Using contest logger over internet with remote Flex-6700 and NO remote PC attached

  • 1
  • Question
  • Updated 2 years ago
  • (Edited)
The new "USB cables" have provided smooth integration of Flex-6000 radios with e g amplifiers in a remote station with no PC attached.
Curios over what solutions you Flex users have sucessfully adopted to connect a contest logger (at home base with no radio) over internet to the Flex-radios assuming NO PC at remote site (where radio is)?
And used it over a 48 hour contest...
Have anyone used USB over internet to create virtual COM Ports at home base to connect logger to? Or TCP ports?
Assuming you run Softether with Raspberry Pie at remote site and work through a VPN tunnel as many of us already do (waiting for v.2.0) can this be an option to access the ports as well? 
Photo of Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP

Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP, Elmer

  • 257 Posts
  • 24 Reply Likes

Posted 2 years ago

  • 1
Photo of Ria - N2RJ

Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

  • 2283 Posts
  • 925 Reply Likes
It doesn't have to be that complicated. I did this while I was in Argentina to operate ARRL DX SSB from my NJ station while I was back in my apartment, but admittedly not for a full 48 hours.

I ran VPN on my laptop and ran SmartSDR CAT on it, and set up all my port configs for N1MM+ there. I used my iPad for the rig control through its own VPN connection although I just as easily could have used a Maestro if I had brought one along. 

It worked just as if I was home, at least until my wifi died. 

The USB cable feature is not even necessary for this. The USB cable feature is more for controlling external equipment like amplifiers, antenna controllers, tuners, bandpass filters, antenna switches etc. 
(Edited)
Photo of Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP

Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP, Elmer

  • 254 Posts
  • 24 Reply Likes
Hi Ria, 
OK thanks for the tip. 
I tested to run Smart SDR from the PC over the VPN and now I have got the CAT Ports working as expected. Since I got my Maestro I have hardly done that.  
Then I tried the Maestro instead and it works for the first time. Never before. Is it so that I need first to "waken up" the SDR CAT with Smart SDR to then get it working with just Maestro?
 
(Edited)
Photo of Ria - N2RJ

Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

  • 2283 Posts
  • 925 Reply Likes
If your maestro is on and connected, and you have the laptop with VPN connected, and SmartSDR CAT is open, it should connect automatically. There is no need to waken up anything. 
Photo of Ria - N2RJ

Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

  • 2283 Posts
  • 925 Reply Likes


Not the most ergonomic but I didn't have much of a desk to contest on. You can also see the horrible wifi connection by the gaps in the waterfall (which I eventually just turned off). 
(Edited)
Photo of Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP

Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP, Elmer

  • 254 Posts
  • 24 Reply Likes
Nice set up Ria. Can you connect to the radio (that is connected with a Maestro) with the Smart SDr iOS app?  Would it not show "busy"
Photo of spopiela

spopiela

  • 82 Posts
  • 10 Reply Likes
Ria,
Help me understand the setup that you used. Two separate VPN networks running into your home FLEX station ... probably your router providing both and connecting to your FlEX radio. Why is the radio available to both the laptop running SmartSDR and the IPAD running SmartIOS?
Sounds like it works; I like it! I'll try it this week.
Thanks
Stan
N1THL
Photo of Mike va3mw

Mike va3mw

  • 824 Posts
  • 198 Reply Likes
Hi Kari

I'm not sure exactly what you are trying to do, but SSDR CAT can communicate directly to the radio over a VPN tunnel.  You would run CAT on your home computer and have it connect directly to the radio.

Would this work?

Mike va3mw
Photo of Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP

Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP, Elmer

  • 256 Posts
  • 24 Reply Likes
Hi Michael, Yes you are right. I just got it to work with Maestro after "wakening up" the CAT Ports with Smart SDR first.  Did not realize this was the trick :( 
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
I was going to say the same thing.. if you establish a vpn from your local laptop to the remote site you can interface your local logger to your SSDR CAT instance locally and it will work.  This is probably not the most efficient setup for a competitive (like squeeze in every contact time sensitive competitive) contest environment where I would recommend a PC on the remote side to co-locate as much of your contesting ecosystem on the LAN as possible.. but for casual contesting it should be fine and I have done this many times.
Photo of Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP

Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP, Elmer

  • 254 Posts
  • 24 Reply Likes
Hi Chris . Well The goal is to get all working without a PC at remote radio side. I have been doing it with K3 and the remote rig boxes sucessfully for 4 years. With three towers, a 27 m vertical and high RF levels I have experienced that PCs can be the weak link. At least over a 48 hour contest.
At the last CQ WW 160 I did have a remote PC and I hade 2-3 logger hickups on the PC . This was SO1V and almost 1000 QSOs.
Then I tried ARRL Intl DX CW SO2R with DX Log and it worked so so. The audio levels from each band (and ear) kept changing when switching between TX on different bands. I know DXlog is not 100 % compatible in all modes of DXLog.
Why do you feel a PC is needed? The remote amps are controlled over the USB lines.
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
Kari I guess you can call it the school of hard knocks ;-). or simply what seemed to produce the best result.  8 years ago I founded a (very) remote hiltop contest station. (K6LRG). Im not tooting our own horn here but we were one of the first competitive remote contest stations on the air.  It was necessary b/c the road to the station gets dangerously muddy and slick in winter, e.g. the middle of contest season.  We tried every method out there, and initially I was in your camp.  I wanted to bring all the loggers to the bottom of the hill and just have minimal equipment and full automation up at the hill.  What I discovered is that I could do.. OK.  not great but ok with loggers and such down at the control site.  I found I lost valuable minutes and lower qso totals due to occasional hookups that resulted in loss/then need to re-establish logger communication. I also discovered that this happens at variable severity, from packet/data loss due to lag or a partial dissconnect all the way to the complete sever of connection.  so the problems that occur were inconsistent. 

When I moved to a complete location of the logging systems, if a problem occurred all that would affect me was 1. a slight lag in RDP connection, or 2. if it was really bad and I lost my rdp connection, when I recovered everything was still solid on the LAN so I could immediately go back to work.  at the top level just a few qso's can make the difference between a win or an almost win.  So I am very fickle I need those few qso's.  I have won 2 division Sweepstakes titles using this method and can keep myself in the top 10 box.  With PC's so small, and inexpensive with no moving parts, (think Intel NUC or similar platform).  there really isnt much to lose and may be a few qso's to gain.
Photo of Mike va3mw

Mike va3mw

  • 824 Posts
  • 197 Reply Likes
Hi Kari

If you have enough bandwidth and no Bufferbloat, there is no need for a PC at the remote end.  Since I have limited upload, it was bandwidth cheaper to have a PC at the remote end and use RDP.   Doing this greatly reduced my CAT and DAX upload.  

I also use DAX at the remote end to log all voice QSO audio with QSOorder by limited the CAT bandwidth.  Make sure you keep an eye on your Bufferbloat numbers as bad Bufferbloat will increase latency.  

Mike
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
In the end this boils down to workflow and efficiency and methods to get every second of productivity.  It took alot of trial and error to come to this conclusion.  BTW my remote side is connected by a symmetric 45 mbit connection.  Most of the "issues" were part of the control chain.. e.g. consumer class dsl/cable or wherever the connection was made from..
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
Oh and there is one more piece of this puzzle..  multi-operator.  Almost all contest logging programs are designed to work in a LAN environment.  K6LRG is capable of M/2 operation as originally designed and has not 1 but 2 fully remoteable operating positions.  We can have 2 operators working together from completely separate areas of the world.  The 2 logging instances are on the LAN and it works as if we were in the shack together.  Remote desktop comes with its own challenges, (e.g. difficult to scale screens, etc.) but these problems are easy to work out and once you do its rock solid.
Photo of Mike va3mw

Mike va3mw

  • 824 Posts
  • 197 Reply Likes
To follow on what Chris said, I spent one Winter with all my serial I/O being sent back to my house on multiple serial over IP streams using remote rig.  (I had a bunch).  Yes, it worked, but recovery from problems was a PITA as Chris says.

Now, I have 2 PC's at the remote end.  1 for Command and Control and the other for Logging, etc.  This makes it easy to have 2 RDP sessions going across 2 monitors.

I am also as competitive as I want to be, except for me, contest season and ski season clash.

