Tested: Fake(?) Motorola ED30 Battery for Moto G (XT1032) 1st Gen

The Motorola Moto G was quite a popular “value” Android smartphone. It had a good value-for-money factor, and as a result, it became the phone of choice for my Dad who was an “intermediate” user that didn’t demand the power of a flagship phone. As with any phone with an integrated “non-user-serviceable” battery, time had worn it down and Dad began to complain about the battery being insufficient to last a day of use.

At that point in time, the phone was just about coming up to its third year since purchase. That would clearly place it in the obsolete category, due for replacement rather than repair, especially when considering the lack of software updates and potential security holes involved. However, Dad was a retiree who wanted to keep expenditure to a minimum and actually liked the way the phone worked and felt.

The decision was made to replace the battery. In late-April this year, after returning from my first extended overseas break, I ordered a replacement from eBay which claimed to be a genuine battery and paid the premium for it.

Genuine (?) Replacement

Following the iFixit teardown was an easy route to a battery replacement. A little care and the old battery was pried out, and some double-sided adhesive allowed the new one to sit securely in place. It was supposed to be quite straightforward so I didn’t take any pictures of the operation and sent the phone off with the new battery thinking that it was all solved.

Unfortunately, after a few days, my Dad reported that the battery was even worse than before. I asked him to perform the standard “recalibration” procedures of draining the phone down until complete shutdown and then allowing an uninterrupted charge, and repeating this if necessary. There was no change, and after a week, he was asking for his old battery back!

I had a feeling this might happen.

While changing the battery, I saw the new battery had all the right markings, but the markings were printed on a clear adhesive label instead of being on the cell itself. Compare this with the image from the iFixit teardown which shows the details clearly printed on the cell with no adhesive label or text alignment issues. Even the “dot matrixed” text is very much printed on the label, and seems to claim a date code of 12th February 2014 with a serial of UBUE03IIYAHU.5B. The images in the listing have no such adhesive label.

I also noticed the flexible flat cable also didn’t have this particular trace design nor printing on the original. This one has YY-ED30 F A 1 marked on it. The rear of the battery had a stamp but also no identifying text of the cell manufacturer (which is normally LG), unlike the listing. Then I noticed the Motorola logo was scrubbed from the seller’s images in the listing. This very much likely makes it a fake, despite the description that claimed it was genuine at the time of sale.

Unfortunately, it was too late for me to chase the seller about it, as it seems they had “closed shop” and other sellers are no longer selling this particular battery as genuine. I guess they may have learned their lesson.

So instead, I decided to see just how good or bad it was. Peeling back the top section of insulating tape exposes the protection board. As the flexible flat connector and clip is too small to work with, I decided to bypass the protection board and clip directly to the (rather ugly) spot-welded tabs of the battery.

I discharged the cell to 3V at a gentle 200mA, then recharged it using a constant current of 750mA, then a constant voltage up to 4.35V (as stated on the label) using my Keysight E36103A bench-top supply. Then, I discharged it through the B&K Precision Model 8600 DC Electronic Load at a constant current of 400mA until 3V to gauge the capacity.

The capacity delivered was a marginal 1619.4mAh. For a battery that claims a typical capacity of 2070mAh, this is significantly short, achieving just 78.2% of the claimed value and below the 2010mAh claimed minimum on the label. Generally speaking, a Li-ion cell is considered “end of life” when it delivers just 80% of the label capacity, so this cell would be pretty much “as bad” as a cell that had finished its promised number of cycles.

While this is a disappointing performance, it is still “marginal” in the sense that it’s not quite so bad to make it nonviable compared to a worn battery. The other thing is that it’s not quite claiming to be 3630mAh as some other replacement batteries are.

Conclusion

When buying online, the “bait-and-switch” of using pictures of genuine products and shipping something else seems to be a common trick. The difference was that the differences in this case were not immediately apparent, and because of the close visual imitation, caused some doubt as to whether the battery was fake in the first place. This might be an effective strategy if it means the consumer is confused for long enough to allow the seller to “make a getaway”.

Unfortunately, it only delivers 1619.4mAh when tested at (approximately) C/5 constant current discharge to 3V, which represents about 78.2% of the claimed typical capacity, making it just about as bad as a worn battery.

I suppose my only option is to chase them via PayPal, but whether this is even worthwhile is another matter.

P.S. Behind the scenes, a lot of “random” things are happening and I’ve kept myself remarkably busy keeping up with things, fixing broken items and investigating long-standing questions. As a result, postings have been a bit few and far-between, so I hope to remedy that somewhat in the near future as I dedicate a little more time to writing things up. It might not be a return to the regular-and-prolific service before the beginning of the year, but at least it should hopefully be something better than this year. Speaking of which, I’ve still not had a chance to put anything substantial from my holidays on the blog yet! Where does all the time go?

Posted in Electronics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Opinion: Why Everybody Should Care About Net Neutrality

The internet is a magnificently complex, diverse and distributed network which has been the product of decades of research. This has, in a short space of half a century, become one of the dominant means of communication today. Owing to its “agnostic” nature (for the most part), it can be used to carry data from place to place which represents virtually anything – text, images, video, audio, 3D models, binary data or programs, commands, telemetry, etc. It can do so efficiently, almost instantaneously, and relatively affordably. This has made it almost essential to our everyday lives, and something which is coming to be recognized as a human right.

