The UBCD436PT Update – better late than never!

I was one of the lucky ones who picked up a first batch UBCD436PT from the CFA/VFBV Listening Set project at an absolute steal of a price. Everyone who had the opportunity to buy one in that project came off with a very good deal and a modern radio scanner with more bells and whistles than you can poke a stick at. This was a modified version of the US’s BCD436HP, firmware and band plans were modified to suit local conditions as well as the entire CFA database was pre loaded to save any programming, this was ready to go out of the box.

Now, the more I used it the more I begun to enjoy the features, however since the announcement of the BCD436HP being upgraded to support DMR and now NXDN transmissions, it got me thinking that it was just starting to lack something.

I was a very big advocate in voicing my opinion to various sources, including the local agent and Uniden direct. I sent countless emails asking when we’d likely to see an upgrade to other digital modes and after some time I stopped getting emails returned. This was the final straw for me and it just so happened to be that there was an offer put forward for a BCD436HP that I couldn’t refuse.

I’ve been using the BCD436HP for a couple of months now and I can definitely say that whilst the units look the same on the outside, it’s like having a V8 under the bonnet vs a  V6 – this has got some serious grunt and there are so many things the BCD436HP is ticking the box on.

I’ve had the unit on close call when driving around and cannot believe the amount of DMR and NXDN traffic that pops up. It’s like the early days of scanning for me again – I’ve got a thirst to seek out transmissions in modes that I could only do on my PC not that long ago. New trunking networks are popping up for me and there is so much to do, and no where near enough time to do it all.

I’m still yet to dive head first into things like the discovery mode, and the analyze features but I am very much looking forward to spending some quality time with the unit in the next few weeks and getting some hours under my belt.

I’ve heard along the grapevine that Uniden Australia, or Pacific Telecommunications who are close to releasing a local firmware update to bring DMR and NXDN to the UBCD436PT. I patiently waited, and am now kicking myself that I didn’t originally fork out for the much more supported US version.

 

 

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The ACMA database and emission designators

Just wanted to share some information that I have found useful time and time again, and it’s something I can lose many many hours crawling through listings on – no it’s not your common auction site it’s the ACMA database.

For all those who aren’t aware, this is a database of (almost) every frequency in Australia and who it is licensed to and at what location. It is a vital source of information and there is plenty of data to anyone who spends the time looking for it and it is the best way to learn about frequencies in your area.

First let’s take a look at the Range search, found here.

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This search allows you to find local frequencies in your area as well as who they are allocated to. Throw in a high and low postcode (hint: if you are searching one PC you can put it in one, or both), a frequency (hint: ensure you have the correct unit Hz or MHZ) and hit Run Enquiry. It pays to click the blue Frequency column header which will sort by frequency. Click to your hearts content on the results!

A little on the results, there’s plenty of info on here that can relate to scanning, and this may make your searching all the more valuable.

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As you can see here in the results, the frequencies are listed in order and this usually helps for trunking systems. This is an example of the results of postcode 3199. This page will show you the emission designator which I’ll touch on in a second and also the Client and Site. One fairly new feature on this page is the addition of T/R – Transmit or Receive. This is as the site is, for instance to listen on the scanner we use the Transmit frequency, as this is the frequency that the site transmits on. By clicking the blue ID number you will get a page like this:

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This is the top half of the information, and brings up links to the client and the site – handy if you are looking for more frequencies that may be linked to the client or site. It also gives you an idea of coverage, local simply means that you should be able to pick this up within a few suburbs depending on your antenna and conditions. Sub local is another one you may see which is pretty much limited to the site it is listed at.

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Now this bottom half is where the action is, most of it is pretty self explanatory and some of the links are clickable and you can get lost for hours on the links.

One thing on this page that is quite handy, is the emission designators. They can take a bit of time to get your head around, and the ACMA’s put out a document that explains them here. Look out for 10K1F3E and 16K1F3E these are usually either analog or digital voice. Anything that has a D on the end of it is primarily used for data and isn’t really worth looking into any further. One new one that is popping up is 7K60FXW – which I am finding is MotoTRBO.

Keep in mind that this the online register is free to all and should be respected  accordingly. Many happy hours searching!

