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I'm a very casual/beginner level ham and as such have mostly avoided committing too much in the way of financial resources - I have a UV-5R for a personal radio, anything else I do I've used others' radios.

I don't mind the 5R's interface; I'm familiar enough with it now that it doesn't really bother me. That said, it'd be nice to give it a little boost without spending a bunch of money and/or buying a new radio. I typically operate at home, so mobility isn't required (though being able to pack it up to have along when traveling wouldn't hurt, either).

What kinds of low-cost options are there that could help improve its range (and/or SNR)?

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    $\begingroup$ I believe if you install an appropriate antenna and replace the monopole with a co-ax to the antenna, you can boost your range, at the cost of not being portable anymore. amazon.com/Outdoor-Antenna-Motor-Rotor-HD-2805/sim/B002MVRCSI/2 you may also use a directive antenna - point towards a repeater. $\endgroup$ – KF5RRR Oct 22 '13 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ 1. Operate with the proper vertical polarization. 2. Replace the stock duck with one designed for US bands. 2.a. Use a quality antenna, e.g. Diamond or Comet. 3. Use a repeater that's closer to you. 4. Use a repeater with a better (higher) receive site and better electronics. 5. Step out of the house. 6. Use an external antenna. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Beals Oct 22 '13 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewBeals I have a Baofeng UV-82L, how can I find antennas that will work on it? I'd like to buy a better rubber duckie and a car/magnet mount. $\endgroup$ – Dan Oct 23 '13 at 4:43
  • $\begingroup$ The cheap Chinese radios have SMA female connectors rather than the standard SMA male ones on them. Your local amateur radio shop can supply you with an adaptor. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Beals Nov 6 '13 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ There's also apparently decent quality antennas that come with an SMA male attachment. $\endgroup$ – Amber Nov 7 '13 at 6:16

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A homemade "rat-tail" ground plane costs 35 cents each to make. A crimp on eyelet to fit your antenna's connector, a string of speaker wire about 19-20 inches long and a little heat shrink tubing to dress it up and done. Soldering the the wire to the connector instead of crimping it will be a better option.

Go here for some details about the "Rat-Tail" ground plane: http://www.hamuniverse.com/htantennamod.html

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  • $\begingroup$ Great, this seems like an awesome suggestion especially for portable use. Any thoughts on cheap options that take advantage of no need for mobility? $\endgroup$ – Amber Oct 22 '13 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ A simple mag-mount antenna attached vertically to a balcony railing or something similar will provide great coverage. $\endgroup$ – Dinesh Cyanam Oct 22 '13 at 20:21
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There have been a number of good answers already, though I think there are a few additional points worth sharing. Answers would also be more relevant if we knew what situation(s) you were coming up short range wise.

For portable use (out in the field):

  1. The stock Baofeng rubber duck antenna has been shown to be a poor performer. All of the stock rubber duck antennas tend to be a compromise and not perform very well, but the stock, stiff, short baofeng antenna seems to perform worse than others.
  2. An antenna that is physically close to the right wave length (1/4 wave, 1/2 wave, or 5/8th wave) on the frequency you want to operate on will perform better (have less signal loss) than a shorter antenna. While it's inconvenient to carry around, a 14-15 inch "gain" antenna can help in many cases where a 4-8 inch stock duck can't be heard.
  3. The standard rubber duck antennas are 1/4 wave, which are half of a 1/2 wave dipole, oriented vertically. Your body is making up the other half, the ground plane. The rat tail suggestions are good ones, which are providing a better ground plane to complete the other half of the antenna.
  4. Get the radio off your belt! If you are using the headset with the radio attached to your belt, your body is absorbing much of the signal. Bring the radio up to your mouth when transmitting.
  5. Make sure your battery is fully charged. Your radio is only putting out the rated power when it is getting the design voltage. The lower the voltage from your battery, the less your power output (in watts) will be. Several graphs of power vs. battery voltage have been published for the Baofeng and the similar Wouxun online and in the Yahoo groups.

For use in a car:

  1. Get your antenna OUTSIDE of the car. The body of the car will absorb much of the signal. A magnetic mount antenna can be a good non-permanent solution. Make sure you've got enough metal in the roof and that the antenna is as close to the center of the roof as you can.
  2. Power the radio from the car to ensure you are getting the full output power your radio is capable of. Use a 12 volt battery eliminator.

For use indoors:

  1. Get your antenna outside, especially if you are using 2 meters. The shorter 70cm waves have a much easier time getting through window openings than the longer 2 meter waves. There are many simple choices that don't involve trying to put a large antenna on a roof. A magnetic mount antenna for a car placed on a window air conditioner works well.
  2. Use 70 cm where possible instead of 2 meters if it's appropriate for your area.
  3. Use a power supply to make sure you a getting full output power.

General:

  1. Height and Line of Sight are your friend.
  2. 2 meters and 70 cm perform differently and have different advantages depending upon the surrounding terrain. It's good to know which one to use. 70cm is better in urban areas. 2 meters will give you longer distance propagation in open areas.

