Sentinel, Sentinel: What’s the difference?

Owners of Uniden ZIP Code scanners can use the free Sentinel software to do database and firmware updates as well as create and edit Favorites Lists. While they look and feel very much the same, the versions of Sentinel for the HomePatrols is different than that for the BCD436HP and BCD536HP.

The HomePatrol Sentinel works for both the original HomePatrol 1 and the newer HomePatrol 2. When installed on your Windows computer it will have a brown shield icon on the desktop.

The BCDx36HP Sentinel works for both the BCD436HP handheld and the BCD536HP desktop/mobile scanners and has a green shield icon on the desktop.

You can easily share Favorites Lists between HP-1’s and HP-2’s as well as between 436’s and 536’s. In order to share Favorites Lists between HomePatrol’s and “x36’s” you need to export from one and import it to the other.

If you have both types of radios you will need to install both versions of Sentinel. Even though they look and feel the same they cannot handle the other radio types. There is no additional learning curve but there are a few terminology differences. For example, in the HomePatrol Sentinel the menu used to read or write to the radio is called “HomePatrol” while the x36 version it is “Scanner”.

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Trunking System Types Glossary

Earlier we discussed the differences between Type 1 & 2 and Phase 1 & 2 trunking systems. This week we will discuss some other formats of trunking. I choose to use the easier to understand mnemonics of 1 and 2 rather than the more correct I and II for some of these systems. These mnemonics are often interchanged.

“Motorola” trunking systems include Type 1, Type 2 and Type 2i systems. The original Type 1 systems used a 3600 baud control data signal and a Fleets/Subfleet programming style. In time it was found to be too limiting, it restricted the number of subfleets and radios that could be accommodated within the Fleets. Motorola developed what was called Type 2 trunking that used a similar 3600 baud control data signal but removed the restrictions about Fleets and Subflleets and removed many of the limits on radios. Type 2 systems could have more than 65,000 individual radio ID’s and thousands of Talkgroups.

Some Type 1 systems were upgraded, either to Type 2 or to a hybrid system that allowed both Type 1 and Type 2 radios, this was commonly referred to as Type 2i. A later version of Type 2 trunking, called APCO P16, used the same Type 2 control data but allowed either analog or digital modulation.

APCO P25, as we discussed last week, is an all-digital format sold by several manufacturers, including Motorola, Harris and others. The format was developed by and for APCO and is licensed from them. The system was designed to be interoperable between the several vendors but often they add features that only they can provide so as to rope in customers to continue buying their radios instead of radios from other companies. One way to tell a Motorola designed system apart is by the control channels. On Motorola systems the Control Channel rarely changes and there are only 2 to 4 channels that they would rotate to if one becomes unavailable. Harris designed systems can use any of the channels for control data and some of these rotate the control data regularly.

P25 voice is also commonly used on conventional (non-trunked) channels as well.

There are two main types of P-25; Phase 1 and Phase 2 (or Phase I and II). Phase 1 allows a single conversation on a voice channel while Phase 2, a form of TDMA, allows 2 on each channel, effectively doubling the capacity of the system.

Most scanners these days only require the current Control Data channel for many of the P25 and Motorola trunking systems to track them.

EDACS is a trunking system originally sold by General Electric as a competitor with Motorola Type 1 and later Type 2 systems. This comes in 2 different types, the 9600 Baud control data commonly used on 800 MHz. systems and 4800 baud control data mostly used on UHF and 900 MHz. EDACS systems can use either analog voice or digital voice, called ProVoice. While any trunking scanner can handle analog EDACS systems only certain Uniden scanners (BCD325P2, BCD996P2, BCD436HP and BCD536HP) scanners can monitor ProVoice operations and these require the ProVoice paid upgrade.

EDACS is commonly used for public safety and less often in business applications. It shares many features with the Motorola trunking formats but is not compatible with it. It can be used as Single Site, Simulcast or Networked or some combination of these.

After several years GE sold the EDACS product line and it bounced around to several companies before landing at Harris Communications. Since EDACS is no longer sold or supported by Harris many of the systems have been shut down or converted to other formats. At some point EDACS systems will all be shut down as parts become unavailable for repairs.

To program an EDACS system into a scanner one needs to put the channels in their proper assigned slots. This is called the “LCN” (Logical Channel Number). This is because the radio only sends the channel number, it is up to the scanner or other radio to match this with the actual frequency.

