Sunday, March 10, 2019

How to compel hams to buy a clone of your product

mcHF, RS-918, OVI40
Most developers and innovators of ham radio products go to lengths to ensure that their carefully crafted designs don't fall victim to intellectual theft that is seemingly endemic to Chinese culture.

This is true not just of ham products but of anything electronic and of many things in other categories, from shoes to cameras to...well, everything.

One ham radio developer seems hell-bent on encouraging theft of his product. As a result, his creation is probably the single most cloned (stolen) product in our hobby - the mcHF by Chris M0NKA.

The mcHF is a small SDR QRP transceiver kit that has a lot of the features I want in a radio. Specifically, these are:

  • Portable, small, lightweight
  • SDR architecture
  • No need for connectivity to a PC for CW, SSB operation
  • A single USB connection to PC for digi modes, ie no 'Audio In' 'Audio Out' 'PTT' etc
  • Panoramic display, split VFO capability, full 10-160m coverage

I've almost ordered a mcHF several times over the years. What stopped me? Several things.

First of all, these are partial kits - the SMD devices are already installed - a good thing for folks like me who evidently can't assemble an SMD kit. So the kit contains the boards (2), the case (if you want it) and the through hole components.

Great, even I can handle that.

But where do the components go, what is the assembly order, how are the boards fastened together and what are the relevant/necessary modifications? Downloading the files for the particular version of the kit offered for sale results only in vague references with very little specific info.

Other needed info is scattered here and there but you'll have to find those locations yourself. And hope that they're the right ones officially for the mcHF and not a clone.

There is a YahooGroup for the rig but it is not mentioned at all on the mcHF page. Questions by other potential buyers (posted on the mcHF page itself) go largely unanswered. Some are answered, some aren't. Roll the dice.

Couple all this with the fact that the firmware is open source and the result is the Most Cloned Kit in Ham Radio.

In fact, they are so cloned that Chris laments on one of his pages that owners of the clone are now coming to him for support of their cloned copy. Searching Google for info on the authentic mcHF results in far more links and YouTube videos for the clone, not the real deal.

This isn't directly Chris' fault but rather the result of his policies regarding open source firmware and lack of clarity. Complaining about it is akin to leaving your car unlocked with a wallet on the dashboard and then complaining that someone broke into your car.

The Chinese clones are the RS-918 and RS-928Plus. They're sold on eBay and come from China, so you know the quality and legitimacy are top-notch (cough, bullsh-cough). As expected, these products get mixed reviews; quality of the item received seems to vary greatly among individual units shipped.

Related to the mcHF is the OVI40 from Germany. Is it a clone or a legitimate off-shoot? How do I order one? The UI is for sale - what about the RF board?

With so many variations out there it gets difficult to know where the original item ends and the copy begins.

Packed away in a box somewhere is a Rolex watch I bought brand new in Hong Kong many years ago. I paid $27 for it. The seller assured me it was a genuine Rolex and I dutifully pretended to believe him.
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11 comments:

  1. I hear you, and agree 100%. There are so many great projects in our hobby with better support than the mcHF, or at least enough up-front info to help you make a good decision. I was seriously considering getting one of the RS-918's recently, but ended up going in a different direction entirely. After buying something completely different though I was still following the RS-918 Groups.io group, and read a post about someone in the group that sells tested, and US-shipped RS-918's along with a good explanation of the different versions available. If I ever DO get one, I think I'll buy from him. You can find his webpage here: http://s3com.net/0-RS-918/default.html

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    1. Then there's the much anticipated QSX. At first, it will be quite primitive compared to this, but the potential is there for add ons to make it a nice contender in this category. I think we're entering a new age in low cost, high tech Amateur Radio, but will the big 3 1/2 (Kenwood, Icom, Yaesu, Alinco) take notice? I consider the IC-7300 an indication that Icom is listening, but we shall see. Maybe we'll see the ever-confusing New Heathkit Company buy one of these designs and offer a nice affordable rig. And maybe I'll start growing transceivers in my garden :-) Who knows, but it would be nice for some of this technology to become mainstream before it becomes just a memory of angry emails and failed importers.

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    2. I wrestled with the decision (and indecision) and finally decided to order a bonafide mcHF from M0NKA. His website shows kits available with a metal case and all SMD parts installed. Unfortunately, when I got to PayPal, a banner there stated that he was out of these kits. I don't know how often he restocks.

      Like you, I hope rigs like the mcHF is an indication of things to come: small like a KX3, pan display with waterfall and easy single-cable integration with a PC for digital modes, but no PC needed for CW and SSB.

      I personally hope Elecraft is looking at the mcHF and thinking "KX4". What FT8 has done to CW (and CW rigs) ought to make them or some manufacturer see the coming trend.

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    3. Hi Neil - I just found the seller you mentioned earlier today. It's Mike K0JTA. While he does check out and align each rig, note that he offers no guarantee of any kind. If the rig fails, you're dealing with the Chinese seller. Like you, I am tempted to buy one from him and it wouldn't bother my conscience a bit - but I'm hesitant due to the mixed reports from those who've bought the radio from eBay, Amazon or other vendors.

      The design greatly appeals to me for the simple reason that it seems to be strong where the KX2 isn't (digital modes without an entanglement of cables; the mcHF only requires one) and a portable rig that doesn't require a PC (like my Anan-10e). I like that it combines the best of each rig on both CW and digital modes with fewer disadvantages than the KX2 or Anan on modes those rigs don't favor.

      I guess I'll hurry up and wait and see what the Germans do with the OVI40, ie if it becomes a complete (but SMD-free) kit or a finished product I can buy.

      For those who may be interested:

      https://groups.io/g/RS-918-HF-SDR-Transceiver/topics

      https://uk.groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/M0NKA-mcHF/info

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  2. Lots and lots of emails since making this post, and much learned, both good and not so good. The result of it all is that I will have a REAL mcHF soon from Chris M0NKA and Lucy. Excellent!

    Details to be posted in a few weeks of the build and the options associated with it.

    The deeper I delved into the world of mcHF clones, the funkier things got but I thank everyone for their honesty.

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  3. Hi, John;

    I was REALLY interested to see your comment of "the ever-confusing New Heathkit Company" and this as a possible means of getting the mcHF to market!! Wow, what a GREAT idea. Now, if this is indeed possible, I wonder if there is some way to get Chris and the HEATHKIT company together??!!!

    I recall assembling so many of the fine HEATHKIT products... All with the ease of following the well-diagrammed manuals..! THIS is the part that is missing from the mcHF plan, the sheer difficulty of LOCATING the needed information, and not only that, but determining the CORRECT APPLICATION of this information! (Wow...)

    Great topic, wonderful information!! 73 from Mike, K0JTA

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    1. That was Neil's comment, probably made in jest. The new Heathkit is nothing like the old.

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  4. How is the mcHF kit-building project going?
    73 from Mike, K0JTA

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    1. It should be here within a week...
      73 - John AE5X

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  5. I'm trying my best to get a mcHF. Website says in stock. Paypal says it's out of stock. Try to send a email to Chris and it gets returned as undeliverable. At this point my ONLY option would be to buy a clone.

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    1. I sent an email to Chris at one point and got an answer after several days from his YL. He's not fast to respond and may not at all. Keep in mind that this is how any needed tech support will be as well - unpredictable and maybe not available at all. It's an amazing example of of how to squander the results of what could be a great product and an excellent seller.

      Good luck (and no need to feel guilty if you buy a clone),

      John AE5X

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