Important General Tip: The pin inside the SMA antenna connector will eventually break! The connector is rated by design for approximately 500 connection cycles. If you use one antenna and rarely disconnect it you'll be fine. If you change antennas frequently, consider using a low profile BNC adapter where the base sits on top of the radio and isn't completely dependent on the SMA jack for all of its mechanical strength.

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  • $\begingroup$ So much good information! Thanks for sharing. $\endgroup$ – Mike Grace Mar 29 '14 at 21:49
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If you don't need mobility, purchase an inexpensive directional 4 element Yagi antenna for 2m and operate it in vertical polarization, that is with the prongs of the yagi pointing up and down. You can sometimes find these small Yagi antennas used for ~$20-30. But note this will only help you for 2m, and should not be used on 70cm. For 70cm you can get a 70cm antenna, or perhaps find an antenna designed for both bands. This will add cost, however.

One warning about external antennas: convert from big coax down to smaller coax and a BNC or SMA plug near the HT instead of using the big coax with an adapter; a PL259 to BNC/SMA adapter may tear the bnc/sma plug from the wiring or circuit board of an HT.

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You might want to use a roll up antenna called the DBJ-2 from Ed Fong.

See: http://edsantennas.weebly.com/

It's a J-pole antenna. I use one with my hand held and it works great! If you email Ed I think you can get your sma female connector installed on it when it is built. I think the antenna is about $28.

I'm using one with my radio shack HTX-202 radio. I was told that my signal was clear with no noise. It was a great improvement over the short antenna I was using. So I'm talking from South San Jose to a Stanford repeater with no problems. I like the thin coax that comes with the roll up antenna. I just hang up the antenna from a book shelf and it dangles down to my desk. Works like a champ.

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Take a look at getting a 5/8 wave telescoping antenna, and make a "rat tail" from a ring terminal and 18-19" of wire to be the other end of the dipole.

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  • $\begingroup$ 5/8 doesn't require a ground plane. It is similar to a half-wave in that regard. But the rat-tail is great fr quarter wave whips. $\endgroup$ – SDsolar May 6 '17 at 2:23
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For home use, I'd recommend a dual-band J-Pole or Ground Plane antenna. There are many instructions on the web for building your own. Or you could go the commercial route as well. I personally own the dual band J-Pole antenna from Arrow Antennas and it works incredibly well. http://www.arrowantennas.com/osj/j-pole.html

For the home brewed stuff, start here then do a quick search on the web: http://www.hamuniverse.com/jpole.html I'd give you some more links. But this website is limiting me to two links until my reputation improves.

As other people have mentioned, your best bang for the buck is in an antenna. Good luck!

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Along with a higher gain antenna, I use an old Radio Shack HTX 20 amp. Found for around $50 on your favorite online auction or ham based classifieds. Gives 30 watts out for 5 in and only draws 6 amps. I use one with my Baofeng uv5ra and have no problem with it pluged into my acc plug in the dash..reaches repeaters with ease which I could not get before.

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I'm at the fringe of the coverage area for the local DMR 70cm repeater. Using the "extended" dual-band antenna that came with my HT, the repeater typically reports received signal strength (RSSI) of about -123dBm and a loss rate between 10% and 20%, which is unacceptably high. I wanted a quick and cheap solution, preferably using items on hand.

A mobile mag-mount on my large, metal roof did not improve the RSSI or loss rate reported by the repeater. Same with a friend's 5/8-wave base-station vertical about 10-ft above ground. Then it hit me: the repeater's 455MHz frequency is just below UHF TV channel 14 in the US - and I had an unused, 4-bay bow-tie antenna in the garage.

With the addition of two adapters to convert the F-type connector on the 75$\Omega$ cable to the radio's SMA female connector, this antenna - oriented for vertical polarization - increased the reported RSSI by 10dB and reduced the loss rate to near zero.

Eureka!

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I have the Baoefeng UV-5r+ (UV-5r with extra Rx capability) I've been able to get much better reception with a 14" SMA Female DIAMOND antenna. (I wish I had a quantifiable measurement here other than 'better')

I've also been gifted a backpackers j-pole antenna by a friend. (here) This I can roll up about the same size as a small book. It gives me an amazing range, and cost him 24 bucks. That same friend bought the same version for a permanent mount (here), put it in his attic, and he is VERY satisfied and is able to conduct nets with his UV-5r. You'll need to adapt SMA Female -> SMA Male -> SO-239(?). I can hang it in my room or outside to run with the big boys. (and with only 75 bucks of equipment!) I believe the antenna can take up to 75 watts, so its a great piece of transition equipment as you get more into it.

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I was told that my signal would picket fence while I was in the car albeit I was only a couple miles from the repeater purchased this antenna for my yaesu vertex ft60r and the improvement was immediately noticable http://www.eham.net/reviews/detail/7741

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  • $\begingroup$ It would help if you explained what you were pointing to as a link, and why it was an improvement. $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Nov 5 '13 at 14:31
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You could add an external amplifier, but the most popular I could find reviews http://www.eham.net/reviews/products/35 for, the Mirage BD-35 http://www.eham.net/reviews/detail/3281 seems to have significant QC and support issues. Really, having a J-pole for omnidirectional operation stuck on a bamboo or PVC pipe pole, and/or a vertical yagi aimed at your repeater of choice, is the realistic way to boost reception and transmission.

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