LTR (Logic Trunked Radio) is a popular format for business users and occasionally used for public safety. This format does not use a dedicated control channel like Motorola, EDACS or P25 systems do. Instead data is sent piggybacked onto the regular traffic on the channel advising specific radios to go to a channel for a message. While this allows all channels to be used for voice messages it is not as robust as other systems so is not often used for police and fire use.

One can tell is an LTR system is in us, there is a characteristic repeater key-up on most channels. This is sending data to radios assigned to that channel as it’s “Home Channel”. Most trunking scanners can handle LTR systems, the trick is determining the LCN slots properly.

DMR/TRBO/NXDN systems can be either conventional or trunked. Some systems can be trunked with a single channel, using sub-audible codes to separate the groups. These systems use TDMA for voice traffic so multiple conversations can be carried on one channel.

While used mostly for business activities these systems occasionally are used for public safety, especially in the SE states.

MotoTRBO is a brand name used by Motorola for it’s DRM offering. While there are slight differences a DMR scanner works fine for unencrypted TRBO systems.
DMR is available on certain Uniden and Whistler scanners.

NXDN trunking is very similar to DMR but just different enough to require a different mode. As of this writing (Spring 2017) NXDN was only available on the TRX-1 and TRX-2 scanners by Whistler.

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Type 1, Type 2, Phase 1, Phase 2, what’s the difference?

There is often confusion between different types of trunked systems. One of the most confusing things is the names of some systems. We get calls and letters all the time asking about Phase 2 and Type 2 systems and whether a particular scanner will work on them. They are different and the difference will determine if your scanner will work with it.

TYPE 2 (more accurately but less often written as TYPE II) systems are older Motorola trunking systems that use 3600 baud control data channels. These are commonly referred to as just “Motorola” systems when programming scanners. These were an evolution from the original Type 1 and Type 2i systems. The difference between Type 1, 2i and 2 systems is the way talkgroups are developed. Type 1 systems use a Fleet/Subfleet system that resulted in limited flexibility to assign talkgroups. Most of these systems have been shut down or updated and very few remain in use. Type 2 systems had a different method of assigning talkgroups and allowed greater flexibility. Some systems were called Type 2i, and were a hybrid between Type 1 and Type 2 systems.

Newer Type 2 systems, referred to as APCO P16 systems, allowed either digital, analog or both forms of modulation. There are still many of these systems in use all over the country.

PHASE 1 and PHASE 2 (more accurately referred to as Phase I and Phase II) systems are totally different than Type 1 or Type 2 systems. Phase 1 and 2 systems are forms of APCO P-25 digital systems that use 9600 baud control data channels and all digital modulation. Phase I systems have a single voice path per frequency while Phase II allows 2 voice paths per frequency, effectively doubling the amount of traffic a set number of channels can handle.

It gets even more confusing when programming some radios. Some scanner program the Type 2 and Phase 1 or 2 systems with the same system type, others have different selections. On the user end, most Motorola P25 (Phase 1 or 2) radios are also capable of being used on the older Type 2 systems.

Next week we will look at some of the other trunking systems like EDACS, LTR and TRBO.

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2017 Dayton Hamvention

The 2017 Dayton Hamvention is going to be held from May 19 thru 21, 2017 at the Greene County Fairgrounds and Expo Center in Xenia OH. This is the first year for Hamvention to be held in the new location and we are very excited about attending this year!

Rich Barnett and Gommert Buijsen (Author of the Butel ARC programming software) will be manning the booth this year. We will of course have a wide variety of scanners and accessories available at great prices.

Be sure to stop by at Booth 3303 (in Building 3) and say Hi to Rich and Gommert!

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Weird Funkiness with scanners: 536 Cuts out

We here at ScannerMaster get calls from customers often to explain some sort of weirdness happening with their scanner. Usually we can figure it out pretty quick but once in awhile we get stumped. When we get stumped it sticks in our craw for a while until we have an epiphany and figure it out. We had one just like that earlier this week.

A customer called and his brand new BCD536HP was acting all ornery. Every couple of seconds it would stop hearing and the signal strength meter would fluctuate. Most of the time this is caused by the Priority or CloseCall features. We determined it was neither of these but still couldn’t figure out what it was.

Here is why we were looking at these features:

Priority, when enabled, will check specified channels every couple of seconds for activity on it. If there is activity it will divert the radio from what is was doing to listen to the Priority channel.

CloseCall will check for strong signals in the area and if detected will divert the radio to the frequency the CloseCall feature detected. If the feature is set to CloseCall Priority then it will cause the radio to stop hearing a channel for a bit, just like the customer complained.