Unless you’ve been “living under a rock”, it’s likely that you have come across the FCC’s move to repeal net neutrality within the USA, spearheaded by the FCC chairman Ajit Pai. While it has spurred a large number of discussions and reactions online, there seems to be a very large number of misinformed people who still don’t understand (or have a partial and distorted understanding) how the internet works, and what net neutrality really means. Worse still, they don’t understand exactly why it matters. But now is no better time than to be concerned about the internet which we take for granted on a daily basis.

The Concept of Neutrality

In a nutshell, the internet as it was conceived, was nothing more than a number of computers connected via a number of links speaking a common protocol. The computers and intervening network equipment handled packets of data, and moved them from the source to the final destination in the most efficient and reliable way possible based on a set of rules. In the early days, there wasn’t the computing power to worry about what was within these packets, and as a result, they were handled as if they were all equal. As a result, the internet was “born equal”, which is an expectation that carries on today (although with some limited exceptions).

You can imagine this as a primitive postal service that handles parcels up to a particular size, with addresses written in a particular format. The postal network looks at the addresses and moves the parcels as efficiently and reliably as possible from source to destination and doesn’t care what your parcel contains – be it a gift, newspaper, baby formula, toys, or junk. To the system, it is just any other parcel.

Is Anything Ever Truly Neutral?

While the concept of net neutrality is great in an ideal sense, the truth is that nothing is quite as ideal in reality due to a number of complexities. While it was initially neutral by default, the internet itself has become increasingly less “neutral” for a number of technical, legal and commercial reasons.

With continually increasing data traffic, and limited investments into network capacity, during peak periods contention is a problem. Because some types of data are more sensitive to delay or loss, some providers have taken steps to implement a Quality of Service (QoS) management system which throttles dataflows which are less time-critical.

With newer protocols that are more aggressive at attempting to “game” the system during periods of congestion (e.g. inelastic flows which do not respond to congestion indications), newer and fairer queue dropping systems have been implemented to prevent those with a larger number of flows or bandwidth from dominating the available bandwidth in a shared link.

For legal (and occasionally business) reasons, deep packet inspection technologies have been implemented on some networks. This technology may be used to help record metadata in regards to data transactions and characterize dataflows for their importance, destination/source or type, thus the type of data is increasingly becoming a concern to the network that carries it.

Where wireless/satellite links and shared-medium mobile carriers are involved, traditional TCP/IP networking protocols may not perform well due to random packet loss and round-trip latency. As a result, some more sophisticated networking equipment will intercept the session and provide “spoofed” acknowledgements, handling the forwarding of the packet to the end user in a manner more suited to the limitations of the underlying transmission medium.

These matters are discussed in more details in the relevant subsections which follow. While some may take this as an argument that neutrality is unimportant, that is not the case. With each of these are relatively benign examples of data-discrimination that have mainly occurred for technical/legal reasons, their introduction is not without their own problems. Instead, this is what has happened more out of need rather than want.

Business-motivated neutrality issues have already come to exist which mirror the frustrations consumers might experience from a telco provider offering “free calls (only) within our network”, and postal services offering “rate discounts for registered businesses”. These are arguably worse, and demonstrably not in the consumer’s best interests.

Why is Neutrality Important?

Net neutrality is important as the internet has become a dominant means of communication, a form of a utility for the public good, and a common carrier. To have net neutrality is to ensure that there is no discrimination against the packets which traverse the network – ensuring everyone has free and equal access to use the network to convey any data they wish. This ensures an open internet where all forms of innovation and technology can thrive and compete on a level playing field where communications can happen truly on a global scale from end to end. This ensures that creators and service providers can be assured of fair access to users, and users can be assured the widest choices as the “internet” means the same thing no-matter where you are or who you’re connected with.

This is a form of anti-discrimination – much as how people expect to be treated fairly without any prejudice no matter their age, background, gender, etc.

There are already a number of cases where neutrality is violated, and its effects can be felt by the end user. This would make the case that neutrality is important, although absolute neutrality may not be achievable or practical.

Without Neutrality: Restricted Access

One possible outcome of a lack of net neutrality is the problem of restricted access. This is where access to certain services are blocked, either by type of service, address or hostname, port or protocol.

One example where you may encounter this is public Wi-Fi access points. Owing to the vast number of potential legal and safety issues, many networks implement blocks of various degrees without much consistency. As a result, users connecting to such networks may find certain instant messaging apps not to work, e-mail access to be impossible, VPN access to be impossible, SIP calling to be impossible, etc. This is an unfortunate outcome – for example, if I’m at an airport and I’m trying to contact a relative and my SIP phone isn’t working, my WhatsApp isn’t connecting and my e-mail isn’t sending … that’s not really real internet. It may be enough to browse, but the internet is more than that.

