An open letter to radio manufacturers

Good news: there's a generation of users out there who has disposable income, want utility, and doesn't know the difference between VHF and UHF. They don't have to, they only require cash to buy a product.
Ideally, your product.

Indocrinated belief system

Radio is hard. Complicated, only for a select few with money.
Radio is for everyone. Push a button in your car, and morning news come in. The same principle should apply to receiving airplanes, satellites from outer space or stations from the other side of the world.

We want value

Ask a price the product is worth. Not more, because customers are not stupid, they will pay for value on the long run, not for claims.
We pay for value. A Baofeng UV-5R still costs the same money I paid for it three years ago, and it is still better than an Icom costing five times as much.
Talk about RTL-SDR dongles: an orange FlightAware Prostick is hardly available, because for less than 20 local currency, you get an integrated LNA. People buy generic dongles, because for $8, you get $80 performance.'s v.3 is constantly sold out on Amazon USA. Wonder why.
Talk about specialised value: the Flightaware Pro Stick Plus has an amplifier and filter on board, for 20 local units, and is on the same level as ADS-B setups costing three times as much, and very near in comparison to equipment costing ten times as much.

Unusable out of the box

A cable is essential. Not optional.
Spend money on an SDRplay, Thumbnet N3, Soft66RTL3, Ham It Up, or a preamp or filter off eBay etc, receive your purchase, then use it as a doorstop.
No supplied cable or adapters. Really? Seriously, would you be a happy customer if you bought a $150 mobile phone online, then the manufacturer asked you to buy a charger cable for $4?
AirSpy and HackRF comes with an USB cable, how hard would it be to follow their example, how much would a $1 accessory decrease the bottom line?

No antennas

Receiving a radio signal requires an antenna. I know physics is hard to deal with, but if you've ever jumped off an object, you'll know that physics rules, because a notion called "gravity" is universal across the universe. Underlying concept is the same with radio, namely physics rules, similarly, radio signal reception requires an antenna.
Several SDRs come with no antenna, and the list is long: FlightAware, Thumbnet, SDRplay, Airspy, I could go on up to stratospherically priced products, common denominator is no antennas. Needless to say, if you spend $150 on an SDR, you probably know the difference between ground-plane and half-wave, because right now, only enthusiasts spend $150 on an RSP2 or AirSpy R2.
A fundamentally flawed approach, because if a person has $150 for a receiver, s/he shouldn't have to own an antenna, or know radio. At all. Ask any customer of a $200 cyclonic hoover on how the thing works. The reply will be that you plug it in, press a button, end up with a clean carpet. An explanation like "Centrifugal force will separate particles from the slipstream" are unlikely to be uttered, but I'm 100% sure the same person would bring the product back to the store if it came with no hose.
And I can't order one. I want to buy an antenna from SDRPlay, or Airspy, or Thumbnet, and I can't give them my money. I want to, and not just me: customers want to spend money. When I've convinced myself that your receiver is the best, I believe in your brand, so I want your antenna.
Stop making excuses. offers two telescopic antennas with a receiver for $25 shipped, Nooelec sends three antennas with receiver for $28 shipped.

Cables? What for?

Wifi and Bluetooth is part of my life. Probably your life as well,  because I don't have a family member who doesn't use wireless in a shape or form, from my 4-year old niece to my 80-plus grandma.
Right now and as of writing, I can connect a $35 dollar Raspberrry Pi 3, use free software and connect to a remotely located radio station. Without any wires.
The technology is available and well tested. Outernet's solution, albeit for only one frequency, is a $9 microcomputer and sophisticated software, so I can view data within 30 meters from the receiver. Even traditional manufacturers, such as Uniden offers a WiFi-enabled device.
Specifications for radio people sell products NOW. I know, just like probably you do, that a ceramic bandpass filter is good to get an elusive signal, but today's non-radio buyers doesn't care, because after receiving any electronic device, the expectation is to connect it to other hardware with a push of a button.
Mobile devices are the future. There were more mobile devices than people in 2014. PC sales are falling. There's no need for a computer in the middle, no requirement from users for ever-increasing MSPS numbers, reminiscent of the mega-pixel craze in digital cameras five years ago. SDRTouch free demo has over 500,000 downloads, with more than 10,000 customers who paid $8 for the software.

