System Fusion

System Fusion

WTF? or What The Fusion

System Fusion is the name Yaesu gives their analog/digital capable radios and repeaters. They will do both, hence the name “Fusion”. The K1KC 146.61 repeater near Conyers, Georgia operates in the System Fusion ‘AMS’ mode. That is, it responds in kind to the operating mode of the signal received, be it DN, VW or FM. Loosely translated, they are ‘digital narrow’, ‘voice wide’ and ‘FM analog’. ‘Voice Wide’ is a digital mode with greater audio fidelity than ‘digital narrow’. I won’t get into a detailed explanation of System Fusion or digital operating here, but I will give more information about operating on the K1KC VHF repeater.

The VHF repeater is normally connected to the Yard Dogs WiRES-X room, room # 40383, node # 30383. The room can be changed to any other room temporarily, and should automatically revert to 40383 when you log out. Please check to make sure neither the repeater nor the WiRES-X room is in use prior to changing it.

Yaesu now has numerous radios that can transceive in the Yaesu C4FM protocol. They have mobiles, quasi-base and handheld radios you can use in their digital mode. I call it the ‘Yaesu C4FM’ protocol because it is not the only C4FM protocol in use. In fact, APCO P25 Phase I is C4FM (Continuous 4-Level Frequency Modulation, a special form of 4FSK) protocol. However, the two are incompatible due to slight differences in the orthogonal carrier frequencies.

WiRES-X and MSRL

WiRES-X is a Yaesu brand of Internet linking that uses a set of servers in Japan to find participating stations. As I mentioned, the K1KC VHF repeater is a node with a node number of 30383 and has an associated ‘room’ with a room number of 40383. A node is a radio or repeater that forms a bridge between the RF world and the Internet. As of right now, the node radio can only be a Yaesu FTM100 or an FTM-400 or a DR-1X or DR-2X repeater (which is obviously a radio too). A ‘room’ is a virtual chat room so to speak. Nodes support rooms and rooms can connect to one another, even in large numbers. There are nets that take place on certain rooms, attracting perhaps 100 or more users at one time. Just like on RF nets, there is a net controller.

Yaesu’s second generation repeaters have the ability (with optional LAN card) to connect to one another via direct IP link, bypassing the WiRES-X servers. Although the new generation can also do WiRES-X, they cannot do both at the same time. Some very interesting linking can be done with the new LAN system, called MSRL (multi-site repeater link).

Let me give you an example of what either of those two features can accomplish. A friend of mine with a WiRES-X capable mobile was able to extend his range (that is, talk to me from a greater distance than the normal range of my repeater) by connecting to a closer WiRES-X enabled repeater and linking it to my WiRES-X enabled repeater. Now, the connection borrowed the Internet to pass the audio and maybe some control signals. I was using a handie-talkie to access my repeater and was talking to his mobile at a greater distance than normal. Very cool indeed!

If both of us repeater owners had Internet connections, or had IP via RF connections between us, we could accomplish the same thing with the new repeaters, but without using WiRES-X. Not owning one yet, I cannot describe the experience to you….only the theory. You can imagine though that there might be less latency. I should mention that WiRES-X requires a modem with each node, known as an HRI-200. The node radio cannot be used to participate in the WiRES-X conversation. You must have a second radio to talk to the node radio. However, the node radio can be taken out of the WiRES-X mode and used as a regular radio (base or mobile).

So, what’s the draw? Well, WiRES-X is like other Internet linking systems in that it gives you global reach from a base, mobile or handheld radio. If you enjoy communicating this is a great way to do it. What makes WiRES-X different then? One difference is that there are no code plugs to program into the radio. Another difference, according to some, is that the audio quality can be better. I won’t say it is always better because there are so many variables involved with the Internet.

The node experience

Operating from a node is a somewhat different experience in my opinion because you have more information at your fingertips quicker. Bring up the WiRES-X program on your computer  and it begins to populate the screen with a node list and a room list. There is also a space for your favorites list…sort of like bookmarks. The screen displays information about that node or room such as location, lat/long, comments entered by the owner and number of current participants. You can exchange electronic QSL cards as well as send messages keyboard to keyboard. The screen also displays near real-time positions from those who are transmitting that info as well as callsign info and their distance and direction. Much of that same info is displayed on the mobile screens, but it is so much easier to read and digest on a PC screen.