What’s been your best find on the database? Leave a comment below.

 

 

CFA Digital Listening Set/Scanner: UBCD436PT – The Review

CFA in conjunction with VFBV have started the distribution process of the thousands of digital scanners customized for CFA. They were offered to members at a heavily discounted rate due to the implementation of CFA’s digital radio network.

I’d been waiting in anticipation for my unit to arrive, I’d planned out a few systems with the help of mdheron and vicradiozone and had a general file ready to dump in there that would get me off the ground. This was the first hiccup. I didn’t investigate too much as to why but the USA version of software that I had downloaded couldn’t see my scanner. Strange, as it pops up in Windows as an external drive as the files are stored on an mounted SD card which hides under the battery. The SD card actually contains the setup file for Sentinel, which is handy if you roam between PCs to program.

Upon opening the box you’ll find the usual suspects; basic antenna, rechargeable batteries – which I must say are doing quite well, belt clip not dissimilar to the earlier UBCD396XT model, programming and charging cable, and a 240v to USB adapter with AU plug.  I won’t go into a full unboxing as there are plenty of places to find its USA brethren’s unboxings.

The unit comes pre programmed which will suit most CFA volunteers, by no means is the file sub standard – it covers every district in fireground and IMC channels as well as full RMR coverage including the RMR IMC talkgroups. It also comes programmed with UHF CB as well as AM CB. The band defaults are set to the Australian spacings and with only a few button presses the unit is ready to go.

Upon setting the time and date you are then presented with the screen – nothing to scan, and a quick browse of the supplied CFA instructions will show that to listen to your specified district eg. 12 then press E/YES. That’s it. The unit then is scanning conventional and digital trunking for the district.

I’ve got to say, after reading so many negative comments on various forums I was prepared for the worst. The usual reception can be expected – I was a little down on MMR RSSI however where this unit shone was the exceptional quality in low RSSI conditions. I rarely had the unit garble transmissions when driving around with it in the car on the handheld antenna. Where I noticed a massive difference, was on Simulcast systems. I was quite shocked to see the clarity, and wondered if some of the reception issues I thought I experienced on my UBCD396XT were simply due to simulcast issues that are heavily reported on in forums.

The screen size is something I am disappointed in, and not the overall real estate size but the amount of “wasted” space on the display. What would be nice, would be the ability to increase the font size on some of the bits of information such as the District Number and the Unit ID. While I am on it, the unit does not come with Unit IDs pre loaded, this is something you will need to do if you plan to use name tagged IDs. The extended display is welcomed however I’d like to see a more customisable display setting, Unit IDs can barely be seen at any given time, it’s a shame to put so much time and effort into them only for them to be extremely hard to see.

I’ve proceeded to customise the entire database, which is almost a total recreation of my database as a quite a bit of it has changed, and I’d say I’m maybe 1/3 of the way through this. The USA database linked to RadioReference is still loaded on the unit as well as the full CFA District database. So far I’ve loaded MMR, which runs a dream on it, CFA RMR is clear as a bell and VHF analogue is on par with the UBCD396XT. One thing it does is Phase II P25- not that there is any in Victoria, yet.

Uniden US have just released a paid patch that will allow the scanner to decode EDACS ProVoice – which I am yet to find any out this way, there is now a slither of hope that the unit in time may be able to decode DMR and MOTOTRBO. This radio technology is everywhere now – from your local shopping center to sports stadium and everywhere in between. More and more private businesses are going digital – from bus companies to security firms. DMR is here to stay, so with a patch from Uniden that allows the scanner to decode DMR would make this scanner would be the ideal do it all scanner.

It’s a toss up – I really like my BCD996XT and UBCD396XT but this unit shines above in so many aspects. With the rumored RRP price expected to be north of $599, if you have the chance to grab them at the discounted price you’d be crazy not to.

I’ve just noticed there is an alert LED – I’m off to make it light up!

 

 

 

RTL-SDR revisit, and trunk tracking the RMR with one R820T stick.

Back in February I was doing a little messing around with the RTL-SDR sticks that you can pick up nice and cheap everywhere on the net, and since then I’d put them aside for a while and concentrated on other things. The urge to get them back out became stronger and I’ve started looking at digital modes that most regular scanners cannot receive (yet) such as DMR & NXDN again. Vicradiozone has some really good info on the forums so if you are looking to get into this then head on over there.

