Technical Articles

Is Remote Control Ham Radio Operation for You?

You’ve been using remote controls almost all your life. Ask yourself—when was the last time you got out of your chair to change the channel on your TV? Maybe you’ve used wireless controllers to play Call of Duty and Minecraft on your Xbox.

Some situations are not conducive to optimal Ham operations. But what if you could move your station to a better location? Remote control operation also works for your Ham Radio hobby—so why are you just sitting there?

The Top Five Reasons for a Remote Control Station

  1. QRM and QRN: Some of us live in RFI hell—places where interference from computers, appliances, plasma TVs, and other consumer electronics wreak havoc on our receivers. If you live in an area with frequent electrical storms, they can adversely affect communications.
  2. Rental properties and apartments: If you live in an apartment, it’s tough to put up an effective antenna. If you’re lucky enough to rent a house with land to put up a decent antenna, it’s often a challenge to convince the property owner to let you set up an antenna farm
  3. HOA and CCR: Are you governed by the rules of a homeowner’s association? You already know that most of the antennas you really want to erect are not allowed, and the ones that are easily hidden don’t always work so well.
  4. Geographically challenged: Maybe you’re in a lousy location for working DX. Could you talk your Uncle Ned into letting you install a station on his farm? Or perhaps set up a remote transceiver at your cabin in the mountains or your auto repair shop? Would a friend let you log into his station if you provided what’s needed for remote operation?
  5. Travel: Maybe you have a great Ham shack, but you’re frequently on the road. You can take it with you. Operate your home station from a laptop computer, tablet, or smart phone without packing a ton of equipment. Imagine operating your station from the beach or a sidewalk café in Paris with your cell phone!

Things to Consider

Some radios are already set up for remote operation. Flex 6000 series radios, Icom’s IC-7610, and the Ten-Tec Omni VII are a few examples that feature direct ethernet connections. With rigs like these, there’s no need for a local server at your shack. Rigs like the Kenwood TS-590SG and Icom IC-7300 have remote software but need a computer interface to connect to the Internet. The Kenwood TS-480 and Icom IC-7100 are examples of radios with removable control heads that can be “split” with the main unit at the remote site and the control head in front of you, both working together through a computer Internet connection.

There are several hardware devices available if you don’t want to tie up your computer. 

For example, the RigPi™ (Raspberry Pi™ computer) Station Server from MFJ provides remote operation for just about any radio through use of a web browser on a mobile phone, iPad, tablet, laptop, or desktop.

And of course, there’s the software. These include programs designed for specific brands, such as the Icom RS-BA1-V2 and Kenwood ARCP-590. Ham Radio Deluxe is the Swiss Army knife of programs, supportings numerous rigs from a variety of manufacturers. You’ll also find several freeware programs that will help you operate remotely, such as RCForb Client.

For your first attempts at remote operation, the fewer devices you need to run your station, the better. It’s easy to shift into Rube Goldberg mode and try to incorporate everything imaginable.  Add bells and whistles after you have the basic equipment communicating seamlessly. Also, make sure you have a way to cut the power via your remote control if anything goes wrong.

Digging Deeper

Though it was published almost a decade ago, Steve Ford, WB8IMY’s Remote Operating for Amateur Radio is still a great resource for the basics of remote operation. If you Google “remote ham radio control,” you’ll find more than enough results. Here are a couple other resources that will give you some insight into remote operation: Demo of Remote Base Operation of HF by W5KUB and Remote Operating for Amateur Radio—Ten Things to Know by Mark, K6UFO.