Another example is on mobile networks where certain destinations/protocols/ports are blocked to avoid unexpected data charges, but also, to keep networks from being saturated by unnecessary P2P or bulk downloads. This could include watching YouTube at higher quality settings (on the premise that you’re on a mobile phone and don’t need them). While this is a convenience for some, it is also a hinderance to anyone that relies on such connections as their primary means of getting online. Ultimately, I believe the user should be the one that decides if they want 1080p or if they want to run P2P or not.

While the first two examples are rather innocuous, the third is the recent ruling that Australian ISPs be required to block access to sites by court order. This interferes with the “transparency” of the internet as a whole, where ISPs and lawmakers become the gatekeepers and sites can be “blocked” for a court order and a mere $50. The fact that this was allowed to pass was a rather disappointing moment for the freedom of the Australian internet, but as a whole has proven vastly ineffective for the simple reason that circumvention is not particularly difficult. Another blight on our freedom was the introduction of mandatory metadata retention beforehand, which we surmised would have resulted in the equipment necessary to perhaps invade privacy and block access being installed and activated. Were we alarmist for being concerned? Arguably not.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a slippery slope which many countries are falling into the trap of. For example, in the UK, there is internet censorship where sites are blocked by default with an “opt-out” list being recorded for those wanting to visit such sites. Numerous incidents of over-blocking have been recorded as a result.

At the extreme end, there is the Great Firewall of China, which is used to control access to overseas websites. This has proven to be a constantly-evolving filter, denying direct access to a large number of western sites and which actively targets VPNs of various types based on protocol. Where access is not directly denied, it is very much limited in speed.

In the future, it may not be unfathomable that access to certain blocked sites or services could be restored with an additional fee, similar to how cable TV subscriptions worked.

Without Neutrality: Throttled Access

While they might not deny you access outright, as that’s an obvious issue that could be bought up, they could take steps to reduce the speed of access. This could be a very subtle technique, which could be effective on easing network congestion for the ISP or denying/degrading access to certain services without being easily caught or with the benefit of potentially shifting the blame elsewhere.

In a world of instant gratification, having the patience to wait for something is becoming rarer and rarer. Users generally expect timely, speedy website loading, and the better sites go to great pains to optimize this to maximise the user experience. By reducing the speed of potential alternatives, carriers can create an advantage for those “in the fast lane” and then charge them for this ability. This increases the cost of providing a service artificially while degrading the user experience. Taken to the extreme, it could make some services completely unusable which makes it almost as good as blocked.

While initially, the web was mainly used to convey text and simple images, the proliferation of multimedia protocols and applications means that there are lots of real-time applications which have stringent requirements on throughput, loss and latency to ensure an adequate user experience. This could involve one-way server-to-client style streaming, as well as two-way video or voice-over-IP calling. By throttling access, ISPs may cause such services to revert to lower-quality lower-bitrate services which reduce user experience and preferentially treat their own services with a higher level of priority, creating an artificially uneven playing field which they have no intention or impetus to resolve. This has happened in the past, due to inter-carrier agreement issues, where Netflix was finding its traffic adversely affected and consumer experience degraded. While part of this comes down to network architecture and limitations, coupled with a lack of investment and arguments as to who should bear the cost, ultimately the consumer loses out by not receiving the quality of service they expect without being able to find a resolution. While neutrality is not the solution to the issue, I’d have to think that if they weren’t so concerned about who or what the data was, they might have sorted it out a lot sooner. That being said, even in Australia, Netflix and YouTube is not immune to such issues.

That being said, a lack of neutrality in terms of throttling access during periods of peak demand may not be such a bad thing if it ensures that real-time services are provided to end users at the expense of non-real-time transactions. This is a case where absolute neutrality may not be as useful, although this comes with the added wrinkle of determining which services require what level of resource and deserve what sort of protection. Traditional forms of QoS marking such as diffserv are prone to being spoofed by end users, making them untrustable, and are not necessarily obeyed by the network carrying the packets.

A truly agnostic network will not have to concern itself with this problem. The same issues exist where protocols designed to “saturate” the network with inelastic flows hoping to gain a throughput advantage may cause less-aggressive protocols to suffer. This is something which is being addressed through new queuing algorithms, although in itself, adds to the complexity and “judgement” of the network.

Without Neutrality: Interference with Access

Another issue of a lack of network neutrality is the potential for interference with access through spoofing packets/websites, man-in-the-middle and man-on-the-side attacks. While it may seem farfetched, some early attempts at controlling P2P traffic involved spoofing TCP/IP connection reset packets causing the connection to “drop” as if an error had been encountered when none had been. The Great Firewall of China a multitude of techniques as well to break VPN connections periodically. American ISPs have been particularly annoying in their pursuit of profit – they have even put in man-in-the-middle injections into HTTP sites to overlay ads and alerts on other sites potentially interfering with tier function and imposing privacy concerns. The US’ NSA has a QUANTUM program which relies on man-on-the-side and deliberate timing exploits to hijack connections over the internet. Finally, such interference could be used to great effect to attempt downgrading connections from secure modes to less secure modes. Had the internet been the “dumb” set of pipes it was, such carrier-level interference would be much less prevalent, at least at the ISP level.

