Sunday, March 1, 2020

Intellectual Property and Ham Radio?

Early on, Bruce Perens, K6BP, amateur radio and open source advocate voiced concerns about D-Star’s use of a proprietary vocoder. Asking; does it really fit into the spirit of the hobby? Bruce makes a strong argument that an Open Source vocoder needs to be developed.  The codec2 development started in 2009, when  David Rowe, VK5DGR stepped up to the challenge.

While the Codec 2 development was and is good, here we are 2020, and sadly there hasn’t been a lot of work in my opinion, for a drop in replacement for VHF/UHF radios.  Presently that seems to best match up to FreeDV’s 2400B mode.  Most of the work has been for HF applications.  Or at the very least, Codec2/FreeDV hasn't been adopted by VHF/UHF manufacture like many would have hoped.

The bad part is Bruce brought an awareness to the AMBE patents that probably would have otherwise not have been thought about much by fellow hams.  So the bad part is Bruce created a stigma.  And it was further improperly (in my opinion) used as a sly marketing tool by some of the ham manufactures of the AMBE DV Sticks.

And from what I have seen, there are still hams out there that think the AMBE patents surrounding D-Star are still an issue. (they aren't, they expired in 2017)  And more than likely the the big-bad-boogie-man is gonna come nab you if you meddle with trying to create your own open source AMBE, or using something that has someone else’s non-licensed AMBE, etc.

Facts of the matter are; 

When you buy consumer electronics and other things that might have technology under the cover that might be covered by patents, does it impact your buying decision?  Likely not.  However, truth be told since the majority of electronic things are manufactured in China, it’s not uncommon for there to be cloned (improperly/unlicensed/bootleg - whatever you want to call it) intellectual property under the cover.  (If you don’t believe me, go look at the Indusic chip in your Chinese DMR handheld, then go look at DVSI’s note on their website)

Second, non-commercial/research usage of patented technology is, and always has been covered by exceptions on the definition of "patent infringement”.  By our very definition, ham radio is all about non-commercial, experimental and research activities.

Have you ever heard of anyone actually successful at litigation, if the defendant never made any money off your patent?  No, and no one is coming to your local court to instigate that fruitless endeavor against you.

And if you are still biting your damn nails, remember that; Bruce told us that there is prior art from David Rowe that would likely invalidate the AMBE patents, and that DVSI used the AMBE codec in commerce before some of their patent applications, potentially invalidating their own patents.


Let’s look back:

Patents have been around longer than ham radio.  In radios formative years there were a lot of patents, and since that time, have obviously expired.

I have been trying to research how those patents impacted ham radio operators.  Back then, then pretty much had to build everything from scratch.  Nowadays, if a new thing is patented related to radio (perhaps something like LoRA), hams generally are buying something from a supplier to use that mode or technique.  This pretty much moves any possible legal concerns off the individual hams shoulders and on to that of the supplier.  (These days it’s America’s (and the worlds) convenient way of evading legal repercussions).

So I have been combing the archives of QST magazine and other sources trying to understand if anyone seemed concerned that back then, when things like the Hartley oscillator were under patent.  I haven’t found one mention of concern.

If you were a ham messing around with SSB in the 1930's the Hartley patent might have been a problem.  But there wasn't a lot of specialized parts back then rather than general purpose components.

However, it does appear that you had to pay RCA for certain parts necessary to build a transmitter with then, current technology as they held the patents and were the only source/supplier.

I tend to think a patent on a circuit design (as opposed to a component) would be easy enough for an amateur to copy without much worry of being sued for infringement.

Truth be told, I have a tough time understanding radio circuits with solid state components and tubes, so its hard to imagine what was possible then.

With "Single Sideband for the Radio Amateur" published in 1954 it would seem things were pretty wide open by that time. The forward to that says the first QST mention of single sideband was in 1948, at which time the Hartley patent would have been expired.

However, in more recent years (post print media), I personally do recall some possible patent issues;

Satoshi’s D-Star GMSK node adapter and his supposed patented pseudo real time monitor circuit?  There were clones of this circuit initially.

The ZUM Hotspot?  Some say jumbo/china spot was an improper clone of Jim, KI6ZUM’s design.  But it actually seems to have been released with an Open Hardware license?

