Why SmartLink?

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I hope nobody takes this the wrong way. I do not want to criticize but rather understand.

I get that SmartLink does some sort of negotiation + authentication + authorization, just like VPNs do. I also understand that for any but basic peripheral switching (and logging) SL won't help and VPN will be needed. VPNs are secure and readily available in many modern home routers. It sounds like a few hams will keep using VPN.

Why does FRS spend time and dev cycles on SL at all (not a core radio or SDR software feature). From the answers to some related questions I feel SM is not done but rather in design or prototyping phase. Why does FRS not focus on the needs of its user base? Or Is there some killer feature coming in SL that will make VPNs obsolete?

Andy
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Andy - KU7T

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Posted 1 year ago

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Tim - W4TME, Customer Experience Manager

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Why not ;-)

VPNs require specialized hardware (router or a VPN server) and a unique knowledge of networking to get it running.  SmartLink requires none of that. 

Easy and transparent remote access to the radio is the MOST requested feature we have had.  Hands down. This is a core feature we envisioned when we built the FLEX-6000s.

SmartLink is just the beginning of remote operation; the foundation.  Yes, we envision more to come...

Will the SmartLink feature set make VPNs obsolete?  VPNs provide a parallel access technology.  We hope that the simplicity and ease of use that is engineered into SmartLink will make VPNs a less attractive remote operating solution.
(Edited)
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Ed Woodrick

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There's a number of things that can be done, outside of a cloud based connection process that could make remote access significantly easier and reliable. The first would be to simply allow a user to enter the IP address of the Flex!. Using the current broadcast solution is great when you are on a single network, but single networks disappeared 30 years ago. 

There's some comments that hams can't do port forwarding. Sure, there may be some, but there are a lot that can. Supporting the least common denominator isn't often the best thing.The Pi solution that is in place may sound like a nice one, but I believe that it is echoing all broadcast traffic on both networks, that can be a huge bandwidth hog.

I think that I saw that the new software would be free for those that purchase since Dayton. But what about those that purchased since it was promised?

People don't buy Flex for the software that is available today, they but it, unlike Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood, for the software that will be available for years to come. 
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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What about security?
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David Decoons wo2x, Elmer

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I've got a 6500 installed at a remote location with radio directly plugged into a cable modem. No router or PC on site. SmartLink makes it seamless to access that radio plus my home 6700 when on the road. Both radios show up in the radio chooser and I can select either radio, no matter where I am connected with the remote client.

If I want to add a amp or external auto tuner I can use the various USB to serial, USB to bit, or USB to BCD cables and STILL not need a PC at the remote location.
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WX7Y

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I bought my signature 6700 and Maestro  series radio with the promise that it would have this kind of remote connection coming in the future, If this would not have been a selling point for the Signature series radio I would have saved 7K and stayed with my Flex 5000 radio which I still have but rarely use.  

This will make the connection much easier and work a bit like EchoLink, Skype, RCFORB, Teamviewer  or what ever else people are using but ONLY between the Radio devices and not a computer getting in the way.

So to me this is a core feature and is just FLEX fulfilling there promise to us, the owners of a fantastic radio and great to see what Tim said
"SmartLink is just the beginning of remote operation; the foundation.  Yes, we envision more to come..."
and MAY "make the VPNs less attractive" and so NO remote computer or special hardware to worry about back at the shack.

73's and all I can say is it's been a LONG wait for this feature, there is light at the end of the tunnel afterall.

Bret
WX7Y
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Varistor

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IMHO, the why question is the easy one; what has not been discussed is the "what is SL" question.


That is, the way I look at it, gaining remote access to your radio is of very little use compared to gaining access to the entire station. So is SL going to let you turn on/off the radio and other devices, turn around your rotator, change the direction of the 4SQ, manage the stack, select different RX antennas, etc.?


If the answer is yes, then this would be a killer product. If the answer is no, then SL doesn't really solve anything but for the simplest of simple stations.
(Edited)
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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I've been thinking about this, and wondering what really is the goal of station control.