I started poking around the RMR network, found some interesting DMR signals but what took my fancy was the RMR network and my initial plan of making these R820T sticks trunk track with the help from a PC. What I didn’t expect is being able to do it on one stick, yes ONE $20 R820T RTL-SDR stick. You can effectively trunk track the RMR network with one $20 stick. Here’s how I did it.

Firstly, I’m not going to lie, I spent literally hours on this and somehow fluked it in the end, but when I retraced all the settings it was quite clear where I was going wrong. I’ll cover this a little further in. Obviously you will need one, I repeat, one RTL-SDR R820T stick, the program Unitrunker, either Virtual Audio Cable or VB-Audio and the program DSD+ (I use 1.073 simply because this version works for me). I also recommend SDR# however you can use any SDR program you are comfortable with.

First you need to install the drivers which allow you to use the TV Tuner stick as an SDR with the program Zadig. I won’t cover this as there are plenty of places all over the web which show you how to do this. Once that is installed, fire up SDR# and pick your stick from the source drop down menu. You will now need to tune this stick, so find a known narrow band frequency that has high traffic and set the PPM in the settings to the required value to get it pretty much dead on top of the signal and note this number. This may range anywhere from 30-80.

Once you’ve got that, close down SDR# and open Unitrunker, add a new receiver by clicking + and choose RTL2832U. Drop down the RTL Device menu and select your stick, it may be listed as Bulk-In interface, or newer sticks may list as RTL-SDR. Under correction, enter the number that you just worked out (PPM) and check Baseband AGC and un check Auto Gain (I set mine to 300 but this number may vary – sometimes I need to set it back to auto gain, if you are not getting a signal come back & check this box). Set your sample rate as high as your PC will let you, I use 2.048 msps without problems on an i3 and use 2 VCOs. On the bottom tab select your first VCO and set the role as Signal. Change both audio outputs to Unspecified and under Park put in the Control Channel’s frequency. Make sure P25 is checked on both boxes.

On the next VCO set it to voice, and your Digital Output to either Line 1 if you are using VAC or CABLE Input if you are using VB-Audio. Check P25 on both boxes, set a park frequency about 0.5mHz-1.0mHz away from your control frequency, ensuring it isn’t another control channel frequency and you should be almost ready to go, but don’t hit start just yet.

Fire up DSD+, now you may need to check other places on the net for a guide how to do this, and set your audio input device to what you set the Digital Output to in Unitrunker and the output to your speakers/headphones.

Now, hit play on Unitrunker and with any luck if all your settings are correct you will have a window pop up with trunking information. You can also use the scope windows on the receiver settings to see that the stick is on the control channel.

Unitrunker will tell the RTl-SDR stick to move the second VFO to the voice channel, and return to the control channel once the signal has stopped and the output of the audio in DSD+ allows digital modulation to be turned into analog. I failed to set my PPM corrections and audio routing correctly and this lead to endless trouble shooting, and deleting and re adding the stick many times. I wasn’t getting some traffic on the MMR network, turns out due to its range of frequencies the single stick cannot cover it all. This is where you would need 2 sticks. I might add, that you can also pipe the audio from SDR# into Unitrunker as a discriminator signal input and flick around on SDR# and the control channel data will pop up in Unitrunker.

That’s how I got one stick fully trunk tracking the RMR network. It’s definitely not as clear & easy as my Unidens but with a bit of tweaking I can see it becoming much more on par or better than the Unidens. These RTl-SDR sticks should be in every scanner enthusiast’s arsenal, especially with the budget prices you can pick these up for these days. I must say, I am impressed so far and the countless hours that have now paid off I’m off to find a new project. If only I could find a cheap Windows 8 tablet!

Update September 2015

Been a while between posts, there’s been a bit going on behind the scenes.

By now most have heard about the release of an Australian version of the BCD436HP to replace the outdated CFA listening set which will bring digital listening sets to the CFA community. I’m not going to go into great detail on this, as it is covered all across the net anyway. There’s been some good discussion on the vicradiozone forum, head over here to check it out.