In summary: 

I feel these patent concerns have been over amplified for the individual ham/end user.  They are valid concerns and something to ponder when it comes to the ability and impact of smaller businesses being able to feed the needs of the ham community.  Like I pointed out, if you are making money then you do need to pay attention to this sort of thing as litigation becomes a potential real thing.

Fortunately, much of the innovation in ham radio is now is purely in the form of software, which is much easier to mass-produce than hardware.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Bridging modes

Mike, K9MLS recently posted to one of the Allstar lists I am on about creating a D-Star bridge.

dvswitch is a combined effort of Steve N4IRS, Cort N0MJS, and a few others.

Take a look at: https://dvswitch.groups.io/g/main

The software pieces are ASL (Allstar Link), Analog_Bridge, ircDDBgateway, MMDVM_Bridge.

It's possible to create multi-mode / cross-mode bridges with the software, between DMR, DSTAR, NXDN, YSF and P25.


With the DV3000 hardware AMBE vocoder dongle, DSTAR audio is quite good.

However a lot of folks use the MD380 emulator (which is the handy work of Travis, KK4VCZ's md380 reverse engineering project) to get around the hardware requirements of most systems that with otherwise require with dongles or boards.

Its also the preference for a virtual environment where you don't have physical access to the servers. Russell, KV4S did a good job documenting this with his blog entry titled "Hosting an AllStar Node and an AllStarDMR bridge in the cloud" 

Sadly that emulator doesn't support D-Star even though that is the mode completely out of patent.

In my opinion; For the price Mike would likely be investing in AMBE hardware, one should really think about soliciting the coding community and offering that money toward a solution that will benefit the community and move it forward.







Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Multiprotocol DV

Multiprotocol Digital Voice
Most of my ham radio "on the air" time has historically been mobile.  It’s a convenient way to enjoy the hobby when you'd otherwise not have the time to sit in front of a radio.  So that is VHF/UHF. Unfortunately we have a lack of standards adopted by the community so we have this digital fragmentation problem.  While repeater-to-repeater network layer cross mode solutions exist (like DVSwitch and XLXD), we still are waiting for a digital HT and or mobile radio that supports more than one digital mode.
But the problem is worse than that.  We don't even have a direct way to talk on the various modes over our smartphones, like you can with Echolink.  
A number of people seem convinced the AMBE patents are a part of the problem. Lets review:
Patents are protected for the longer of 17 years from issue date or 20 years from filing date.  Patents are still applicable for DMR, YSF (Yaesu Fusion), and NXDN. They should all expire by 2022, but sadly Patent 8,359,197B2 was filed on April 1, 2003. USPTO tardily granted it on January 22, 2013.  In compliance with legal guarantees, USPTO granted the patent a 5-year and 51-day extension. This patent would expire on May 22, 2028.
Open source advocate, Bruce Perens gave a talk a while back about possibly trying to invalidate it some years back. But since that costs money to pursue, and there are exceptions for non-commercial/ research usage of patented technology, that would really only benefit potential manufactures.
The AMBE patents aren't really the biggest problem. Solutions already exist. If you want better solutions those won't just come along when those patents expire anyway.
As an example, D-Star is already fully cleared of AMBE patents and has been since 2017A potential conflict, impeding software AMBE is the dplus person, AA4RC. The creator of the DV dongle. 
Software decoding (and encoding) tools exist. DSD, DSD+, op25, md380 emulator, etc. And a couple of those are open source. I'd say it’s just a matter of finding coders.
In my opinion, Max, KA1RBI and Doug, AD8DP should have a large fan base, as they are the unsung heros trying their best to move things forward, with zero monetary interest.... true hams!
I suspect another part of the problem why we don't have chipless AMBE access over the internet to at least the D-Star networks is because our current architecture relies on hardware AMBE for authentication/access.  If software AMBE apps were easily and readily available then this would open a can of worms as there is no current way to restrict access to just hams.
So this is something that needs thought by the US Trust (REF) and truthfully is more likely to be supported by some of the other splinter reflector network operators, like XRF, DCS, XLX..
And Brandmeister, Marc and other DMR network operators also need to get together and do some thinking too and come to a consensus on a new network protocol that actually has end user protocol level authentication, ie, password/ auth token.
As software AMBE becomes easier to install, presently I don't see anything that prevents someone from streaming AMBE audio at an IP address/UDP port and having it coming out over a repeater or group of repeaters.
If you are interested in ever seeing a cheap HT that can do more than one digital voice mode, then I suggest promoting and starting to learn about the above mentioned open source Digital Voice projects.  It's fairly clear to me after waiting years for things like the CS7000, DV4mobile and the “HT of the Future” to materialize, we (the hams) need to repeat the steps of the how the TNC (for packet radio) came to be readily available from commercial suppliers.
So let’s look back at how that came to be:
If you recall the TNC was started by Vancouver Area Digital Communications Group (VADCG) and it started as kits. Kantronics and Paccomm came later to offer it commercially. That is how it is supposed to work. We the hams innovate, and commercial guys can pick it up if they see it as something there is a business model for.
The Vancouver guys (especially Doug Lockhart) were the real pioneers, but it was a small experimentally-minded group that wasn't really thinking about mass-marketing yet.
A couple of Arizona hams with a vision took things to the next level. They designed their own TNC and formed Tucson Amateur Packet Radio (TAPR) to market it as a kit. The TNC-2 (their second version) eventually became a huge hit. But TAPR was (and still is) a volunteer organization, and volunteers can only go so far in making hardware. Even if you're a nonprofit, somebody has to sink a lot of money into a parts inventory. You need boards made. You need somebody to take the orders, package up the kits, and ship them. For volunteers, that eventually gets old though I'm amazed at how dedicated some of them still are.
So TAPR approached ham manufacturers and gave them the complete TNC-2 design for free. Yet TAPR still had to plead and beg them to build and sell it. TAPR wasn't trying to make a profit, they were simply trying to get packet radio into the ham mainstream and they couldn't do it alone.
Ham manufacturers are a fairly conservative bunch. They don't want to invest in anything unless they know it's going to sell. And that's hard for the kind of radical innovations that technically oriented hams like to work on just for fun. To coin a phrase, there's a real impedance mismatch between the two groups. Fortunately, much of the innovation now is purely in the form of software, which is much easier to mass-produce than hardware. So all you need the manufacturers for is to make general purpose SDR hardware, which is an easier sell than some new special mode.
The purpose of this article isn't just to bring awareness, it’s to hopefully attract some dormant hams with software coding skills to join forces and to help propel the projects and move ham radio forward.



