Sunday, January 06, 2013

Remote Control - Or Being 170 km Away From The Dial

The KONG antenna farm is located in Kongsfjord, Arctic Norway, at 70.72 degrees north, and 29.35 degrees east. That's just south of Barrow, Alaska and a little east of Istanbul, Turkey. You didn't expect Norway to stretch that far east, did you? Now, the antenna farm isn't very impressive compared to other MW sites in Arctic Europe, but its proximity to the sea shore partly outweigh the disadvantages of short beverage antennas. Another important factor for a good, permanent DX site is good infrastructure, such as stable power, road connection and not least:  Internet connection. All this combined with an extremely low RF noise level makes it a very attractive location. Most readers will know about the KONG DX-pedition every October, but in fact we're there every day now, thanks to a 450 MHz internet link.

OJ Sagdahl and I have set up PCs and SDRs to record automatically. Theoretically, we could let the equipment stand there during the winter, pick up the xxx TB of recorded stuff in spring, and check the recordings during the summer. But we're DX-ers aren't we, so we like to twiddle the "knob" live as well. And we also want to know what was heard last night, not only 8 months ago. So we turned to the possibly best software since Star Trek to beam us up to Kongsfjord: LogMeIn.


LogMeIn comes in two guises: The Free and the Pro version. The Pro version  is the software you need for the "host" PC. This enables audio to be sent over the internet. Without audio, you won't hear much DX. Besides, file transfer is a breeze: Cut/copy and paste from remote to local. LogMeIn runs in a browser, so it is independent of your operating system. Another very useful software from the same company is Ignition, which lets you access the remote site without using a web browser. In fact, Ignition can be installed a USB memory stick, so you can access the remote site from any PC you have access to. Ignition is Windows only, but is also available as an Android app. There is also an iOS app available for iPad/iPhone, which for some reason is not named Ignition but LogMeIn for iOS.
Access to my 3 PCs via Ignition

What remains then is a stable internet connection. In Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Poland the old Nordic mobile phone frequency range at around 450 MHz is used for broadband internet. The speed is not impressive, typically 500 to 1500 kbps down and 200 to 800 kbps up, but in most situations this is totally adequate for LogMeIn.

Remote control with LogMeIn Pro is quite straightforward. Due to the distance (I suppose the internet signal travels not 170 km but 170 times 170 km before reaching its destination), there is a 0.5 - 1 second latency in key presses and mouse clicks. Occasionally more. The latency slows down operation a bit, but one gets used to it.
Win7 PC in Kongsfjord remote controlled from my Win8 PC at home
Video quality is fair, audio quality is in fact very good. There is the occasional audio stutter, but as long as we record ddc files to the host's hard drive we won't miss an ID due to stutter. The stutter seems to increase though if the audio has high peaks, such as during splatter and Loran C noise. In fact, the most infested Loran C frequencies can cause the connection to all but freeze, with keyboard latencies of up to 30 seconds. I suppose this is a bandwidth problem.

Client/server not an option

There are CSOs available for several SDRs, but since we need to control the PC and not only one single SDR, they are not used in Kongsfjord. I have up to four SDRs, all of different brands, running on one PC so controlling the PC itself is the most practical solution.

Alternative software?

There are other programs available for remote control: Teamviewer, Radmin, Anyplace Control, Remote Utilities, Google and many others. We haven't tested any of these, and it's not likely that we will. LogMeIn has been working well for several years now and we see no need to change.


GuidoS said...

Interesting Story Bjarne !
I'm doing more or less the same with Teamview. Unfortunately Teamview doesn't provide good audio. Therefore I'm using IPSound.
I was inspired by Mauricio Molano doing it this way.

Have you thought about a solution for in case your remote computer hangs ? Mauricio has also a nice and simple solution for that. His PC's bios is configured as "boot on power on". Every day at 1200 a shut-down is scheduled an a simple mechanical times cuts the power 5 minutes later. So in case something unexpected happens an the computer hangs, it will come alive once a day.

Bjarne Mjelde said...

No problem Guido, we can power off any time! And of course power on... :-)

Ivan Dias said...


Do you know if the free version is enough to stream audio?

Bjarne Mjelde said...

Ivan, as indicated in the post, the free version does not support audio. Hence you need Pro to hear audio, but bandwidth requirements are modest.