Thursday, May 12, 2022

Will ransomware become an acceptable marketing practice for amateur equipment?

The term "ransomware" usually refers to the encryption of files on a remote computer with the computer's owner then asked to pay a fee to the anonymous hacker in order to regain access.

But it is also used to describe the practice of, in this case, test equipment, manufacturers who lock out certain functionalities unless they are paid for, on top of what the equipment already costs.

This is common among both hobbyist- and professional-level test equipment like signal generators and spectrum analyzers: pay $1500 for the analyzer and get these specs; pay $2000 for exactly the same model and get increased resolution bandwidth, for example.

The capability of the increased performance is in the equipment - but access to it is based on what level of firmware is bought.

In amateur radio, an example might go like this:

A brand new Yaecomwood 6-160m, 100 watt transceiver - $1500.

For an additional $175, Yaecomwood will include firmware to enable the rig's built-in pre-amp for 6m operation with this amazing new radio. Also, the selection of a wider section of band activity on its bandscope (75kHz as is, upgradeable to 2 MHz with the $$$ firmware) will be be enabled.

So the pre-amp would be built-in, as would the bandscope capabilities - just not functional with the base firmware.

Years ago, test equipment manufacturers started doing this and everyone in the industry grumbled. Then it became the norm, then it became acceptable.

Hopefully this form of "marketing" won't creep into our hobby.




Bas PE4BAS said...

Hello John, with newer equipment running on software/firmware these days it could be a possebility some manufacturers will do these things in the near future. I expect it in the most expensive equipment. People that buy a 10K USD radio will pay for extras, no doubt. 73, Bas

John AE5X said...

These extras used to be hardware - a remote VFO, a matching speaker, etc. It's probably naive to think that the firmware equivalent won't happen eventually, in the hobby and elsewhere.


Dave New said...

Want to take a bet that FlexRadio will be the first to 'innovate' this?

John AE5X said...

Yes, I should have used EleFlex as my fictional brand. Flex is more software-oriented than Elecraft so you may be right.

I know you keep an eye on the Elecraft list - what's your take on how the repairs (warranty and non-warranty) going lately? E seems dead in the water compared to Flex, at least where hardware is concerned, and hardware is a pre-req to firmware.

To their credit, both of these manufacturers will be at Dayton this year. I have no idea why, except for folks who want to plunk down their cash to get on a long and uncertain waiting list.