Sunday, January 19, 2020

An updated DV Adapter?

Back when D-Star was new to ham radio (around 2008), Satoshi Yasuda 7M3TJZ/AD6GZ, created a DV adapter.

He also created the first GMSK node adapter.  The node adapter was more well recognized, as a way to retro-fit analog radios to become hotspots and repeaters (entry points) into the D-Star internet linked network.  Now a days this has morphed into the well known Pi-Star, using much lower power integrated transmitters.

But lets go back and revisit the forgotten and overlooked DV adapter.



Shortly there after Jonathan Naylor, G4KLX crafted one of his first software projects.  A D-Star client that created all the underlying GMSK signalling with a sound card/FOB.  Much like Satoshi's adapter this too interfaced to the packet radio port of an analog radio.

The difference here between these ad the node adapters/ Pi-Star, is that these you plug microphones into and talk into directly rather than a something you use as a passive gateway device with a HT.

Since a number of efforts to create a true HT that does more than one digital mode still haven't come to fruition (like the DV4mobile, CS7000, etc), this is something the ham community should take another look at and work together at.

This time around, rather than the big user interface and display, all that could be served over a web interface to your cellphone over wifi or bluetooth.  (much like the VGC VR-N7500) So just think a magic box, that has a microphone and a 5 pin mini-din to connect to your existing analog rig.

The mode, D-Star, Yaesu Fusion (YSF), P25, or NXDN as well as userid, and talkgroups could all be selected over the web interface.

Doug, AD8DP is working on something of this DV adapter nature.

There is a great starting place here for someone, thanks to the work of Max, KA1RBI.

If you know of other similar developments please contact me.  I feel this is an area we need to be putting some focus on if we ever want to true multiprotocol radio.