I run two rooms. One is associated with the repeater and one is associated with a separate node radio in the shack.  Let me add that the repeater can also be considered a node, so it is more or less semantics that cause me to call the shack node simply ‘my node’. They are both nodes in the technical sense. The shack WiRES-X room is on only sporadically whereas the repeater WiRES-X room is on constantly. Basically I use the Shack WiRES-X room to go hunting whereas the repeater WiRES-X room is for ‘being hunted’.

Who’s on WiRES-X tonight?

Very much like Allstar Link, you can search the Internet to find active nodes. Just go the the Yaesu active nodes list. Don’t make your ‘fingers do the walking’, let your search engine do that. (If you recognize the ‘fingers’ jingle, you are an old fart like me). When you look at the active nodes list, you may not see what you are looking for. For instance, if you are looking for my Yard Dogs node and don’t find it, don’t be alarmed. Remember, it is an active node list. If a node is not listed, it is simply inactive at the moment, i.e., it is not in the Yaesu servers’ database of currently connected nodes. Not being in the active nodes list does not mean it doesn’t exist….(wait a minute! we are about to get existential here…): Given that rooms, which are virtual, only exist when they exist, maybe you could  say they don’t exist when they are not in the active list. I guess that would be fair. But nodes more or less refers to hardware, and they do exist even if they do not appear in the active list. A room depends on the nodes and servers to exist. Take that to your debate club and smoke it!

Each node needs a PC to operate and the WiRES-X software lists active nodes AND rooms with lots of pertinent information included. That’s another place to search. If you are portable or mobile, you may not have that luxury though. Somebody’s going to prove me wrong though. I can feel it in my bones. I will say that it is not absolutely necessary to have a node radio to get on WiRES-X. You can purchase a device that allows you to connect to an HRI-200 and operate in analog. It’s sort of like a telephone handset in a way.

What about us analog guys? We want to talk on WiRES-X too! And what about WiRES and what about WiRES-II?

Okay, so it gets complicated at times. I agree. Let’s get complicated then: Analog users can talk on WiRES-X. There are some thing to be mindful of though. If your analog transceiver (cum node) has the right pinouts, you can attach an HRI-200 and access the WiRES-X system. I have seen it done. Some room operators don’t mind if you come in via analog and some don’t want any part of it. The word from one user is that the analog voice quality was not as good as digital. I say that it could go either way. I have the Yard Dogs room (40383) set to accept digital connections only but I can go out and connect to analog room or node. We tried this quite successfully recently. He could not connect to me because I had disallowed incoming analog connections, but can still connect to them from my end. You have choices to make when you set up your node and room.

“WiRES”, introduced to the public in 2002 stood for Wide-Coverage Internet Repeater Enhancement System. It evolved into WiRES-II and used the Internet to link two repeaters or home stations using DTMF signaling. As with WiRES-X, you use a handheld or mobile to communicate over long distances. The modem for that system was the HRI-100. Also like WiRES-X, an Internet connection and a PC were necessary to complete the setup. Now comes the bad news: WiRES and WiRES-II are NOT compatible with WiRES-X. Fuggedaboutit. They are probably still functional systems, but I have no idea how many folks might be using them. Technology marches on, no?

But Wait! There’s more!

System Fusion is about far more than WiRES-X and MSRL. Firstly there is the digital experience. There is no white noise on the digital signal. Either your hear it, or you don’t. True, a digital signal can chop in and out and be unintelligible, but still there is no white noise. That’s always the first thing I notice about digital after switching back to analog…I notice the white noise.

While using the digital modes you can transmit other data as well. That other data can be callsign, GPS position, radio type, personal information, altitude, monitoring frequency…heck, you name it! You can transmit files or images, news of interest to a group and more. There is a function called Group Monitor which looks for other stations within a given range. It’s almost like a ‘friend’s club’, but they don’t have to be your friends. Just like in APRS, you can message each other.

