Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Yaesu and Chirp

There has been a fuss about this topic in a variety of places.  Radioreference, reddit and the old YaesuSystemFusion Yahoo email reflector.

John Kruk, N9UPC Yaesu National Sales Manager Amateur Division writes "CHIRP damages the internal firmware and programming of the radio BEYOND repair."

John Hays, K7VE wrote the best reply:

The converse is having the radios built so that 'bad programming' doesn't damage them.

Also, having vendor provided software that runs on more than Windows, especially Linux and MacOS. Including easy import and export of data in a vendor neutral format. 

Quality engineering and open system design is the proper way to go.

Listen to your customers' needs and desires. 

Others ham mentioned that Chirp hasn't caused them any problems, and that RT Systems has a business relationship with Yaesu. Chirp does not.

Just in case someone from Yaesu ever reads this.  Open source is good for ham radio.  Please embrace it.

A number of hams on the email reflector wrote why would anyone use Chirp on a Radio that is supported by the manufacturer?  For some the point of ham radio isn't talking on the radio, the point of it to  understand how it works, and maybe even build or modify your own equipment.  In order to learn we must be able to inspect; to tinker, or at the very least have access to a specification we can build from.

For a good number of years at various DCC meeting the concept of a radio with open firmware has been brought up.

Let's take a quick look at why this would be good for the hobby:

The Linksys WRT54G WiFi router of the early 2000's was a good example of the good that can come from open firmware/open source.  The history here was the original factory firmware was discovered to be based on Linux components, which are covered by the GPL.  This required the manufacturers to release the source code.  With the code in hand, developers learned exactly how to talk to the hardware inside and how to code any features the hardware could support. It has spawned a handful of open source firmware projects for the WRT54G that extend its capabilities, and reliability, far beyond what is expected from a cheap consumer-grade router. In short, due to open source, one can load a third party firmware on the router and give a $60 consumer home-grade router all the functionality of a $600 Cisco professional router. 

Lets keep in mind that Yaesu was the latecomer (2011) to bring something to the amateur digital arena.

You may recall at the time there was speculation at the time that Yaesu might adopt the P25 or DMR standard.  This made sense because between 2007 to 2012 there was an 80% joint venture between them and Motorola.  

At the TAPR digital conferences between 2009 to approximately 2013 there was quite a few talks about the digital fragmentation problem.  With theoretical solutions presented by; Chris Testa, KD2BMH - Practical Handheld Software Radio. Bruce Perens K6BP Talking about the HT of the future, and David Rowe, VK5DGR's Codec2 to replace AMBE.

They didn't listen to the digital fragmentation problem then. They introduced another total incompatible digital flavor.  They still aren't listening apparently when it comes to the open firmware desires of the ham community.

Apparently they haven't been paying attention to the recent radio firmware reverse engineering efforts.  The most well known is the MD380 project by Travis, KK4VCZ.  The hobby can use a lot more of this and a lot more people like Travis.   We haven't yet figured out how to re-write a radio's firmware to create that elusive digital radio that can do more than one digital mode.  But that day may still come.  Software Defined Radio was likely a foreign concept to many 20 plus years ago when this problem was first brought to our awareness by Bruce Perens.  USRP, HackRF, HamShield, RTL-SDR, are known to many now, and having to have a hardware dongle to do the speech coding with those is illogical. 

The Yaesu radios are firmware update-able (yet no open for third party development).  So those thing were done right, however their digital design is disappointing, as well as their internet linking tie-in.  The design took a 30 year step backwards in digital communications by releasing a design based on P25 Phase 1, but occupies more bandwidth to do less.

For what its worth, I used to always buy Yaesu, but I haven't since 2011.