In the present time, there are commercially-motivated interferences to access such as geoblocking, for market segmentation reasons. Unfortunately, this comes about due to a multitude of legal and commercial reasons, and is not something net neutrality can necessarily fix but is a form of interference with access.

There are potentially positive aspects to this – in the case of mobile access, some carriers have employed transparent performance-enhancing proxies which “terminate” the connections at their end and forward them to the mobile end user in a more efficient manner, enhancing the throughput by reducing the impact of high random packet loss and delay on the wireless link from affecting the TCP/IP connection’s flow through buffering and better protocol refinements. While this is conceptually positive, it does come with the potential downside of privacy concerns as well as breaking the true “end-to-end” nature of the communication as acknowledgments received may not be from the end user terminal.

Another potential interference is the provision of “on network” services, which can only be accessed within a particular provider and through no other as a form of vendor lock-in. This was popular in the early days of AOL and Compuserve, but had been “killed off” by the internet. With the allure of profits, such exclusive content may see a return in some way – starting with the next point of “zero-rated” access and package bundle deals.

Without Neutrality: Free “Zero-Rated” Access and Package Deals

Without net neutrality, a future where services are unfairly treated is indeed a possibility. While many “free market” capitalists will continue to scream that neutrality will be maintained as providers would be shooting themselves in the foot otherwise, the truth is far from that simple.

In the first instance, there have been a number of providers which offer “zero-rated” access (i.e. unlimited, quota free) to particular services. This means that those services which are in this “umbrella” are preferentially treated, and any competing services are (essentially) given a financial disincentive. In India, Facebook’s Internet Project was met with negativity precisely for this reason – there’s a difference between a real internet which fairly treats all services, and one where preference is given to a select number of competitors. While some zero-rated access may be beneficial (i.e. the user wants it, or it can reduce network loading), it’s often at the detriment of the provided access arrangements – e.g. free social media + 1Gb per month, or 4Gb a month to spend on whatever you like.

This does extend further, as the other option is to provide “unlimited” access to a particular service (with some restrictions) for an additional monthly fee. I met this even in Singapore when browsing for a SIM to use in my travels, only to be disappointed that the services I wanted to use were not part of any such options. This preferential treatment serves to steer users to use free services. The way the carrier provisions such free services may also be a concern, as they may have a local proxy combined with some DNS rewrites to make it work, increasing the fragility of the service.

This easily extends to us in Australia, where a number of ISPs have made package deals with Pay TV and streaming providers for “bundled” services at one price. This offers the consumer a (potential) saving, but locks them into the bundled provider. Likewise, some ISPs are offering “quota free” access to some streaming services and not others.

Why Should I Care? I’ve got a choice!

One common counter-claim is that the whole issue is a big non-issue as if one provider violates neutrality in a way that was material to the consumer, all they would have to do is change providers. In some cases, this may be true, however, in many cases it isn’t and it also is not practical.

The USA is particularly interesting, as many areas are not well served with options for high speed broadband internet. A large number of users are connected through HFC technology, owned and run by cable providers, some of which have long been recognized as the worst companies around (such as an unnamed company that rhymes with ROM-blast). Owing to the way the coverage and competition within the US cable industry works, and the fact that areas are often covered only by one cable provider, choices of switching to other ISPs are a non-option for many simply owing to the disparity of service between their cable provider and any “other” provider they can use.

Even if you could change providers, there is still the issue of contracts and downtime. There is no guarantee that they would maintain such access arrangements, as they could also change their minds. Short of a solid backing for neutrality, ISPs are essentially free to do what they feel to be in their best interests (including selling your data for money).

Such motivations are not exactly unfathomable, as their bread-and-butter earnings from cable subscriptions have taken a hit due to the number of “cord-cutters” going for streamed “over-the-top” services via the internet. It seems the ISPs probably want to take a cut in some way and may not be above affecting their competitors’ traffic. They’ve already confused consumers with silly fees on their bills and been caught.

Finally, if all the providers in an area are bound to enforce the same rules (e.g. website blocks, nationwide firewall), then there is no recourse for that short of attempting to access the internet through a different gateway (e.g. by VPN).

Why Should I Care? I’m not in the USA!

A common misconception is that the whole net neutrality business is really only something for the people within the USA to worry about. The truth is that it matters to everyone in a number of ways.

The first reason is that the internet knows no geographical boundaries (generally speaking). As a result, while I may comfortably reside in Australia, the sites that I visit may involve traffic passing through several USA-based carriers – this may be through larger backbone providers such as Hurricane Electric or via more local providers such as AT&T, Cogent, Level3, Cox, CloudFlare, Amazon, etc. This may be to visit USA based websites, or even websites in Europe, owing to how ISPs choose to partner with various transit providers to offer connections at the lowest cost. In fact, this very website is being served through USA’s networks – I rely on Tata Communications and Level3 to get there. Not enforcing requirements for neutrality from providers will likely lead to cases where there is a commercial incentive to fast-lane certain types of traffic as opposed to others, which may result in other types of traffic which may not be as “profitable” taking a back-seat. This means slower connections, higher packet loss which may make certain real-time communications unusable.