Let’s Build A Bridge

I would be remiss in my story if I did not mention that bridges of all types are being built to and from System Fusion to other protocols. If you hang out a little while in one of the more popular rooms, you will find out that users of other types of digital devices are talking to System Fusion users. How is this possible? By the simple fact that some smart folks have written translating software that decodes one protocol and recodes it into System Fusion C4FM and vice versa. This is a very good development since no one is winning the ‘Digital War’ just yet. It would be a real shame if this bridging were not taking place. As it is, we are able in some cases, to talk to one another. The day has not arrived that we can dial each other up as in a telephone system, regardless of protocol or regardless of location, but bridges do exist and there are many of them. One room I know of has SIX different ways of getting in. That is nothing short of awesome! I want to be like those guys!

Can You Hear Me Now?

Yeah, I know. That question is getting to be rather passe’, but we asked each other that question, over and over and over. Why? We wanted to understand just how well digital operating compares with analog operating. Is digital better than analog? The answer is YES/NO. Take your pick. It totally depends on…uh, well uh, well, more than I understand. But hey, I will  give you my take on it.

How Does It Play In Peoria?

After extensive trials on VHF, we found that it depends on a number of factors, and sometimes those theories don’t work too well. Therefore, I will make generalizations and warn you there are caveats. In general, when both stations in a two station conversation are fixed/not moving, there may be a distance advantage over analog. That makes sense considering the digital transmission occupies a narrower bandwidth than analog and therefore carries a greater spectral power density. It’s the same concept for a CW transmission versus an SSB transmission.

There’s a station roughly 60 miles from me who cannot get into my repeater in analog, but can almost get into my repeater in digital. (We are talking C4FM still). When one or both stations are moving, the quality of reception can drop dramatically. That’s not always the case, but it usually is. When you have a good signal to noise ratio between you, then you can have a really good, white noise free conversation. I know, I’ve done it. When the signals start getting weak, the perceived quality goes downhill fast. This is usually when we switchback to good ole analog. My brain can recover the conversation, even with the added white noise, far easier than when there are 100% dropouts of the conversation. I think that’s fairly universal. The trouble with digital is that you never know when it’s about to happen. Many times with analog you get some warning the signal is fading. The digital signal can be like a strobe light for your ears; unpleasant to me.

The bottom line? I’ll put it like this: Digital is not better, but it’s not worse. It’s just different. I does give you capabilities that do not come with analog operating and that may be important to some. The linking going on that is associated with digital operating is surely exciting and new worlds are being revealed. It would seem that analog will remain with us for a very long time…maybe forever. For one thing, analog is natural. I like natural. For a second reason, no one is winning the digital wars. Digital operating is fractured to say the least and it would appear there is likely to be more fracturing. Each of these digital protocols has advantages and disadvantages. I just happen to be a System Fusion guy with nothing bad to say about the other guys.

What About Those Caveats?

Oh yeah. Well, regarding those generalizations I made about fixed vs. moving stations, in my experience they are generally true. However, we found exceptions that we could not explain. My suspicion is that multipath distortion has a really negative effect on digital reception. I have looked for theory that supports that feeling and have found some but can’t say positively that is the problem. Even with my limited knowledge of coherence bandwidth and intersymbol interference, I feel like multipath distortion is the likely culprit. However, the same thing can happen when neither station is moving. It could still be multipath distortion but I cannot speak here with any authority. I do want to point out though that we found exceptions to my generalizations. If you accept then that most of the time these things hold true, then you have gotten my point.

Okay, I lied

If you recall the first part of this diatribe, then you will recall I promised not to go into detail about digital operating and I promised to talk mainly about using the repeater. Seems like I didn’t accomplish either one of those goals. Maybe next time.

Firmware Updates to System Fusion Radios

Updating the firmware in these radios is not all that difficult, but there can be stumbling blocks. Take a few tips and smooth the road. First of all, Yaesu will issue updates as they become necessary or available. They may come in steps, i.e., the update for one model may come before another….they may not come all at one time. Be patient. Secondly, all the information you will need will come packaged in the update. Pay close attention to the ‘help’, ‘read-me’ or PDF files in the download package. The specific directions you need to follow are contained there.

Follow those directions to the ‘T’ and do not deviate. There are important steps about how and when to apply power, when to connect/disconnect cables and so forth. You may find it a little difficult at first, but once you have completed a radio you will find that it is not hard at all. The very first thing to do though, is to determine what your current firmware versions are and see if updates are even required.