Antenna switching seems to be the most complicated. If you run stacks it gets even more complicated. Switching a 4SQ or 8 circle is child's play though. 

Antenna selection should be done automatically per band, and I had mentioned a couple of ways this could be done easily and nicely integrated into the SmartSDR GUI, with dropdowns for various antennas. Stack control could come later, Top, bottom, BIP/BOP etc. 

But in a contest I want this to be as automatic and non-intrusive as possible. I don't want to be reaching for multiple windows or controlling the cockpit of a 747. I want to change bands in my contest software and then have the station logic figure out the rest. 6Y1V in its heyday had a pretty elaborate system using touch screens but the goal was to push one button and have everything set up for you. 

I think the basic foundation for this is there - no other rig even comes close in extending the capability for station control built in. You can have unlimited USB switches, Bit, BCD, CAT control. You can have ethernet control as well. 

SmartLink really hasn't scratched the surface of this, but it's a .0 product. Give it time to evolve and with partners such as 4O3A already developing peripherals with full integration into the ecosystem I don't see it taking very long to do that. I also don't see a window full of buttons and switches, but rather automatic station control as far as possible. 
(Edited)
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Bob - W7KWS -

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Good points Ria but every time I've set up automatic controls exclusively, I've soon discoverd a reason to overide them. I don't have anyone at home to kick anything and I used to be gone for three months at a time. So, I keep manual overides and a backup for every function.

I've experimented with a dozen or more potential solutions and none have achieved it all. I'm looking forward to SmartLink as another approach with great promise but I expect to be using my cobbeled together solutions for some time.
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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Port forwarding is beyond what many hams want to mess with.

Additional boxes (raspberry pi) are needed for vpn use if your router doesn't support them.

Carrier grade NAT may or may not work with a VPN. I had one case in Quebec where their ISP was blocking all inbound VPN software. Smartlink may/may not work.

Smartlink enables Maestro use remotely without additional hardware. I have set up the two raspberry pi combo for some people along with an antenna mod for better wifi on the pi, but it doesn't do captive portal wifi and it's an extra box to carry around. The upside is you can place it on your car roof and run an Ethernet cable down to the radio in a parking lot and work remote radio to your heart's content. But if maestro does captive portal this will be a lot better.

As for me I may still use VPN as I have other stuff to connect but that's my choice, and I have the skills to troubleshoot it if it doesn't work.

Ria
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David Decoons wo2x, Elmer

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Yes, taking my Maestro to the park and accessing the free WiFi and then having access to my remote 6500 or home 6700 without the need of any PC turned on. That's just one scenario.

Dave wo2x
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Bill -VA3WTB

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That is the direction Flex is headed, complete station control. This is why the new amp is made the way it is, and the antenna tuner,,all will be controled from afar. And anything that can connect to the radio with USB.
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Varistor

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This is highly unlikely. Controlling other devices requires the ability for the user to create custom GUI controls. In addition, certain USB devices require a driver. So other than provide band data and basic ON/OFF capability the USB port cannot support many use cases.

If you really want to understand what controlling a station really means, read the manuals for Green Heron's GH Everywhere or 4o3a's Station Genius.

Fortunately there are quite a few good remote station management solutions out there. Personally I have decided to toss out my current Hamation products and switch to a combination of Hamplus switches and GH Everywhere for station automation and remote access.

I also doubt it that any ham vendor can do auto discovery and remote audio/video better than companies that do this for a living (e.g., TeamViewer). So I am currently testing TeamViewer over a 3G network and the experience is outstanding. No VPN, no port forwarding, no messing with the network. It just works.
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Steve K9ZW, Elmer

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@ Rudy N2WQ

You're correct that there a several different paths to get remote connectivity, and a particular user may prefer one above the others. Yet several work.

SmartLink is very much a KISS method of core connectivity. Playing with the demo at Xenia it was essentially not distinguishable whether a radio was LAN or WAN - just point to the chosen radio in your list and go! Impressive when one considers all the heavy lifting is done with minimal user awareness.

