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Icom Portables: Drop in TX power output; or Radio goes dead in the charger.

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jeatock

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I run into this problem all the time (twice this past week) and thought a little information here might be in order.

ALL Icom portables are microprocessor controlled. IF you transmit and the battery is weak (either bad or discharged), the voltage will drop to a point that the processor starves and reboots. To make the radio a little more reliable for receiving, the Home Company Engineers built in a routine that drops the RF power output to a very low level when the processor sees a low battery condition. This keeps the processor from rebooting and allows continued reception with a bad/dead battery.

If the battery is bad it may show a full charge, but when transmitting it will have a severe voltage drop, caused by a weak battery pack cell. The result will be that the first few syllables go out at full power and the rest of the transmission is very weak because of the reduced RF output. Stopping TX will allow the weak cell to float back up to its nominal 1.2 volts and the processor (and battery voltage display, if you have one activated) will lie to you until the next PTT.

If you have this problem, check: On display models, key the radio and watch the display- if the "LOW" icon turns on during the PTT and turns off a moment later, you have a bad battery. Non-display radios will show a flashing LED that disappears quickly. You may have to take the battery out of the charger for a few hours before this will show up.

I have seen the same thing happen with radios on known good batteries, but where the original dealer (NOT ME!) turned the TX power up beyond the nominal 4 or 5 watts for "more impressive performance". The portables would work gangbusters for the first few hours (at 7 or 8 watts they better!), then die on the vine. The customer was ready to throw them out. When I checked them, I saw the extreme high power burst, then 0.2 watts. Watching the battery voltage told me that the extra power drain was dropping the battery below the cut-back point, even on a good battery. No wonder he could only talk in the morning.

Resetting the radios to the designed power output completely solved the problem, and the customer (now MY customer) bought more identical radios. 4 watts UHF is more than enough for his one mile open terrain needs.

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Another suggestion. All Icom chargers run the battery up to a full charge, then drop back to a very low trickle. If the radio is turned on it will burn more power than the trickle provides, effectively running down the battery while the radio is in the charger. The LED light state probably won't change, and will lie about the battery condition if the radio is on.

Icom (and most other manufacturers) say to turn the radio off while in the charger. Power spikes and surges can run through the charger and damage an active radio, although this is not a common problem. Turning the radio off is not always practical where the radio is used as a night time fire page receiver. There is a new charger for the F50/60 radios designed to eliminate this problem. There is no such OEM charger for any other series of Icom radios.

A simple workaround for any charger is to buy the cheapest lamp timer you can find. Set it to ON for all times except for the shortest period possible about 90 minutes before you normally remove the radio from the charger. Plug the power transformer into the lamp timer.

When you drop the radio (turned on) into the charger at bedtime, it will charge fully, then run down for the next six or seven hours. 90 minutes before you get up, the lamp timer power will cycle and when it comes back on, the charger will go to a full charge again, normally 60~90 minutes on a rapid charger. Presto! When you take the radio out for the day, it will have a full charge.

I do the same thing on fire cache radio banks where FF's often forget to turn the radio off when they put it back. The only difference is that I power cycle every 6 hours. If the radio is off, the battery will already have a full charge and the charger will go "green" after a minute or two. If the radio is on, it will never have less than a half-charge. It makes for more dependable communications.

This may also apply to other manufacturer's chargers.
 
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Trprc

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Just out of curiosity, what is the chemical compound the batteries are made up of?
 

jeatock

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The loss of power issue is the firmware which sees the battery voltage take a large hit due to the current needed to support excessive TX power (7~9 watts on a radio designed for 5 watts) The same situation applies equally to LMR radios with Ni-Cad, NMH and L-I batteries.

The purpose of the firmware routine is to keep a LMR radio semi-functional with a bad or discharged battery. The power reduction kicks in when the user tries to transmit with a bad/discharged battery.

It also appears an an "unintended consequence" of the dealer (or end-user with the Adjust software) trying to apply "Binford-More-Power-is-Always-Better" thinking to a LMR radio. The radio will go to 175% power with a hot battery on the bench, but fail out in the field halfway through a shift.

The charger issue is also independent of battery type. The problem does not exist as much in the "Overnight" or slow chargers as it does in the "Rapid Charger" series. It is also a firmware issue in the charger controller, and is not unique to Icom products. Icom is starting to produce a new series of chargers that eliminate this problem (initially for the F50/60 radios) designed specifically for the first responder market.
 
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Trprc

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Jan 28, 2012
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The loss of power issue is the firmware which sees the battery voltage take a large hit due to the current needed to support excessive TX power (7~9 watts on a radio designed for 5 watts) The same situation applies equally to LMR radios with Ni-Cad, NMH and L-I batteries.

The purpose of the firmware routine is to keep a LMR radio semi-functional with a bad or discharged battery. The power reduction kicks in when the user tries to transmit with a bad/discharged battery.

It also appears an an "unintended consequence" of the dealer (or end-user with the Adjust software) trying to apply "Binford-More-Power-is-Always-Better" thinking to a LMR radio. The radio will go to 175% power with a hot battery on the bench, but fail out in the field halfway through a shift.

The charger issue is also independent of battery type. The problem does not exist as much in the "Overnight" or slow chargers as it does in the "Rapid Charger" series. It is also a firmware issue in the charger controller, and is not unique to Icom products. Icom is starting to produce a new series of chargers that eliminate this problem (initially for the F50/60 radios) designed specifically for the first responder market.
Sounds interesting. The reason I asked about the chemical compound is because we use L-Ions for our RC Airplane equipment and I know that they are susceptable to cold weather and do not survive low discharge levels. Most of the equipment using L-Ions has a microprocessed controller which monitors the battery and protects them using whats called LVC. LCV means low voltage cut off, when the voltage reaches a certain level, the battery supply will be interurpted.
 
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