What I will add is what I said in that thread. Many questions were being asked and curiosity got the better of me.

YES you will be able to program other services is. The base programming which is the CFA channels will not be able to be erased but you can add systems in.
SENTINEL will be the program used to program these in.
CFA MEMBERS have to purchase through CFA at a subsided rate initially, not directly through PacTel. Any further sales after the allotment will be done through PacTel.
ETA – Is in the CFA’s hands.
I am looking forward to testing one of these on the MMR especially on the simulcast systems as the 436’s are meant to handle them a lot better.

Lets hope we don’t have to wait too much longer for them to be released.

Chrome based app brings streaming to your mobile device

Streaming your scanner is becoming more and more common, and here’s a Chrome app that brings it to the palm of your hand anywhere in the world.

Whilst this isn’t meant to be a discussion on the rights and wrongs of it and where people stand on it, let me say this: I support streaming your scanner for your own personal use. Now I’d be a liar if I said that I hadn’t used any streaming scanners: in fact listening to overseas scanners as well as interstate (and now Regional CFA Streams) is a great pass time, however some ESOs are really, really against it.

Let me also say that I haven’t connected up audio yet: I have read that it can be tricky but the alpha tags worked well – I’m currently using it to stream the tags from my BCD996XT to my Android phone underneath my PC screen so I don’t have to look over to my scanner.

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This is achieved by installing an app to the Google Chrome browser – called “Scanner Monitor” found in the Chrome app store and registering for an account at the scannermonitor.com website. Load up the ScannerMonitor app, select your COM port and click connect and you should be away. Then, on any internet connected device head over scannermonitor.com with your login details and voila! There is a display such as the one in the image above. I read that it will work on Windows, Apple, Android and Linux running the Chrome browser.

This has been written for the BCD436HP and BCD536HP line of scanners, however I have it successfully running on my BCD996XT. I’d like to know what other scanners you have it working on, I would imagine it would work on the UBCD396T and UBCD396XT series as well. Let me know how you get on in the comments section!

New Uniden Scanner: BCD996P2

So it’s been revealed that Uniden America are releasing a new (upgraded) model to supplement the BCD436HP and BCD536HP, the BCD996P2. Looks almost exactly like a BCD996XT with a few mods under the bonnet. It boasts the same DMA memories as the BCD996XT, basically supports all the functions that the BCD996XT does with the added bonus of P25 Phase II decoding. It also sports a front mounted Mini USB port which appears to be a double-edged sword. On one had, it means that finding a cable is simple, as many goods like a GoPro, many digital cameras, and even my Garmin for my bike all use a Mini USB. The downside is that straight out of the box the RH-96 is not supported. I know for me, personally this isn’t a big deal unless Uniden release the Handheld version without some kind of adapter available.

This means for us in Australia, should the CFA’s RMR go Phase II, or the MMR go Phase II (which I am lead to believe is on its way) this scanner will track it. No word on whether simulcast issues are addressed.

Good time to keep an eye out for what’s next in the market!

Big discussions going on the RadioReference forum, here.

Digital Modes with RTL-SDR

I’ve had one of the Cheap USB SDR sticks for a while now, and never really gave it much of a go, so after doing a little more delving into the digital modes that can be decoded with a program and these sticks I thought I’d get it out of hibernation.

Using a program called SDR# (SDR Sharp) and fine tuning the stick in the settings of the program I was able to hear analog transmissions and hear the audio of digital transmissions including control channels.

I then stumbled across Unitrunker compatibility, I’ve had it installed on my main PC for a while however never really used it as I prefer Pro96Com for my control channel decoding on the BCD996XT. Piping the audio out from SDR# into Unitrunker as a discriminator input using a program called VB Audio Cable and tuning to a control channel lit up Unitrunker, and displayed Control Channel data for the P25 site I was looking at. This instantly meant that I freed up my 996XT, with the RMR in full swing it has really been working hard on that.

I did some more research and found that my E4000 stick wasn’t directly compatible with Unitrunker, only in the way that I just described, which meant that to effectively follow a system I would have to get another stick that Unitrunker can control – the R820T. I picked up 2 of these delivered for under $30, and a USB hub (which arrived in non working order) from eBay. Unitrunker has the ability to act like a scanner and follow a trunk system and decode the digital transmissions into audio.

