By: Brent Parrish
Baofeng UV-5R V2+ dual band transceiver with extended battery
Well, I haven’t posted much to the blog lately. I’ve had a lot of other commitments to tend to, and just haven’t had much time for blogging. Admittedly, I haven’t been following all the current political shenanigans as of late, either. So, this article is certainly going to be off the beaten track from my usual focus on history and politics. But since the subject of this article took a bit of my time (and patience) this week, I’m hoping what I learned might help somebody.
I’m a bit of a preparedness-minded individual. One of the things that I have been wanting to do for a while now is set up some type of emergency communications system for family and friends. In the event of a major disaster—like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, for example—the first thing to go down are cellular networks. It becomes impossible to use a cellphone due to the system being overwhelmed.
What to do?
Well, ham radio is one option. Amateur radio operators (hams for short) are usually the first people to set up emergency communications during major disasters, since experienced hams have the requisite skills to quickly set up networks to get out important information to the rest of the world.
A little while back a vet recommended I pick up a Baofeng UV-5R radio. For the price (around $30 to $40), you can’t beat it for utility. It’s also a great introduction to ham radio. I’m new to ham radio myself. But I’m scheduled to take my ham test in a couple of weeks. I attribute my desire to get my ham license to the fact that there are some affordable mobile communication options like the Baofeng UV-5R now.
The Baofeng UV-5R is essentially a ham radio that operates in the 2 meter (VHF) and 70 cm (UHF) bands—specifically 140-176 MHz (VHF) and 400-520 MHz (UHF). Recently, another friend of mine with a long interest in radio picked one up. So hey! I had to get one, too.
It should be noted that you cannot transmit on a ham radio like the Baofeng UV-5R if you don’t have a ham license and official call sign. I’ll get back to the license issue later.
One of the features that intrigued me about the Baofeng UV-5R is its ability to interface with a computer. The Baofeng UV-5R has 128 memory slots (i.e. channels) that allow you to store around 15 different parameters per frequency. Additionally, the software interface also allows you to do some things you cannot do via the keypad menu on the UV-5R; such as naming channels using alphanumeric characters and setting scan preferences, for example.
I did a bit of research concerning the UV-5R software interface before I bought a Baofeng. I discovered that there has been a number of complaints about software driver issues, mostly concerning the USB cable that connects the computer to the Baofeng UV-5R. I also learned there are a number of so-called “counterfeit” cables being sold.
Now, my friend who just recently bought a Baofeng UV-5R called me this week requesting some assistance in installing the software and driver to get his UV-5R talking to his computer. I said, sure. When I arrived at his house he handed me a small package containing a USB cable for the Baofeng and small DVD, allegedly containing the driver and factory-supplied Baofeng software. The package looked eerily similar to this one found on Amazon:
When I tried to run the DVD in my laptop, it would not run … at all. Strangely, the visual appearance of the DVD looked rather generic. Since I had researched some of the issues concerning driver issues with the Baofeng USB cable, I decided to try the recommended solution. This might get a bit technical, but I’m including the information for those who might need it.
This following procedure has been recommended by a number of people who have had issues with the USB cable driver. First, I downloaded the Prolific 188.8.131.52 USB driver from miklor.com. There is more information at the site on driver issues. The Prolific 3.2.00 driver came out in 2007. It’s quite old, by driver standards. But it does work. But there’s a catch.
After I downloaded and installed the Prolific 184.108.40.206 version driver from miklor.com, I rebooted for good measure. After restart, I then plugged the USB cable for the UV-5R into my preferred USB port and turned the UV-5R radio on (volume all the way up). I then opened up some software called CHIRP (which I’ll get into in a little more depth later) that is designed to interface with mobile radios like the UV-5R. When I attempted to download data from the UV-5R, I received a port error (“specified file not found”).
I’m using Windows 10. My friend is running Windows 7. It was necessary to go to the Control Panel and open up the Device Manager. Under “Port and LPT” devices, there was a listing for a “Prolific USB-to-Serial Comm Port” device with a yellow warning symbol beside it:
I right-clicked on the device and selected “Update Driver Software.” (This video explains the process in a bit more detail.) One quick note: you want to select the driver from a list, as opposed to allowing Windows to automatically update the driver. Eventually, the following selection showed up showing two versions of the Prolific drivers, a later and an earlier version:
It’s important to select the early 2007 version, not the 2015 Prolific driver. After selecting the early version driver in the list, the driver software successfully installed. I was then able to open up CHIRP and successfully clone my Baofeng UV-5R. There are several videos on YouTube describing this process in more depth (see here and here).
There is a bit of a gotcha! using the backdated driver, from what I’ve heard. If you reboot your computer, and you have internet access, and then plug in your UV-5R to the USB port, Windows Automatic Updates may go ahead and update the driver software—which is what you don’t want. If this is a problem, one possible workaround is to disconnect from the internet prior to connecting your Baofeng UV-5R to the USB port. You can then reconnect to the internet after your device is successfully recognized.
