is getting slashed, 11 Meter Freeband operators get on the air with impunity, and no one is getting busted for running high power on bubble-pack channels 1-7 without sending the FCC $90 for a GMRS license.   It also doesn’t have “FHSS”, although I trust the manual’s Chinglish descrption about as much as I’d trust Eric Holder’s opinions on the 2nd Amendment. The FHSS feature is interesting.  Can’t wait to hit these radios with the same test equipment I used to evaluate the Motorola DTRs and those shitty Trisquare radios…

By Request: Preparing For COMINT and SIGINT

Enrollment for the Tulsa, OK class 3%/Grid-Down Commo Course ends on April 4th.  Please enroll and/or have your reservation paid in full by then if you are interested in attending this course

In the Course, I’ve mentioned sites like Radio Reference and FCC General Menu Reports for getting frequency data for your AO. A recent attendee of the Course asked about further information on setting up a SIGINT plan.  Here is what you do:

In addition to hobbyist sites and FCC license records, there is some other information you will want to have at hand.

Frequency Allocation Data

http://www.sinister.com/~ticom/nebbia98.pdf – Spectrum Use Summary 137 Mhz. – 10 GHz. – A good summary of what’s where in the VHF/UHF/Microwave Spectrum

http://www.sinister.com/~ticom/consolidated.pdf – The Consolidated Frequency List – A good list of frequency allocations.

http://transition.fcc.gov/oet/spectrum/table/fcctable.pdf – FCC ONLINE TABLE OF FREQUENCY ALLOCATIONS, 47 C.F.R. § 2.106

allocations – FCC LMR Allocations from Part 90

These allocation charts are for doing spectrum and band/sector searches.  They tell you, in a broad sense, what kind of users will be operating in what parts of the spectrum.  Download and print out all three.  They will come in handy.

Defining Your AO

See my earlier blog post.

Next Steps

  • See what local users are active with radio communications.  Do a box search of your AO (See my earlier blog post.) and run a point search of the locals. If your monitoring setup is not adequate enough  to hear the locals, then fix it so it can.
  • See just how far out you can reach with your monitoring setup. Do some band/sector searches, and identify your intercepts with the data from Radio Reference and FCC General Menu Reports.
  • Maybe do a little Signal Analysis?