There are a few other things to keep in mind about updates: One is that an update doe not only fix ‘bugs’, but may provide new features too. Another is that your equipment may need to be updated to properly interface with the updated equipment of another user. Thirdly, there is the systemic concept. Since the worldwide System Fusion/WiRES-X network functions on changing firmware, it is imperative that all users make the effort to keep their equipment updated to the latest firmware versions. This helps to keep problems to a minimum and helps to keep unexpected problems to a minimum.

For users like me with many different YSF/C4FM/WiRES-X devices, this becomes a fair amount of work, but it is not something that happens often. Updates only come along occasionally.

I would make one other recommendation: Download the updated manuals onto a mobile platform. Actually, I have these manuals stored in a number of different places where I can easily access them and where they will be the most useful to me. One of those places is the position at which I actually do the updating, although I can do it anywhere. I loaded these manuals onto a tablet as well so that I might take the tablet to wherever the device might normally be, such as in an automobile.

The manual supplied with the radio essentially becomes outdated with the first firmware update, so it is a great idea to keep an electronic version handy. Of course, you could always download manuals as necessary wherever you are if you have Internet access.

Let me go back a bit and add an important note. Remember that there can be multiple manuals for each device, such as the main operating manual, an APRS manual, an ‘advance(d)’ manual and a GM manual. You might need all of them. Also, when you download an update, there is usually a driver download for the specific cable which interfaces the PC and your device. The Yaesu software was made for Windows so be prepared to have a Windows machine handy for your updates. As of early 2018, I have not seen where Yaesu has claimed their firmware updates works with anything newer than Windows 8.x. That’s a real shame. I can say however that I have used Windows 10 quite successfully to perform my updates.

New Horizons (June 6, 2018)

In late May 2018 some exciting new developments were announced concerning WiRES-X and System Fusion. Firstly, new software that will alleviate the need for an HRI-200 Internet linking modem is planned for the near future. This will be helpful for portable or mobile nodes because the need for the required UDP ports to be opened will be relieved. If you set up a portable or mobile node, you’ll be able to go to your favorite WiFi-enabled hangout and operate. The required node radios will be FT-2D, FTM-100D or FTM-400XD. Expect a reduced feature set though. You will still want an HRI-200 though.

What about K1KC? Is he keeping up with the times? Yes he is! After updating all those YSF devices, he has sent off for a new DR-2X repeater. If he gets it, you’ll be able to use the DG-ID and DP-ID features. Not only that, but we are planning a weekly C4FM/System Fusion net. Check this page, k1kc.com or qrz.com (lookup K1KC) for followup information.

The DR-2X machine is in place and functioning quite well. The DR-1 remains as a backup and the DR-1X is leaving town. The DR-2X is of course, ‘System Fusion II’ capable although no codes have been assigned yet.

How ’bout them horizons? (August 15, 2018)

To tell the truth, we really haven’t had an opportunity to try the DG-ID functions. Since we did not purchase the IMRS board, we will not get that experience either. However, later tonight we’ll be participating in a ‘System Fusion II’ webinar where we expect to learn much more about SF II and what it can do. More importantly though, we’ve been going to great lengths to get our weekly C4FM/WiRES-X net started. We’ve made good progress but aren’t quite ready yet. We are trying to keep the horse out in front of the cart, so to speak.

Keep up the good version (August 16, 2018)

If at first you don’t succeed, try again and act like nothing went wrong the first time. By the way, I am successfully running WiRES-X software version 1.410 on both my standalone node and my repeater node. The standalone (Windows 10 Pro) never had a problem with v. 1.400, but the repeater (Windows 7 Pro) did. Likewise, the standalone had no problem with v. 1.410 but the repeater did. I finally tried starting it with the repeater turned OFF, and that seemed to have done the trick for me. It has been running about 21 hours now.

Last night’s (8-15-18) YSF webinar was fun and informative. Sure, it was mostly stuff I already knew, but I picked up a few things I didn’t know and that made it worthwhile. Thanks to John Kruk and Yaesu for the opportunity. I believe it is a smart move on Yaesu’s part to educate the customer base.

What about the proposed net? Well, we feel like we are getting closer every day. Yes, it’s easy for me to say that but we have pretty much nailed down a time and day, a simplex frequency and some advertising material. Not much left to do except get the word out. Oh yes, we do still want to make some physical changes and practice some remote monitoring some more before we jump into the water. I promise you, we are getting close.