It is nice to have options.  For me, it also about bandwidth diet.  

73
Photo of Ria - N2RJ

Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

  • 2283 Posts
  • 925 Reply Likes
Whatever works for you but I find it a bit strange that RDP to a remote machine is preferable to the lower bandwidth requirement of simple ASCII data. I prefer to have everything running locally because my log is not tied up in a remote location. So far it works for me. I don't have as big a setup as N6LRG, just my single op station but everything works pretty well for me, of course when I have good internet. 
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
Ria, Its not that the visual experience is superior (because its not, although as the tech improves this has gotten alot better), its that one can keep the flow of the contest going with a few interruptions as possible, and that interruptions are recovered from in the smallest amount of time to stay in the top level of the game.  Its not the ASCII data that is the problem, its the transports, that are susceptible to latency and loss, and the variables of issues that can occur because things happen on the Internets ;-)..  IME the KISS methodology really produces results with fixed time performance operations.
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes

Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
the alpha is obviously for onsite use, teh Expert 2k is the remote qro solution
Photo of Ria - N2RJ

Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

  • 2283 Posts
  • 925 Reply Likes
I understand the logic, but to me the latency of RDP would absolutely kill the experience for me. Even over high bandwidth (gigabit LAN) connections RDP seems rather sluggish. I can't imagine using that in a contest environment. 

Different strokes for different folks. I haven't yet tried a full contest remote, but it would be interesting. A remote foot switch would also be necessary but not really a big deal to make (RPi or Arduino connecting via Flex API). 
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
Honestly latency has not been an issue. Im using part of the remote rig system to bring side tone/Audio, foot switch and cw keying down.  Doing this to solve some near term F6K issues as well. I ignore the VSP system.
Photo of Ria - N2RJ

Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

  • 2283 Posts
  • 925 Reply Likes
Latency won't be an issue when you have reliable fiber on both ends, but when you're operating from a different state, country, continent, it becomes an issue. 
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
in the end.. this is what I need from my remote.. and after a lot of trial and error this was the result I was after from the remote.  It took quite a bit of work to get there.
Photo of Ria - N2RJ

Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

  • 2283 Posts
  • 925 Reply Likes
Nice plaque! I have a few from the ARRL DX contest as well, but so far none when operating remote. :)
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
I have a number of woldwide and domestic titles but that one was the first remote top 5 finish.  I just won NAQP rtty overall last month, but not over remote, have gotten top 10 but not close enough.  It usually takes me 3 radios to win a rtty contest.  its doable, id like to get there some day.
Photo of Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP

Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP, Elmer

  • 257 Posts
  • 24 Reply Likes
Interesting comments and thoughts. Running RDPs and their bandwidth requirement I feel is another "risc source". We have today 4G all over Sweden even in rural areas (99,5 % contry coverage) and soon we have 5G as well. So usually we have 10-40 Mbit/s and minimum 20 GB of data per month to be wisely used. And you would need some margins during weekends when "Netflix" sets in :)
Having converted from K3 to Flex and experienced some of the challenges of the recent software versions I find redundancy as the most important factor. What do you do when the system "freezes" and you are keying 1 kW and perhaps SO2R?  How do you turn off vital parts and how do you get on rapidly again?  Is your approach, with dual lines,  Michel the way to go?  How do you assure that the logging PCs at remote site always work 100 % and are not susceptible to RFI in a multi-station set-up, Chris?   
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
Hmm the financial aspect of this is not something we have to deal with usually here. (allthough the telcos are trying hard to change that).  Thats another point, your contest setup may be running just fine until a kid or family member starts downloading the latest overwatch update to the Xbox, or streams HD movies.  having dedicated internet for your contest remote is highly recommended. (in fact I am odering another link because this just happened at my house!!)
Photo of Ria - N2RJ

Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

  • 2283 Posts
  • 925 Reply Likes
I run the firewall at home. I de-prioritize everything non-radio via traffic shaper. I do have 100MBps service though. It would take a lot for them (all 3 of them) to saturate the connection. And they've tried. My brother, a hard core gamer came up here and it was non-stop Steam downloads and other stuff. I just throttled him down to 20Mbps download and 1Mbps upload. Kept everything else happy. 
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
You would not believe it.. the sip audio started getting choppy during WPX, I go out, and ALL 3 KIDS are either on PC's, Xbox or PS4, adn ALL 3 KIDS simultaneously streaming HD TV to their IPhones at the same time.  ugh!  The Asus N66 has rudimentary QOS that as far as I can see favors the Xbox??? .. my home routing/firewall could use a few bucks for sure.. its only really now starting to become a problem as they all inevitably turn into teens.
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
Thats a great point Kari.  One of the key needs of a remote shack is it sort of needs to be fully functional without remote, e.g. full onsite functionality as pertains to RFI, interactions, automation, etc. as a baseline starting point prior to then separating the control point.  Eg if RFI was getting into your equipment in the first place, it will certainly do so when you add remote.  Use of the standard methods of RFI supression (take note of the call K9YC for VAST resources on solving issues such as rfi supression and proper station bonding).  These all need to be solved at ground level.

There are also various bios settings that just make sense, such as "restore AC power loss" that should be always set to "power on" (rather than last state, or off).  (this way you can use an IP based power strip to get yourself out of trouble quick.). 

Extensive work has been done to provide sufficient isolation to support the multi-op functionality with antennas in such close proximity(see pics).

I have NEVER had an instance of RFI interrupting my control link to that PC.  Even with the 15 meter antenna firing right over the top of the shack.  (it does however make the LED's on the 6 pack controller blink ;-)).
Photo of Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP

Kari Gustafsson SM0HRP, Elmer

  • 257 Posts
  • 24 Reply Likes
You are right Chris. The only difference with the analog legacy remote set-up is that now we are dealing with more or less a full digital radio chain. The intrinsic robustness of the digital chain each with their operating systems make the overall system MTBF something worth considering. I remember when  operating remote over 400 kbit/s over dsl (4 years ago) with legacy radios that was a fairly simple simple manouver even 24/7.  Except RFI not much could go wrong than interfacing different suppliers RS-232 equipment (e g amplifiers). Working contests was quite a feasible task. 
Now with "all digital" I feel the redundancy issue becoming perhaps the most important task. How do you systemize now? Splitting controll channels  from traffic channels, multiple WAN sources over indepenedent WAN service providers e t c. 
It would be very very interesting to hear more about this from the leading remote contest stations like yours. One such in EU said to me: "Well I still keep the legacy set-up when the big contests set in". I myself believe that I need to do it at least for a year or so when running the major contests.   How starts this thread? 
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
Many routers support mutiple wan links now.  I have not tried them, but I imagine it uses some type of transfer system that must me more rudimentary than border gateway protocol thus probably doesn't re-advertise a single IP so cutover would not be clean.. I am curious how those dual wan routers work.
Photo of Ria - N2RJ

Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

  • 2283 Posts
  • 925 Reply Likes
I have multi WAN but only as a failover (to 4G LTE). I would do bonding but it won't fix my main pain point which is upload. Hopefully my friends in the engineering dept at the cable co haven't forgotten me yet...
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
Hi Ria I suspected you may know, how long does it take for a failover?  what is the impact on existing connections? for instance is it a momentary complete connection loss.. etc.?
Photo of Ria - N2RJ

Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

  • 2283 Posts
  • 925 Reply Likes
Since this is an emergency failover, I set it to trigger based on "member down" which means that there must be 100% packet loss. As soon as the firewall detects 100% packet loss, it fails over. This could take a few seconds. If I wanted, I could set a lower threshold, eg. more than 20% packet loss, in which case the failover would be more seamless. 

Each connection is also in a tier. The 4G connection is a lower tier than the cable modem. You can set the links to load balance, failover or a combination of the two.  This can make the switchover virtually instantaneous, however established connections would lose state if they are on different ISPs for consumer internet connections. However, in our data center setup we have our own class C and we can and have seamlessly failed over, automatically and manually. 
(Edited)
Photo of Chris Tate  - N6WM

Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

  • 820 Posts
  • 221 Reply Likes
This technology seems like it would be more useful to shore up a control side rather than a remote side...
Photo of Ria - N2RJ

Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

  • 2283 Posts
  • 925 Reply Likes
If you have your own IPs and the ability to reroute them it would work for the remote side. Otherwise, no.
(Edited)