The second reason is that this may set a precedent for other countries to follow the lead of the USA to abolish any protections they may already have in place, and slowly, perhaps evolve into a more “locked-in” profit-driven model as we fear. Competition (in many cases) just does not truly exist.

Why Should I Care? You can just use a VPN!

A big misconception is that users can just “buy a VPN” or “use TOR”. These people are either in the business of selling VPNs, or they just have no idea how they work. They think the “darknet” is not part of the internet itself, but this is evidently exactly the opposite of what is the case.

A VPN (standing for Virtual Private Network) is basically a way of making a private network connection over a public internet. It does this by creating a network interface, where all the packets to/from this interface are “encapsulated” into encrypted packets which traverse the same public internet. This gives you the illusion that you have a dedicated connection to a private network somewhere else while remaining “secure” through the use of encryption. From there, (as is commonly done) your traffic can “emerge” into the public internet as if you were connected elsewhere.

The obvious issue with this is that your traffic still traverses the public internet, the same internet whose neutrality is compromised. Your VPN traffic could well be discriminated against and interfered with because somebody doesn’t like it, and thus you’re no better off than before.

The same thing applies to “darknet” networks which are an overlay running on the same public internet just with different protocols (some of which are easily identified and discriminated against).

Neither of these solutions are building a new network entirely circumventing the one provided by your ISP (potentially one that is not in favour of neutrality).

Worse still, these solutions make things worse. For one, because your traffic is now travelling through the internet to reach the VPN gateway (which could be in another country), the traffic may have to travel all the way back to access the resources you are after. There is also a penalty in terms of encryption/decryption and packetization. This is likely going to increase latency and decrease performance as ACK packets can be delayed, MTU can be reduced and BDP increases. It will likely result in more traffic to access the same resources, straining the limited resources even worse. Its performance is also highly dependent on the resources of the VPN provider, who themselves may be under resource pressure. It also means that the end user is now paying for an additional service just to get to the things they want to use when it could all be avoided.

While a VPN might get around some aspects of net neutrality issues (e.g. geoblocking, some types of deep packet inspection/QoS throttling), it’s hardly a reliable solution as it could itself be subject to the same tampering that you are trying to avoid.

What is the Upside of a Lack of Net Neutrality?

The repeal of net neutrality doesn’t really present many positive sides by comparison. It’s key to note that most of the claimed benefits are not grounded in facts at all as exemptions already exist within the US framework to handle such cases. The repeal seems more grounded in commercial and government interests than in the interests of the public.

It’s true that absolute neutrality is probably unachievable and counter-productive, especially for real-time services. However, I don’t believe that the solution is to give up on the ideal situation and just “leave it to the operators” to do as they please. That would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Arguments that the internet didn’t implode prior to the introduction of net neutrality rules are missing the key point that the internet didn’t implode after their introduction either.

One benefit would be that less regulation would mean less work for the government – essentially wiping the FCC’s hands clean, while also rendering it powerless to intervene should anything happen. Another may be that providers spend less time worrying about whether they’re complying with regulation or not, which saves on costs. It might also allow for more experimentation and flexibility in terms of the way the network is architected and run. But whether that is going to be used towards the good of the end consumer remains to be seen. The ultimate cost is a loss of protection to the end consumers.

Conclusion

I think it’s clear that from a consumer point of view, the “idealist” concept of a neutral internet is important for preserving fairness, equality of access, choice and competition on a network which has become so ingrained in our lives that it should be considered a public utility. The internet was “born” equal, and while it has been pushed further than originally intended resulting in some “inequality” around the edges, the expectations of users and companies that rely on it is that it should remain as close to equal as practical. Having net neutrality codified in law is one way upon which this quality could be protected.

The truth is that equality benefits the users, as well as the providers and creators generally speaking. Those that stand to benefit from the loss of neutrality are likely to be the businesses providing the access, and the government. To see that it was repealed was a sad outcome, leaving consumers less protected. However, the uproar that was generated has been good for the understanding of consumers, and sets a precedent that no-matter what the ruling, most were overwhelmingly in favour, despite the choice of the board members.

It seems surprising that the issue has gotten this far, as I couldn’t think that it would ever be repealed owing to its fundamental nature. Some people believe it will not really mean much as its repeal is only in law and not in the direct operational nature of the ISPs. However, this is an implicit trust we are placing on the ISPs to be in favour of the consumer, something which American ISPs seem to have lost on numerous occasions. For one thing, I couldn’t fathom who would take the name of regular consumers and post in comments in support of net neutrality, if it were not a company with a vested interest in its repeal. The conduct of the FCC is also unconscionable in the regard of how it dealt with submissions and follow-up investigations.

I just hope that nothing bad comes of it, and other countries do not take the lead of the US in repealing protection for the end consumers. Don’t let the internet we’ve taken for granted become further tainted by commercial interests.

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Salvage, Teardown: DingTong DT-98 8W 403-470Mhz Handheld Transceiver

Imagine my surprise when stopping to catch the bus one day, I see a hand-held radio in the grass not far from the bus stop. I was in a hurry and had to leave, so I hopped on the bus and forgot about it.