So when we made sure both Priority and CloseCall were off we were flummoxed. Well, I was flummoxed; he was frustrated. I am sure there were some other words starting with “F” being bandied about as well.

I started going thru the menus on the radio in the office (We have one of just about everything here at ScannerMaster) and eventually dug thru all the menus and submenus. Eventually we found the culprit: The Weather Alternate Priority. Somehow the customer got this turned on. As soon as we turned it off the radio worked great again! We had one happy customer and a relieved representative.

The Weather Alert Priority tells the radio to check the weather channels every few seconds and if it detects the standard 1050 Hz. tone used to signify a Weather Alert it will divert the radio to that alert.

New scanners have a ton of neat features but sometimes they can be too smart. Some of these features can cause aggravation when that feature is not needed.

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When the data isn’t right: How to get your database scanner working.

So you went out and bought one of these fancy new database scanner like the HomePatrol, BCD436/536 or a Whistler TRX and set it up. The problem though is that you are not hearing your local channel that you expected. There are a couple things to try. The first is to double check that you have the location and Service Types set properly. If these are correct, did you accidentally lockout (“Avoid”) the Channel, Department or System?

If you have ruled out these issues take a look at the RadioReference Database at RadioReference.com. This is where the frequency information comes from. If the channel is listed there but not included in your radio then you need to update the database on your radio. Make sure you have installed Sentinel (Uniden) or EZ-Scan (Whistler) and run the update procedure for these scanners. After updating the database make sure you copy (“Write”) it to your radio and try it again.

If you find that the channel is not listed in the RadioReference database then you will have to do some detective work. If you know what the frequency or talkgroup is then be sure to submit it to RadioReference so it can be added or corrected in the database. All you need is a RadioReference user name and password, either a free or paid membership will work. In the meantime it can be added to a Favorites List or Scanlist via the software.

If you do not know what the channel’s frequency or talkgroup is then you will need to do a little more work. If you know they use a trunking system then create a Favorites List and set it to Trunked Search (if on a Uniden). If you have a Whistler then create a ScanList with that system and add a Wildcard to it. This allows you to listen to all activity on the system and when you hear the traffic you want make sure you note the talkgroup number for future reference. You can submit that talkgroup number to RadioReference to update the database and also add it directly to the Favorites List or ScanList with the appropriate name.

On conventional (non-trunked) systems you can do a couple things. First off, check the FCC license for the agency you want to listen to. Most of the time you can do this from the RadioReference database page, just click on the call sign. Since the RadioReference Database only contains information that is verified a new channel might be listed on the license but not included in the main database since no one has reported it as verified yet.

If the channel you seek is not listed there, check licenses for nearby communities, the local County or a regional dispatch center. The actual license might be held by another agency that does dispatch for your town.

Still cannot find it? Now it is time to get serious! Your scanner has a “Search” function. Learn how to set up a Limit Search. Check the most common scanner bands used in your area and set up a search for that band. Lockout the channels as you hear them if they are not your local agency, checking the RadioReference Database as you find them.

Regardless of how you find them be sure to share the knowledge. Submit your finds to the RadioReference Database system so that others in your area can listen in and so that future versions of the database include it. Remember that the database is updated weekly, usually Sunday or Monday. Submissions might take a little while to get processed however so wait to the following week after you receive the notification that your submission has been worked.

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ZIP Code based scanning: How does it work?

One question we get all the time here at ScannerMaster Intergalactic World Headquarters is “when I put my ZIP Code in my (HomePatrol, 436 or 536) scanner how do I hear something in the next ZIP Code over?” The answer is that you already are… Let me explain.

On the Uniden ZIP Code type scanners (Home Patrol, BCD436HP and BCD536HP) when using the ZIP Code method of scanning (versus using Favorites Lists) you enter your local ZIP Code into the “Location” menu. You then can set the range (in miles). The ZIP Code acts as a center point on a map. The range is how big a circle that is drawn around the center point of the ZIP Code. More miles equals a bigger circle; a bigger circle equals more stuff programmed into your radio.

So if you live in Mayberry and your ZIP Code is 27031 you would enter it in the scanner. You then set a range; let’s say 15 miles. Draw a circle 15 miles in any direction from the center point of the ZIP Code and that is your primary coverage area. When the radio loads up it will load all the channels that are in that area, based on the service codes you enabled. Simple, right? Well, not so much.

