Whenever I return from a hamfest, I get the same question from those that didn’t get to participate: “How was it?” Everyone has their own idea of what makes a good hamfest, but over the years I’ve seen a lot of commonality among views across the ham community. For example, for outdoor swapfests the weather is always an important element — if you’re able to browse at a leisurely pace with a little sunshine and a nice breeze while examining radio goodies, it always beats freezing rain! This is one of the reasons that HamCation, held every February in Orlando, Florida is always a favorite of ours at FlexRadio. The weather is always above-par and last weekend was no exception with highs in the low 80s, plenty of sunshine and just a touch of rain. I called home to check on my daughter and she informed me that back home in Austin it was “graupeling” (I had to look ‘graupel’ up again to remind myself that it is ‘soft hail’ or ‘snow pellets’). No thanks, I’ll take the weather in Orlando!
For this year’s HamCation, we were asked by the Orlando Amateur Radio Club (OARC) to present to the club the day before the hamfest at their monthly meeting. If you’ve ever put on a technical convention or hamfest, you know it’s a lot of work and it’s a little like going to your own wedding reception — everyone else gets to enjoy the festivities and you’re lucky to get a chance to eat! With that in mind, we were excited to have the opportunity to show what we’ve been working on at Flex.
The meeting was Wednesday evening just before HamCation and we unveiled SmartSDR v3.0 with multiFLEX for a packed room of OARC members. Those of you that are FlexRadio owners or followers of our technology know that SmartSDR is software both inside and outside the FLEX-6000 Signature Series SDR transceiver that makes all the radio magic work. SmartSDR is not only responsible for the digital signal processing that allows presentation of many spectrum displays (panadapters), waterfall displays and receivers, it also controls all access to the radio from the network (local or Internet), presents the application programming interface (API) to external programs and handles all external radio peripherals from microphones to amplifiers. Since we will release the third major update to SmartSDR this March, this was the topic of our talk to the OARC. This release, SmartSDR v3.0, includes a new technology never before possible in ham radio, called multiFLEX™.
multiFLEX is the culmination of years of engineering work on FlexRadio’s original vision of a network enabled radio server. While there’s a lot of technology that makes multiFLEX possible, from an operator perspective multiFLEX is quite simply “two radios in one.” If you own an existing FLEX-6000 Signature Series SDR transceiver, you will be able to install SmartSDR v3.0 in March (which carries a nominal $199 upgrade fee if your radio was purchased before October 2018) and immediately two operators can use your radio at the same time! At our presentation to the OARC, and subsequently to a wider HamCation audience, we talked about multiFLEX in some detail and the response was overwhelming. For those of you who couldn’t make it, some of the possibilities discussed at the club meeting and during the HamCation presentation included:
- Sharing your ham radio with a family member, children or grandchildren that normally wouldn’t have access to a radio
- Sharing your ham radio with a friend or sharing a friend’s ham radio so each of you can take advantage of propagation, better antennas, more power or any other differential station attribute that exists between your station and your friend’s
- Using a single ham radio with two operators to enter a contest as a multi-single contest team. With multiFLEX, both operators get to have their “own radio,” but share a single transmitter, the same (best) antenna(s) and amplifiers.
- Club stations that want to provide access to club users can now allow two operators on a single ham radio (station) at a time
- Local/Remote contesting that allows you to team up with a friend in a different geographic area and contest together taking advantage of no travel time or expense, sharing operating shifts and using a single station for receive and transmit
- Net controls operators can use a friend’s ham radio as a remote receiver while still allowing the friend to use the radio for his own operating — simultaneously
- Providing access to radio stations for amateurs that move into deed restricted or retirement communities where station construction is simply not allowed
These are just a sampling of the ways multiFLEX provides new opportunities for us Hams. While we were demonstrating multiFLEX to a continuously packed booth at HamCation, we were excited to hear about a number of new ideas for how multiFLEX can enhance operations. For all of us at FlexRadio, figuring out how to make operating more fun, efficient and productive drives us every day. Sharing the new technology we’ve created to help amateur operators is for us, one of the most rewarding parts of our job and we got to do a lot of that at HamCation! If you missed HamCation and would like to see multiFLEX in action and discover the ways you can put it to use, Matt, KD5FGE, made an excellent multiFLEX video while we were at HamCation. You can check it out here: https://youtu.be/ugPxTaUo1z0. If you happen to be in the Yuma, AZ area this coming weekend (February 15, 16) stop by the Yuma Hamfest and come see multiFLEX in operation. I will be there along with other team members from FlexRadio and would love to meet you and visit about anything you’d like.
Getting to show our new technology and see how it helps amateurs is our perspective of what makes a great hamfest. Answering “Awesome!” to our fellow FlexRadio employees back in Austin when they asked “How was it?” was easy, but deciding which of the great stories and ideas we heard at HamCation to pass along was hard! I truly believe multiFLEX is the future of ham radio: it allows you to use and share your radio in ways never before possible. It allows you to use a friend’s radio to bag DX when the propagation doesn’t hit your station just right. It creates new contesting opportunities for small stations. And it enables elmering on HF like never before. multiFLEX is radio freedom. How will you use your freedom? I hope to hear more great stories this weekend in Yuma.