The next day, I was catching the bus again, and the unit was still there. Figuring it was probably lost and unwanted, I examined the unit but was unable to determine to whom it belonged. It was dead, with no identifying markers on it. It was also fairly dinged up, as if it had case damage from being thrown out of a speeding car, and then possibly run over, flinging it up from the road into the grass.

No matter the case, it was a Chinese import radio, of the sort that ACMA looks scornfully on. So I suppose maybe it was a good thing the owner threw it out the window, otherwise they might be liable for a fine. But this does give me a chance to examine one, so I took it home and took it apart.

The Unit

The unit is a DingTong branded unit, of a most basic design similar to the BaoFeng BF-888S, possessing no LCD display whatsoever. The unit has a short whip antenna, with front speaker, mic and LED indicator. There is a belt clip on the rear with cradle charging contacts, and both sides show damage from skidding across the road.

The discarded unit had no volume control knob, presumably lost in the impact. Like many Chinese import radios, the polarity of the SMA connector is reversed – male on the unit and female on the antenna. The whip is marked for 400-470Mhz operation, gain is unknown but not presumed to be high.

The left side has the PTT, and two other buttons, presumably monitor and (possibly) power level/light/something else.

 

The right side has a pair of jacks used for a remote headset/earpiece.

Removing the belt-clip and battery shows that it is a DingTong DT-98, claiming 8W of power output and a frequency range of 403-470Mhz. The URL listed does not lead to the manufacturers’ site (instead, to some advertising).

On Trial

The unit was practically dead on arrival. This is not unexpected, as it was left powered up on Channel 16 since its abandonment. As a result, to see what it could do, I had to give the battery a little charge first. A quick trip to my benchtop supply and that was enough to get it started.

As part of being a low-cost no-frills radio, it has no LCD at all. As a result, it relies on a rotary selector dial with markings. But as this can get hard to read with 16 positions in all, the unit also has voice synthesis which announces the channel numbers in mandarin (which sounds like this). The unit pops loudly at every frequency change, so it’s probably not very good with an earpiece.

I was interested to know who might have used the unit and how they were using it, so I hooked the antenna output through some adapters to a dummy load to give it a quick test on all 16 programmed channels. A small amount of leakage from the dummy load would ensure that nobody would be adversely interfered with, along with being short 2-second burst transmissions. The leakage was sufficient for my old radio scanner in frequency counter mode to register the frequencies.

These were (in Mhz):

1. 430.025
2. 431.025
3. 432.025
4. 433.025
5. 434.025
6. 435.025
7. 436.025
8. 437.025
9. 438.025
10. 439.025
11. 439.125
12. 439.225
13. 439.325
14. 439.425
15. 439.525
16. 439.625

A quick check of the frequencies seems to show a pattern which may be used for factory alignment, so it seems this radio was never programmed. This seems to be a radio sold by people who may not know much about radios as “walkie talkies” on the premise of “select-a-channel and it works”. But unfortunately, the frequencies that they come programmed with can cause trouble – they could overlap with licensed users and cause interference.

For one, the frequencies chosen do not seem to align with any known “CB style” service. It’s not:

  • Australian UHF CB (476-477Mhz)
  • “Public radio service” in China (409Mhz)
  • SLPR (420-422Mhz) as used in Japan
  • UHF-FM (448-449Mhz) as used in South Korea
  • FRS/GMRS (462/467Mhz) as used in the USA
  • PMR446 (446Mhz) as used in Europe.

Instead, they are in the 70cm Amateur Radio band (430Mhz – 450Mhz) with some overlap with the 433-434Mhz LIPD devices. Based on an ACMA Radcomms database search, and a look in the WIA bandplans, the channels are used by the following in the Sydney/NSW area:

  1. Hornsby and District Amateur Radio Club Repeater Input (VK2RHT)
  2. Amateur Repeater Input (although none in NSW at this time)
  3. Earth-Moon-Earth Frequency Band
  4. Hunter Radio Group Repeater Input (VK2RNC)
  5. Goulburn & Southern Highlands Amateur Radio Society Repeater Input (VK2RHR)
  6. Amateur Satellite Band
  7. Amateur Satellite Band
  8. Amateur Satellite Band
  9. Goulburn & Southern Highlands Amateur Radio Society Repeater Output (VK2RHR)
  10. Amateur Simplex
  11. Hornsby Packet Radio Repeater (VK2RPH)
  12. Amateur Simplex
  13. Hellenic Amateur Radio Association of Australia Repeater Output (VK2RSV)
  14. Chifley Amateur Radio Club Repeater Input (VK2RCZ)
  15. WICEN Repeater Output (VK2RAV)
  16. WICEN Repeater Output (VK2RFI)

Looking at the channels, a good number of them are over repeater inputs which could cause them to key-up and rebroadcast the signal further than expected. Without the offset programmed into the radio, the user would not be aware that they’re perhaps being rebroadcasted over a wide range, and the people trying to “tell them off” would not be heard by the user. Of course, this is quite a notable issue with amateur radio repeaters, so many have CTCSS tone squelching on their inputs. While this stops them from being rebroadcast, their transmissions will still cause blocking and interference of legitimate transmissions and potentially an annoying heterodyne squeal.