What I plan to do with this is have the USB hub mounted in a jiffy box, with a single USB connection to the PC and a single BNC in for the antenna, split to the two sticks. Add in there a USB thumb drive with the Unitrunker program, SDR# and other associated programs and you have a totally portable SDR box, despite still needing a PC to run it.

SDR has come a long way since I first looked into it, with programs such as DSD+ which allow you to decode certain Digital Modes, plugins for SDR# that you can scan like a scanner, and many more that make it so much easier to use these days I can’t understand why the major manufactures aren’t releasing radios with this technology. Its only a matter of time until someone custom builds a totally portable version, and I think these will sell like hotcakes. They may not appeal to the scanner users that are using it for local awareness such as in a fire prone area, but the guys and girls who really love this stuff will be lining up to get one. I know I will!

Head on over the vicradiozone forum where a discussion and log of digital mode transmissions are going crazy. There is plenty of info out there on these sticks and how to set them up, so I’m not going to steal someone else’s thunder. A great place that I have used to start is www.rtl-sdr.com where you can find all the info on setting these up. Just remember to look at the RF Gain (less can be more in some cases) and to correct the frequency use Frequency Correction (PPM) settings (rather than the offset).

If you are wanting another scanner, but the outlay of a few hundred dollars is holding you back, why not grab one (or two) of these sticks and save yourself a few bucks? Remember, the R820T chipset can be controlled by Unitrunker, effectively turning it into a trunk following scanner.

CFA Online Streams

Recently CFA have moved regional dispatch across to a P25 Trunking network similar to the metro system coined the “RMR”. This has meant that all dispatch for rural areas who may never in the past have had 24/7 VicFire monitoring now have an operator only a mike press away. These brigades are dispatched out of Ballarat via digital trunking network that is being simulcast over the existing analog localised repeater network meaning for now, the current analog scanners and listening sets will work until the analog simulcast switch is flicked off. CFA are in the process of tendering for listening sets that will accommodate the RMR network, however they also mentioned that digital streaming would happen online.
Over the past few weeks some attentive internet trawlers have noticed that on Radio Reference‘s streaming site Broadcastify, a member called CountryFireAuthority had been broadcasting a test stream. This user had also gained Broadcastify’s “Official feed broadcast by the agency badge” which is only gained by successfully proving that they are broadcast and sponsored directly by the agency or organization being broadcast.
Well, day by day, a few new Districts have been coming online and now it seems they are almost complete. This means that on your internet enabled device, including PC, tablet, smartphone etc, you will be able to stream the digital dispatch radio traffic almost live – the standard shoutcast 30 odd second delay exists.
There are many ways you can find these streams. Chances are you already have a scanner app on your smart phone or tablet, search in Victoria, then in the area you wish to listen and look for “Country Fire Authority District X Dispatch”. I use the Android app “Scanner Radio” which works well for me on my phone and tab. You can also find these on your PC at http://www.radioreference.com/apps/user/?uid=849659

Just remember, that these streams shouldn’t be relied on in an emergency – if the internet or mobile networks are jammed or go down then you are on your own. This will also use your mobile data if you aren’t connected to wifi, so be mindful if you run this flat out!

Update July 2014

Firstly, let me apologise to everyone that’s contacted me over the last few months – I’ve been flat chat with work and other commitments and this blog’s taken a back seat. I am slowly working through emails and programming requests and if I haven’t got back to you in the next couple of days please shoot me an email again – some of your emails were ending up in the spam folder, it shouldn’t happen again.

So, the RMR transition for CFA is in full swing and for those who have heard it know how much of a breath of fresh air it is audio quality wise, and it was mentioned on the CFA News website from a CFA member that it was like they were in the room with VicFire. Eagerly waiting to see the results of the tender for the Listening Sets, from the sounds of it they are looking at interested in having them receive pager messages as well.

With the Snow Season in full swing now is the time to put in some Snow Frequencies. Some of these can be heard as far in as Metro Melbourne so head on over to here to grab a list that I have found and let me know your results!

Don’t forget to head on over to vicradiozone for all the RMR updates!