Now, this is where things get interesting. I just received my Baofeng UV-5R a few days ago. I also ordered what I thought was a genuine Baofeng USB cable at the time I ordered my UV-5R (the cable is sold separately), but it did not arrive until after I had helped my friend with his software install. I hoped that since I had already successfully installed the backdated Prolific driver on my computer, and downloaded/uploaded to my UV-5R using CHIRP software, that everything would work fine when my Baofeng USB cable arrived in the mail. Just plug and play.
The cable just arrived. And looks just like this:
When I plugged up my UV-5R using my new cable, I discovered that my CHIRP software was throwing the old port error. So I fired up the Device Manager again and saw the dreaded yellow warning symbol under Port and LPT devices. So I repeated the same procedure I had using the backdated Prolific driver. I right-clicked on the offending device and selected “Update Driver Software.” I then selected the option to select the driver software from a list. This time I was presented with this option in the Device Manager under “Ports (COM and LPT)”:
What happened to the Prolific driver? Good question.
I went ahead and selected the option to install the USB SERIAL CH340 driver. The driver successfully installed and I was able to clone my UV-5R once again. So, apparently the USB cable I purchased for the UV-5R required a different driver than the USB cable my friend bought.
Well, it just so happened that I stopped by my friend’s house briefly yesterday. He showed me a new Baofeng BTECH tri-band radio that he recently purchased. I noticed in the package that contained the USB cable for the BTECH radio a piece of paper warning Baofeng customers about “counterfeit cables” that were being sold on places like Amazon.
Did I purchase my UV-5R USB cable on Amazon? Check.
But my “official” UV-5R USB cable has the fancy Baofeng logo on it! And it came with a more “official” software DVD that said “Baofeng.” Besides, I was able to successfully install the factory-supplied Baofeng software interface for the UV-5R on my computer. Surely my cable can’t be a “counterfeit” too? Can it?
Apparently it is, according to the official Baofeng website:
Allegedly, this is the “genuine, authentic” (as opposed to just “genuine” or “authentic”) Baofeng UV-5R USB cable. And you’ll notice it costs around $20, compared to the cheaper USB cables my friend and I bought. According to the Baofeng website, their “genuine, authentic” cable is “plug and play,” no backdated drivers needed.
I can certainly see now why so many people have complained about driver issues with the Baofeng USB cables, considering just how many counterfeit cables there are, apparently. I quick search on Amazon will give a good indication of what I’m talking about.
Since I do have both CHIRP software and the proprietary Baofeng software installed on my computer, I can offer some thoughts. I highly recommend using CHIRP software, rather than the factory-supplied software, although both software interfaces will work. In the DVD supplied with my USB cable, it was a bit non-intuitive where the Baofeng software was located on the DVD. I found it under the “UV5R_VIP” folder in the “Baofeng” folder. I just ran setup.exe from there.
The Baofeng software has a fairly cludgy interface, resembling software from the Windows 95 days. When I first ran the software, the language option was initially set to Chinese. Since my computer is not set up to display a 128-bit character set like Chinese, all the text and menu headings were replaced with question mark characters. I had to fumble around a bit in the top-level menus to find the language option. But once I did I was able to set the language option to English.
The CHIRP software interface is simple, but preferable to the Baofeng software, in my opinion. The big advantage to using CHIRP is that it interfaces with a number of different types of radios, while the Baofeng proprietary software will only work with a Baofeng UV-5R radio. You can also import and export frequency data from your UV-5R as a CSV file (comma-separated values). This makes it possible to open the CSV file as a spreadsheet in Excel, for example. This can be useful if you need to do a lot of editing to your stored data, since programs like Excel allow superior cell-editing capabilities, as opposed to the editing capabilities in CHIRP.
Remember, you don’t need a ham license to just receive and listen to amateur radio bands. But you do need a at least a Technicians Class ham license to transmit, i.e. talk on amatuer radio bands. (More information on licensing can be found at ARRL.org.)
On a technical note: For those of you how may already have successfully set up their UV-5R to interface with their computer, there are a few options concerning scanning worth noting. Many people like to set up their UV-5Rs as police scanners. I have set up my Baofeng to listen to some local emergency frequencies, such as weather, fire department, EMS, police, etc.
En example of the CHIRP software interface. Note the “Duplex” and “Skip” options.
An example of my channel memory setup for my UV-5R displayed in the proprietary Baofeng software interface. Note how the “Skip” option is called “Scan_Add.”
The concern by some is that they might accidentally hit their Push-to-Talk (PTT) key while scanning an emergency frequency. Remember, if you do not have a ham license it is illegal for you to transmit. Furthermore, even if you have a ham license, you wouldn’t want to be transmitting on emergency frequencies, anyway. Just pushing the PTT key is considered a “transmission.” Fortunately, using CHIRP software, you can set the “Duplex” option to “off.” This will effectively disable the antenna, preventing any accidental transmission. Even if you press the PTT key, nothing will happen. Additionally, you can set the “Skip” option in CHIRP to “S” if you want to skip a channel during a scan.
Well, the good news is I still got both “counterfeit” USB cables to work, and saved a little money to boot. How ’bout them apples, huh!
Hope it helps!