Some of the channels are over repeater outputs. This is probably not as bad comparatively speaking, but will mean that they may hear some signals they’re not expecting to hear, and their transmissions may jam some legitimate users from hearing the output of the repeater (depending on the relative strength of the signal). With 8W to play with, this radio probably will put out a stronger signal than the average hand-held, but I suppose the antenna’s probably not too great either.

The remaining channels are a little more complex. Channel 3 in the Earth-Moon-Earth frequency band and Channels 6-8 in the Amateur Satellite Band are specially reserved regions of the bandplan as these services to space can require working very weak signals, and thus having the minimum of noise and interference is necessary. Sending out a strong terrestrial signal, when we’re trying to receive a space-borne signal which is very weak, is surely going to ruin the day. There is a potential that it could jam a satellite’s uplink frequency as well, denying service to a wide-footprint simultaneously (as the satellite has a large field of view which could span across states/countries).

Of all the channels, Channel 10 and 12 are probably the most innocuous of the bunch, as they are intended for simplex working. However, one must remember that to use the amateur radio bands, they must be appropriately licensed, pay the fees and identify by callsign at the required intervals.

At least the unit did not broadcast on the government band (roughly 410 to 430Mhz, using APCO25) or it could endanger lives by jamming first-line responder’s digital radios in an inconsistent and intermittent way (as analog signals jamming a digital transmission would not be decoded by the intended radio, and APCO25 trunking may cycle the frequencies from transmission to transmission, so only some transmissions are garbled). This probably explains the strong stance ACMA has against “Chinese import” radios, while understandable to some degree, is also confusing for some radio amateurs who are fully aware of the rules, have the tools to program radios appropriately and use them responsibly, and see that the radios are otherwise not causing significant issues in terms of spurious emissions.

I did take a look around for some programming software, but I couldn’t find any. The manufacturer’s website just leads to some advertising, a search online showed absolutely nothing. As a guess, it could be based upon the Baofeng or Woxun models, so I grabbed a standard Baofeng style programming lead and cycled through every radio supported by CHIP, but to no avail. The radio would not be read-out when it was powered on, or powered off.

As a result, given the frequencies it was already on and the damage it had suffered, I decided to take it apart and dispose of it.

Teardown

To take it apart, two Torx screws at the bottom need to be undone, and then the collars which hold the pots and SMA socket in place need to be undone and removed. Then, the whole rear assembly pops out, bottom first, similar to some Motorola radios.

We can see that all costs have been optimised, and the speaker (of a 16 ohm 1W rating) is glued into the case and soldered to the board. To take it apart more gracefully, I got out my soldering iron and desoldered the wires. The electret microphone is covered with a rubber boot which insulates against feedback, and this is “pressed into” by a channel in the front case – this has eaten into the rubber and damaged it. Apparently this radio was inspected by “QC04”.

The silkscreening is marked GLW-1, with a PCB date of Week 13 of 2017, making this a very recent unit. Components on this side include the electret microphone for use hand-held (although crushed somewhat by the case), a JRC NJM2904 dual-opamp and an RDA5802N FM stereo radio tuner. There is also a trimmer, which is probably used to align the frequency, conveniently placed on this side.

To remove the PCB to examine the other side, a large number of screws have to be undone, but also, the centre pin of the SMA jack needs to be desoldered to let the board come free of the metal casing.

The casing itself seems to be cast with channels and areas acting as both heatsink and shielding. Some of the work to do with the casting appears manually done – note the “B” marked into the mould. The rear battery clip mechanism is attached to the plastic at the top by two screws.

This is merely a plastic hook that is free to slide, with a spring providing the force to “return” it to the home position. It pushes against the channel cut into the metal casing.

The bulk of the components are on the other side, but surprisingly, the number of components is less than I expected, because of the use of mixed-signal IC technology. One of the transistors had thermal paste and a thermal pad to allow for heat conduction to the metal rear.

The bottom left corner appears to be the frequency reference crystal and modulator/demodulator section. This makes sense as the crystal oscillator is situated there, along with the tuning adjustment pot on the rear. The main chip is marked AT1846S and is an integrated single-chip transceiver based on DSP techniques in a CMOS technology chip. It has an analog IQ baseband interface, and supports a number of frequency bands and features such as AFC, AGC, emphasis/de-emphasis, RSSI, VOX, SQ, CTCSS/DCS encode/decode, DTMF, volume control and sleep modes. It has 8 GPIOs and an I2C control interface.

As a result, it seems that the control is taken care of by the left-top portion of the image, with a HM AP88F389 (unknown) microcontroller, with some ATMEL 24C08AN EEPROM for configuration data. The chip marked VOICE-D is probably the voice synthesis chip. I did try desoldering the EEPROM to read-out on my programmer, but I must have damaged it somehow as it was a dead short. There is also a MC34119L audio amplifier IC to drive the speaker.

The lower half of the board, towards the right, appears to be the RF front end filters and amplifier, hence the transistor with the thermal paste. This makes sense as it’s next to the transceiver chip, which only has an output of 8dBm (or about 6.3mW) and the radio claims an 8W output.