The way the HomePatrol Database is constructed is that each entry itself also has a geographic location assigned to it with a range. So the various entries in the database all have their own circles. If any of these circles touches or crosses your circle then they will be entered into your scanner. For this reason you may hear things that are actually outside your circle.

Let’s say that Mt. Pilot is 20 miles from Mayberry, where you are. If you set your range to 10 miles you may not expect to hear Mt. Pilot. In the database however the Mt. Pilot stations are set to a range of 15 miles. So the Mt. Pilot circle goes out 15 miles and crosses the 10-mile circle you set in Mayberry. Therefore you will have the Mt. Pilot channels in your scanner. Clear as mud, right? Well wait, it gets even weirder!

So, you see Mt. Pilot’s frequencies on your radio but you never hear them. Why is that? Your range is set to include them and they show up but the radio doesn’t stop on them. There are a couple possible answers:

The first reason may be that they are too far away. Just because they are within the range settings of the radio doesn’t mean your scanner will actually be able to hear them. Perhaps sometimes you can hear them and other times not. Radio signals are predictably unpredictable.

Systems are designed to reliably cover specific areas. When you are within those areas your scanner should be able to hear them all the time. When you are outside the main coverage area it all depends on things like elevation (yours and the transmitters), terrain, obstructions, distance and sometimes even the weather. If there is a mountain between you and them you may not hear them. If you cannot hear them you might want to try a taller antenna, but that is a post for a different day. A good rule of thumb is that if the agency’s radios work where you are your scanner should as well.

Another reason might include the database being wrong. The HomePatrol Database is derived from the database at RadioReference.com. This is maintained by scanner enthusiasts all around the world. Some areas are better covered than others. If there are a lot of dedicated scanner users in the area the database is liable to be more accurate.

Still another reason might be that your scanner is not capable of hearing the type of signals used.

Whistler ZIP Code scanners work differently. You select a location and the radio offers a set of systems and channels to enter into a ScanList. The same thing applies for distance however; you may not hear something that is closer than others due to obstructions, low antennas or power.

If this is all too confusing for you then have ScannerMaster perform its “Setup and Optimize” service on your scanner. We will set up Favorites Lists for your county or counties so you will only have the items programmed into your scanner that you really want!

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Software UPDATE: ARCXT Software V.2.1 Build 3

BuTel ARCXT Software update is now available
Download here ARCXT Basic / ARCXT PRO

BuTelChanges in 2.1 build 3:

  • added support for DMR/Mototrbo systems
  • added talk group filters to RR import
  • added service type filters to RR import
  • fixed error message in RR import
  • add print group quick keys option
  • added Color code settings to DL/DPL

DMR/ProVoice firmware update information 

Note:
Owners of the BCD325P2 and BCD996P2 must update the scanner firmware in order to use the new ARCXT update.  This is only for P2 models and does not effect XT models.

BCD325P2 Firmware Updates
BCD996P2 Firmware Updates

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Uniden Location Based scanner hints

Uniden’s line of Location Based scanners allow one to enter their location (usually by ZIP Code) to load local channels without needing to know frequencies, systems, talkgroups and other technobabble. There are a couple things to remember and a couple byproducts that can make life your scanner easier. These scanners include the HomePatrol 1 & 2, as well as the BCD436HP and BCD536HP.

First the good stuff! Did you know that you do not need the scanner itself to do most updates, including firmware? That’s right! If the radio is mounted in the car (especially for the BCD536HP) just remove the memory card and connect it to your computer using a card reader. Since these are “Mini SD-Cards” you will need a card reader that will read them or one that works with standard SD Cards and a Mini SD-Card adapter. Just plug the SD card into the card reader and then the reader into the computer and run Sentinel just like you would if the radio was plugged in. (When doing the Extreme, DMR or ProVoice Updates you must do them on the radio itself as the code is installed from the keypad.)

SD Card readers are inexpensive and some computers have SD-Card readers built in. Remember that the Mini SD-Card requires the Full-Size adapter since most computer slots and card readers do not accommodate the Mini SD-Card directly. While Uniden doesn’t supply the adapter card with the radios they are easy to find and come with Mini SD-Cards you buy in the store. This leads us to the next part:

Get a spare card!

Why have just one SD-Card for your scanner when you can have several? SD-Cards are cheap these days. You can buy spare or replacement cards anywhere (including ScannerMaster) and keep them in case you have difficulties. One problem with SD-Card based scanners is that the cards can be corrupted if the power is removed while the radio is on. Since the radio has to write some closing data to the card, one must turn the radio off before removing power or the batteries. Sometimes a voltage spike could cause this as well.

