Programming with Cables and Software
VHF HT radios are not targeted consumer items. Many professional users find it best to do their own radio programming. However, depending on the jurisdiction that governs the area you live and operate in, there may be legislation governing this practise, and not everyone is proficient with some of the requisite skills required to program their own radios. All the OEM software and drivers for are written for Windows (there is third party software that supports some models, that run on Mac). And although the OEM software may work in a Windows emulator on a Mac, the USB drivers may not: YMMV. Here is a checklist of pre-requisites that will help determine if you are ready to program your own radio:
- Access to a Windows computer (not running Vista or Ver 8.x), or, if you want to use a Mac, the pre-purchase of aftermarket software that is known to support your model of radio.
- Familiar using an operating system such as Windows, and with installing software and drivers in Windows.
- Comprehensive list of frequencies you have permission to use, which includes Tx and Rx frequencies, Tone codes, and Wide or Narrow Band designations.
- Familiar with basic radio concepts that are involved with programming a radio, such as those mentioned above. You should be able to answer questions such as:
- What is a tone code, and why is it used?
- When is encode used, and when is decode used?
- What can happen if you use decode improperly?
- What is the difference between a Simplex channel, and a Duplex channel?
- How do I know when to use Simplex, and when to use Duplex, and why?
- What is the difference between 'offset' and 'split' when programming a frequency'?
- What is the difference between CTCSS and DTC and when may I need to use them, and which one do I need to use?
- What kind of channel do all repeaters use?
- What is 'squelch', how do I adjust it, and what setting should I use when programming a channel?
- What types of things in my usual operating environment may affect how I determine at which level I will pre-set my squelch?
- When should I consider adjusting my squelch settings?
- When should I use the 'Low' power setting, and when to use 'High'.
- What is 'Talkaround' and when/how should I use that?
- What is VFO mode, and when do I use it?
- What is the difference between UHF and VHF, and why would knowing that matter to me?
- What does FRS mean?
- What is the significance of FCC Part 90 regulations, and how do they relate to the purchase and legitimate use of a radio in Canada?
- What are the legal requirements governing the programming of Commercial Type Approved radios under the Radio Communications Act, and how to they apply to me?
- What is a tone code, and why is it used?
If you can answer those questions off the top of your head, you are ready to get started and should find the programming process relatively painless. If not, spend some time researching the above before deciding if programming is a good fit for you. Be warned, we encounter many users who end up tearing their hair out when attempting to program their radios for the first time. This is not an endeavour that you can do easily if you can't check all the boxes above
As your computer probably no longer has a serial port, you'll need to use a USB cable. Radio programming software for analog communicates with the radio using USB to serial chipsets. There is more information on that, and the ensuing scandal that resulted with the cables being made by many of the vendors here.
The USB programming cables for digital radios do not use TTL serial chipsets. The cable that is used for digital radios is a USB Direct Connection Cable (DCC). In most cases, when the USB cable is plugged into the computer, it will see it as an external drive, containing a special executable application that needs to be run on each computer to begin transferring files between them. Because your computer does not know there is a USB device present until it is powered on, your cable will not show up in device manager until the radio is turned on.
Most of the cheap programming cables for analog radios come with the Prolific chipset. The problem apparently is that Prolific has not updated any drivers since 2007 for their genuine chips, and that many, if not most aftermarket cables use a counterfeit chip that updated Windows drivers do not support. Using the SiLabs CP2102 or FTDI FT232RL chips in the USB cable results in much less of a hair pulling exercise. So we decided to take the existing programming cables we get, pull the Prolific based board, and install a SiLabs or FTDI based board instead. These cables work with most of the radios that use the Kenwood style connector such as Anytone, Wouxun, Baofeng, Puxing, TYT, etc.
The SiLabs UART works will in windows. Depending on your version, you might have to download the drivers for your version of Windows from the SiLabs website. The FTDI chip is what is used in aftermarket cables such as those from RT Systems (see below) has potential advantages if using the cables with a wider variety of operating systems, or being included in the Windows updates. We are still in the process of evaluating the pros and cons of using one over the other, and will update here once we've had a chance to work with them more.
The drivers for these cables are available on our downloads page (access information is available to our clients from your post-purchase follow up response). So this eliminates the first frustrating part of the programming experience.
OEM software fro Wouxun and Anytone is free of charge. There is also an Open source program called CHIRP that works in Windows and Mac with the Anytone 5888 and the Wouxun HT's. Support in CHIRP for the 3318 model is pending.
The radio manufacturer's do not seem to devote much of their resource pool to software development. In fact I suspect it's down to one new college graduate who seldom used a spreadsheet in a post-grad environment, and whose first language is clearly not English. He has to juggle writing new code with running down to the corner on his bike to get congee and dim sum for the bosses during meal breaks. The software works, but it is not user friendly, and as your spouse probably feels about you, lacking in attention to intuitiveness. (The Anytone software does not import from any other source such as a delimited .csv file, and even cutting and pasting from one is a laborious process that only recognizes your right click button and not 'Ctrl-C' and 'Ctrl-V' shortcuts. When the upgrade the firmware for a given model, you have to install the software for that model, and it it will not import your old data so you have to re-populate the new software again. "Why then", you may wonder, "do you stick with this Anytone brand?" Well, simply put, they have obviously put most of their R&D into developing the best Chinese radio on the landscape next to the Japanese brands (yes, better than Wouxun). And, unlike the Japanese HAM radios that are commonly modified to allow them to be unlawfully field programmable with frequencies outside of the Ham band, Anytone models come with FCC Type 90 approvals, which means they have DOC Type Approval* in Canada.
CHIRP is the other end of the spectrum. The program requires a fair bit of previous knowledge with radios, frequencies, and how to program them. And judging from what appears to be a lack of love for the Anytone HT's by the small cadre of what seem to be CHIRP elitists (an opinionated view based upon reading many of their forum rants), do not expect to see it anytime soon.
That leaves two more options: manual programming, and aftermarket software from RT Systems.
Manual programming is mainly a skill set that is deployed when you need to field program a frequency on the fly. An typical example would be in the field when you encounter a logging road that has their frequency posted at the entrance.
The system from RT Systems (a US based company) includes a proprietary cable that uses an FTDI Chip that is encoded with a unique PID and VID, and software that will only talk to your radio through drivers that recognizes those parameters. The software is not free or cheap, but it is fully featured. If you need to change frequencies in your radio(s) on a regular basis, it is well worth considering, and we've tried to lessen the pain by offering a reduced price if it is purchased with your radio (or for the radio you previously bought from us).* "FCC Standards - Industry Canada wants to reduce the burden on manufacturers and importers and to expedite the process of certification in Canada. As a result, the Department will accept reports that show equipment complies with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) standards."