Testing the Battery

As I have taken the whole unit apart, I decided to take the battery apart too. Its rating is a very curious 7.4V 3000mAh, which seems too unrealistic for the size.

I was interested to see whether they used Li-Ion or Li-Poly cells as well. After all the physical trauma they’ve been through, I don’t think I want to keep it around for too long, just in case they suffer some “delayed” spontaneous combustion.

The cell is glued together at the seams, and it was a destructive process to pry it apart. Unexpectedly, it seems that the protection board is at the bottom of the battery, so there are long tabs that connect the terminals at the rear of the battery to this board. Because of their close proximity to each other, one wrong move and you have a short circuit. The construction also needs a soldering iron to deconstruct neatly.

A closer look at the bottom shows that the rear “T” thermistor contact on the outside is an absolute lie. There is no pack thermal monitoring, and thus the charger cradle itself might not even have circuitry that expects to use it. They probably included it just to “look safe”.

The end PCB is quite simple with two intermediate series contacts marked I-I on the left, and the battery pack + and – marked B+ and B- on the right. The charger input comes in through the Z+ and Z- terminals, and the power to the radio is supplied through the P+ and P- terminals.

The underside of the board is noticeably bare. It’s marked ChaoNian 885EF, and has just a single 8205A transistor package and a 6-pin IC. I wonder if this is a protection IC only, or a balancing IC only, or both. Regardless, it is lacking any form of secondary safeties, making it quite a questionable design.

Each cell is a prismatic Li-Ion cell with a thin metal shell. Terminals are spot-welded to the same end with cardboard insulation and blue shrink-wrap around the cells. Green insulating paper is wrapped around the assembly.

Each cell is marked KY483760 201703YX. I presume this means the cells were made in March 2017 by a company with the initials YX or KY, although more information could not be found.

For testing, I topped off each cell individually on my Keysight E36103A bench-top supply to 4.2V (CV) at 300mA (CC) until the current fell to 50mA. Then the discharge was run at 300mA (CC) until 2.8V on the B&K Precision Model 8600 DC Electronic Load.

As we can see, it seems that each of the cells tested at about 1300mAh. As a result, each of the cells being about 1500mAh is a possibility, as often the cells “settle” to between 80-90% of the rated capacity for the majority of their life. However, the claim that it is 7.4V 3000mAh is just patently wrong – when the cells are used in series, the voltages add but the capacity does not. As a result, it’s truly a 7.4V 1305mAh battery as tested.

Conclusion

The DingTong DT-98 seems to be quite an “anonymous” Chinese import radio. This unit seems to be a rather recent unit judging from the date codes, and didn’t live a long life before it was “discarded” by the roadside. Despite this, information about the unit appears to be sparse and the manufacturer’s website is non-existent. I could not find any compatible programming software for it either.

While I didn’t test it for its spectral output or audio quality, I did see that the unit appeared to be unprogrammed and using a set of frequencies which resided in the 70cm amateur band. While this is not the worst outcome possible, it still poses a decent potential for interfering with amateur radio users. The general public and unknowing sellers who just buy and sell the units thinking they are walkie-talkies will be operating unlicensed and liable to a fine as well.

The radio uses the “latest” integrated DSP-based circuitry, and as a result, is much less complex than I expected. There is not much to tweak or align, or even repair. The performance might well leave something to be desired – judging from the rabid arguments that have gone on in regards to other Chinese import radios that have been posted online.

The battery is, in true Chinese fashion, overstated for capacity and relatively “lightweight” on safety features. While I don’t have the charger, I would suspect the safety of the charger may well be questionable as well. The longevity of either is not something I can accurately judge, but at a guess, I’d have to say it’s probably somewhat limited.

As a result, I’d have to say if you don’t know what you’re doing, stay away from these Chinese import radios. You don’t want to be responsible for jamming other paid license users who are conducting business, doing research, or possibly even saving lives (e.g. fire brigade, ambulance). Doing so can come with severe penalties if caught, and is downright irresponsible.

If you must play with the radios, educate yourself about the frequencies you’re allowed to use and then program the units accordingly. Don’t just use them out of the box.

While ACMA is very strict about what units comply with CB, of which none of these Chinese imports generally do, they’re a little less restrictive about amateur radio as the point of it is to research and experiment. That being said, owing to the open-ness of these radios for band-extension and almost any-frequency operation, I can understand their objection to these radios including some blanket statements which make it seem like it’s illegal to even possess them.

That being said, I don’t agree they should be illegal. As long as they’re being used responsibly (on frequency with no significant spurious emissions, transmitting at or below the legal power, following operation protocol), I don’t see what harm they would cause. That being said, it seems unlikely that ACMA will let anyone other than Standard/Advanced radio amateurs will be permitted to use them (even if they are allowed, which is slightly unclear at this stage). A Foundation call person like myself is limited to commercially produced amateur radio transceivers … so unfortunately, the people who might need low-cost handhelds the most are not allowed to use them.

I suppose that’s probably a good reason to take the test and upgrade my license … but at least, for now, the scourge of this DingTong DT-98 has come to an end.

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