With a spare programmed SD-Card you can be ready if you have a problem. I have found that having a spare seems to prevent the need for it; the only time I corrupted a card was when I was on the road with no computer. I have since always carried a programmed spare card and never had a corruption issue. Coincidence? I think not!

Update your radio.

Using a card-reader to update the SD-Card in your Uniden Location Based scanner is simple, you can update the firmware, database and Favorites Lists directly on the card itself, plug the card in and the radio will automatically be updated. When you do this the radio’s firmware will be updated the first time you power the radio up with the new or reprogrammed card. The database and any enabled favorites lists will then load.

On the 536 you can just pop the card in and out from the front panel. Be sure to turn the radio off first! On HomePatrol and 436 radios the card is behind the batteries, so to access it remove the batteries, On the 436 slide the small metal retaining clip over and remove the card. To replace the card slide it into the clip, fold it down and slide the clip over again. On the HomePatrol the care pops in a slot, gently press it in a tiny bit to release it. When replacing the card carefully pop it into the slot until it clicks in.

Buy a new card from ScannerMaster!

When we do our Setup and Optimize on a scanner most customers would send the radio in to us, we do the updates etc. and then ship the radio back to the customer. We soon figured out that it would be easier and cheaper for the customer to buy a replacement card, have the card programmed and delivered. This way an expensive radio isn’t being shipped across the country twice, risking damage or loss. You get a new SD-Card, of a type faster and more reliable than that supplied with the radio. If your old card still works then you already have a spare. You save up to 10 days of transit time, don’t have to pay expensive shipping fees. Mailing an SD-Card costs less than $2.00, shipping a radio costs $15-25 each way. We also include the Full-Size adapter!

You can also create SD-Cards yourself with Sentinel. Remember that you need to use the “Clear User Data” menu item on a new card to format it for use on your Uniden radio.

Whistler SD-Card based scanners can be updated to a lesser extent, the DSP and firmware updates must be done thru the radio itself. The mobile Whistler scanners (WS-1095, WS-1098 and TRX-2) come with a full-size SD Card, the portable Whistler scanners use Mini SD Cards. Mini SD-Cards can be used in the mobile radios with the full-size adapter.

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EZ-Scan Install Hints

Everything you need to know about Whistler Scanners and SD-Cards in one handy location!

After installing EZ-Scan on a bunch of computers and talking to several customers on the phone it appears that there are issues installing EZ-Scan from the memory card. This occurs on on various Whistler scanners, like the new TRX-1 and TRX-2 as well as the older WS-1098, 1095, 1088 and 1080’s. It appears that the most problem-free method to follow is to download the installer from the Whistler website and install and update it before connecting to your radio.

Follow these steps and you should be good to go. While we have also installed it fine in some instances from the memory card there have been enough issues to warrant us suggesting this method to avoid problems.
1) Download the software from Whistler (https://www.whistlergroup.com/usa/updates/)
    (Do NOT install the version on the memory card)
2) Install it on your computer from the downloaded file.
3) Check for updates to the SOFTWARE and run them if applicable
4) Connect the scanner to the computer and run the database, firmware and DSP updates via EZ-Scan.
Here at ScannerMaster our folks have used this procedure on several computers with no issues. We did have a problem on a couple computers installing from the SD Card and reverted to the above procedures to make it work.
Remember that on Whistler scanners the scanner needs to be OFF to recognize the card for database updates and programming. This is the opposite of Uniden scanners. Also remember that you can use an SD Card reader to program your radio instead of connecting the radio itself. This is sometimes quicker due to the faster read-write times of a card reader. You still need to connect the radio (with the card installed) to do firmware updates.
Mac users: This worked fine in Windows 7 and Windows 10 using Parallels and BootCamp. Joy for the Rest of Us!
EZ-Scan has the ability to reformat SD Cards from within the application. Instructions are provided at the above software link. You can create spare SD Cards for your scanner in case your regular card gets corrupted. Certain SD-Cards may perform better in the scanner but also know when using larger capacity cards the radio will take longer to become active at startup. Once the radio is on it should work just fine with higher capacity cards, it just takes longer to load.
Whistler mobile radios (TRX-2, WS-1098, WS-1095) use full-size SD Cards (or Mini-SD Cards with the full-size adapter) while the handheld scanners (TRX-1, WS-1088, WS-1080) use Mini SD-Cards. Cards are cheap, buy a good one if you want better results and more reliability.
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