10 Sep

APRS With A Baofeng UV-5R Radio

APRS is a popular amateur radio protocol for basic digital packet communications.  It’s commonly used for transmitting ones position, but has many more uses.  It’s often incorrectly thought to mean Automatic Position Reporting System, but actually stands for Automatic Packet Reporting System.  For more information on APRS, you can visit the main site from the creator at aprs.org.

I started to play with APRS using the Android app APRSdroid, a cheap connector cable, and a Baofeng UV-5R.  This was quite frankly a disappointment for a number of reasons I’ll outline in another post here.

Disappointed with that first foray into the world of APRS, I ponied up some more money for a TinyTrak4 from Byonics.   This device is actually pretty neat and powerful in that it can perform many different functions.  I ended up having the most success with the Baofeng UV-5R and the TinyTrak4.  I’ll write about my setup in detail in another post here.

Next, I’ll discuss at a high level what I learned with the Baofeng UV-5R and APRS.

Lessons I learned about APRS with the Baofeng UV-5R

You should know this, but a $25-30 dollar radio is not going to be a great radio, not even a good radio when you compare it to radios that are an order of magnitude more expensive.  I won’t get into that argument here, but I had one laying around that I didn’t mind abusing or leaving in the car or outside during testing.  There are definitely some limitations with the Baofeng, but I also had some pretty good success.

What worked well

Transmitting APRS position with the TT4 (which controls the radio PTT) worked well.  With an external antenna on my car and a road trip half way across the country, it kept up plotting very well with only a few stretches of very remote/desolate road lacking data.

What did not work

Receiving APRS signals did not work.  The main issue is that the Baofeng’s squelch would not release fast enough for the data to make it through.  Since APRS packets do not contain redundant data, any lost portion of the packet means loss of the whole packet.  After messing with the radio, I could receive maybe 1-2% of APRS signals that were being decoded by a Yaesu FT2D with a much less optimal antenna.

In conclusion

If you’re looking for a cheap radio to send APRS position data, the Baofeng UV-5R is a good candidate to be combined with a Byonics TinyTrack4.  This setup won’t work well for receiving data reliably, if at all.  Either way, I would save your money and skip any of the audio connector cables as it just didn’t perform well.