Stone Age Defined Radio

The "S" in SDR means software, because radio currently is, and will increasingly rely on software in the future. Right now, it can be also substituted with Stone Age due to software used.
Enhancements are underway, just look at all the new versions of SDRSharp / SDRuno / HDSDR / SDRConsole and marvel at the work done. Well done, my hats off as a radio enthusiast for new features.
As a user, I double click on any of the above mentioned software icons and get an instant time travel. The mental preparation of "sit down, click, wait, click, click some more" is cumbersome and will be unfathomable to a 17 or 27 year old who is used to instant gratification and speedy delivery. Please point out an SDR front-end environment which is understandable in 5 minutes.
Most front-end software looks old and/or complicated. HDSDR is based on Linrad, which was in use when Bush was president and Gigabyte was an aspiring word, so the user interface reflects this fact. The only major change happening to SDRSharp over the last few years is the ever-increasing incompatibility with previous plugins and the heightened chance of a system crash with every new release. SDRConsole is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, because it shows a familiar interface to office people, relatively easy to use and has good features for enthusiasts, but even SDRconsole is far from what an everyday computer user would call "user-friendly".
Intricate and compulsory user input is not be tolerated in a world where users get what they want with two or three hand movements. Finding the best Signal-to-Noise ratio requires sliders at the moment. Time wasted unnecessarily, a time you look forward to if you're a radio enthusiast, but new buyers will want signal acquisition and the best audio in the shortest time possible. How does an auto tune button sounds like? Don't tell me it's not feasible, or anyone used to one-click synchronization.

It's happening swept the floor with v.3 due to never-before-seen value for money, Nooelec released the SMArt with an everyday-friendly form factor and present-perfect three antennas, SDRplay is head over heels with the new RSP2 and 18-hour days resulting in unprecedented software integration and sales, Outernet is opening a new chapter in space-signal reception with tap-n-joy interface. Uputronics builds $200-looking filtered preamps selling for $50, independent enthusiasts push the envelope when it comes to what can be done in software.
In the last six months. 180 days' progress.


The date is 1997. A revolution was well and truly underway in digital image processing, 2 Megapixel cameras were called professional equipment, and a large portion of that industry steadfastly refused to acknowledge the emergence of new technologies and changing customer habits.
The date is 2017. Nikon's last flagship film camera is 12 years old now, and $20 electronic devices have 5 Megapixel resolution. An entirely similar transformation is happening in the radio industry, but manufacturers are slow to react, and even when they do, the end result is nothing short of pathetic.
For example, the recently announced Icom 8600 receiver is software-defined and sports a 4.3" touch-screen display. No price yet, probably will be close to 1000 dollars, in an age when $150 gets you a 10 inch tablet, an RTL-SDR dongle and upconverter and three antennas and filters and an LNA. Or a $300 laptop and a mid-range SDR.
Rejoice in horror, how I dare to compare apples to oranges, then look at amateur radio shacks with multiple screens, then convince a newbie that spending at least five times more will result in five times more signal and fun. Go ahead and try, you will fail, just like any similarly overpriced knobs-n-buttons gear will not reach its full potential in today's marketplace. Too little, too late.
Want one more? Loving old techology? I do as well, so I ordered a Tecsun PL-680 for Christmas, and received it on the same day the same-price RSP2 arrived. I can't stop wondering ever since who will spend cash for a traditional solution in the near future. Where's the return product page on Amazon?
The date is 2027. Deaf manufacturers will perish, mastodons will be relegated to history books. Doubt me as you wish, the same process happened to companies who did not wake up to smell the coffee. Do you remember Kodak? Did GM adjust to changing market demand? Does Tesla sell self-driving cars? How come Apple has more profit then the next three combined?
The date now is January 2017. Listen to customers, look at device use, reevaluate how you will satisfy user's needs. Traditional solutions and thinking won't cut the mustard, because what you've done before is nowhere near enough. Not even now, and especially not in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment