Several Amateur Radio friends and I have been discussing the current state of radio availability from the Big Three (Icom, Yaesu and Kenwood). The topic gives us something to talk about as we scoot around the south metro Atlanta region, yakking thru the local repeaters.
The discussion is driven by the steadily shrinking pool of radios available from the Big Three. Most recently, Icom took its IC-7100 out of production. For the first time in decades, Icom has no all-band/all-mode 100 watt mobile radio in their lineup. Yaesu hasn't had one since they killed off the FT-857 almost five years ago. Kenwood? Nothing, but this is a space they never seriously played in. This means the market is ripe for new products in this niche; the first manufacturer to release something will literally own the market for as long as it takes the others to catch up.
However, I'm of a different mind. I've always been a fan of the all-in-one mid-power range HF rig concept, something similar to the old SGC-2020. This radio was developed as a low/mid-range wattage field radio - specifically designed to be taken to the field and run off of batteries. It was a POTA/SOTA rig long before there was POTA or SOTA.
What set the SGC apart from the QRP radios it overlapped with in the market, like the Icom IC-703 or the Yaesu FT-817, was its rated power output of 20 watts. The output of most HF rigs designed for field use over the past 25 years top out at 5 or 10 watts. The SGC set itself apart by offering higher output and portability. While the SGC-2020 was plagued with performance and QC issues throughout its production life, it was still a strong seller because it sat alone in the field radio market space due to that 20 watt output. Many will argue that there's little real world difference between 10 watts and 20 watts - only about 3 db. But that 3 db can make a difference under marginal conditions.
We're almost a quarter century on from the introduction of the SGC-2020, and nothing has been released that I can find that fits this 'in-between' field radio power space - something more than 10 watts but less than 100 and offers design features that make it an ideal field radio. Things like low current draw, an integrated tuner, integrated battery, and a rugged design that offers basic protection from the elements.
I say that now is an ideal time for one of the Big Three to design and release a 20 - 25 watt rig specifically designed for off-grid portable field use. We're seeing convergences in technologies that offer incredible possibilities:
- SDR technology that allows more features and performance to be stuffed into smaller physical packages
- Vastly improved power management systems and battery technologies that should enable a field rig to operate for hours on 25 watts output at a 30% duty cycle
- Improved circuit design, components and manufacturing technologies that can dramatically shrink the physical size of boards and other internal components. If the power output is kept intentionally low - 25 watts or less - then there is more potential for small, compact designs.
- An improved understanding at the manufacturing level about how to make a radio that meets the international IP rating standards for protection against moisture and dust
- 25 watt output on SSB
- Integrated battery pack offering up to 3 hours of operation at 25 watts, 10 hours of operation at 10 watts (30% duty cycle)
- Integrated tuner
- An IP52 or better rating for protection against moisture and dust
- Integrated sound card for digital mode operations
- Integrated wi-fi and Bluetooth
- Integrated GPS
So, Icom, Yaesu and Kenwood (and Elecraft), let's not blow this golden opportunity. Get to work. I expect something from at least one of you by Christmas.