I've understood that the new 4o3a Amp and Tuner will be controlled through SmartSDR. Ranko had plans to do the same with the other station automation products, though the software had landed behind.

I'd appreciate having the Station Genius, Antenna Genius and Rotor Genius at least controlled by a remote SmartSDR client.

73

Steve
K9ZW
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Bill -VA3WTB

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With updates coming soon, control panels will be added to SSDR to control the Amp and antenna tuner. As more things come along that allows for station control more control panels will be forth coming in the software. It looks like about everything in the shack will be LAN connected for control.
(Edited)
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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 Controlling other devices requires the ability for the user to create custom GUI controls. In addition, certain USB devices require a driver. So other than provide band data and basic ON/OFF capability the USB port cannot support many use cases.

Custom GUI controls are not required. Most rotator controllers have a standard  command set and Green Heron (I have one) follows Hy-Gain DCU-1. If rotator control is part of a future version of SSDR, this can be easily accomplished. 

Most ham equipment using USB control uses USB to serial. The GHE RT-21 uses USB to serial. However, it also has a DE-9 port for conventional RS-232 control. For a simple station, one tower (even a rotating one) this is sufficient. Flex has settled on supporting FTDI USB to serial adapters as they are well supported and widely available. Many pieces of ham equipment have FTDI chipsets for USB to serial.

Basic remote operation with SmartSDR and SmartLink is not going to cover every use case. It is not intended to. If you have a more elaborate use case, you are free to set up whatever you want. In fact, no ham software can support an infinite number of station configurations. I would say N1MM+ comes pretty close but it still doesn't support everything out there. 

What it will do is give most hams the means to operate a basic station away from home when they need to.  They're not going to operate K3LR remotely (for example). Incidentally, station genius support could make its way into SSDR in the future as Ranko has been partnering with Flex on some projects. 

Ethernet control is and should be the future. As long as equipment is developed to a standard, or has their spec published, then it should be fairly easy to incorporate control. 
I also doubt it that any ham vendor can do auto discovery and remote audio/video better than companies that do this for a living (e.g., TeamViewer). So I am currently testing TeamViewer over a 3G network and the experience is outstanding. No VPN, no port forwarding, no messing with the network. It just works.
Teamviewer does this by relaying connections through their servers as an absolute last resort when a direct connection cannot be established. However, they also charge almost $900 for the basic license for commercial use. Some of this obviously pays for bandwidth.  Sling media also works very well but they also have a relay service and they insert ads in the software. This obviously won't happen with ham stuff so I'm not even sure how it can be compared. 
(Edited)
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EA4GLI - 8P9EH - Salvador

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Bill said:
With updates coming soon, control panels will be added to SSDR to control the Amp and antenna tuner. As more things come along that allows for station control more control panels will be forth coming in the software. It looks like about everything in the shack will be LAN connected for control.
I find the control panels part a very important one.  I really hope we don ́t get yet more submenus and dropdown lists.

One of my gripes with the current software is the amount of clicks it takes me to get to things. If I want to enable/disable the preamp on the DEMI 2m amp I have to click on Menu > USB Cable > (a new window opens)  Double click on 2m LDPA USB line > (another window opens) > Click on PREAMP.

Similarly with changes of modes as I can only have 3 direct ones. 
Or profiles, I have to move the mouse all the way to the right, click on the down arrow, select the profile. And if it is a Global profile I have to click on Menu > Profiles > Appropriate tab, etc...

Different strokes for different folks means that I might have certain buttons I want to have quick access to. If I am working Sats or 2m openings (2m was crazy a couple of days ago) I might want to have the amp PreAmp and an couple of quick profiles customized buttons ready in the main screen. I want to have direct access and visual cues to the state of the TX buttons. Why is binaureal audio hidden, 3 or 4 clicks away? 

The concept is not lost on FRS as they implemented the customization of buttons on the Maestro.  

If SmartSDR is going to be the center of operations of my station (not just my radio) a level of customization is paramount.
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Rich McCabe

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I am a MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer). 80% of the hams I know are not capable or care enough to setup a remote system to do this.

Not something I will use, but I think time well spent on Flex Radios part.
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Rick WN2C

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Then somebody needs to write a book...a book for dummies on how to do all this stuff. 
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Jay / NO5J

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You just posted to the Book, ever read it? 

It kind of writes itself.

It even has pictures!

and a few videos!

Costs it's readers $0.00

So it's really worth reading.

     SDRgadgets

#FlexRadio IRC chat

   73, Jay - NO5J

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Jay / NO5J

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Part mystery, part suspense.
Has plenty of characters too.
Both good, and evil.

     SDRgadgets

#FlexRadio IRC chat

   73, Jay - NO5J

and evil.
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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Even with a book (or an automated install script, you know?) many hams get tripped up by this newfangled computer stuff. Especially port forwarding seems troublesome for many. 

Ria
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ka7gzr

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I am wondering what the "key" to SmartLink is? Is it dedicated servers that Flex owns and operates? Will it be "free" after the paying for the 2.x software?

I have two Pi's working (with Ria's and Chris's help) but have difficulty with some public Wi-F'is having drop-outs. The two Pi's allow flexible tuning but my best, consistent and steady streaming connects are using my cell phone ($s). I am hoping that SmartLink is reliable and consistent and without a subscription.

By the way, I haven't seen Chris (k6ozy) on the forum lately. I hope he is OK...

Jim

ka7gzr 

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Tim - W4TME, Customer Experience Manager

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I am wondering what the "key" to SmartLink is? Is it dedicated servers that Flex owns and operates? Will it be "free" after the paying for the 2.x software?

Yes (in the Azure cloud) and yes.
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David Decoons wo2x, Elmer

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SmartLink is part of the upcoming 2.0 release. for non Limited Edition owners there is a one time charge for the upgrade which will include access to register the radio with the SmartLink server with no recurring cost. The upgrade will also include any minor revisions (2.1, 2.2 etc) with the features those releases bring.

SmartLink is hosted on a secure server. You can still acces your local radio on the LAN without connecting to SmartLink but you would need SmartLink to connect via WAN.

The advantages of SmartLink over VPN have been covered in other posts but most noteably is the ability to run the radio into a WAN connection and acces it remotely from a client without the need of a PAC on at the radio. Also the Maestro can access the radio directly over LAN without a Pi or other VapN bridge device.

Dave wo2x
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Mark WS7M

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I think Ria is right.  This is .0 so we need to see what evolves from it.

I also think Howard is right in a different post.  The best way to do the things that SmartLink won't do is some kind of a remote access controller.

I started building such a thing this weekend because while my station is quite simple compared to many of you I do have an SPE 1K amp and I want to be able to turn it on/off and set what power on it I want to run.  I also invested in a Palstar auto-tuner and I plan to have that under remote control as well.

As a software guy for many years my solution to this is software.  This weekend I built a small utility that published a web page.  On that webpage are links to turn amp on/off, other amp controls and a few shack specific controls.  Since the web server is built in my code I am free to do pretty much what I want with it.

I'm going to put it on a specific port and my authentication will be a simple rolling scheme where the password will change daily.  All I will need to do for remote control of these devices is to point a browser to my web address enter the authentication and the next page presented will be controls for the station.

I think this is where we are going to end up.  I don't think we can expect that FRS will provide any kind of station control beyond what can be done with the USB cables.  So if you have anything unique you will have to have another way to control it.

Once I get my little piece of software working the way I want I will make it available to those that might be interested.  The various peripherals for control are easily setup in a java like macro language and the web page layout and format comes from an easily editable template.

I am making use so far of the Digital Loggers web power switches and relays and also will be able to control SPE 1KFA amp.  Might work for the bigger ones but no idea.  I expect to add basic control of the Palstar tuner to switch antennas etc.