21 Aug The new IC-905 VHF to 10 GHz amateur radio
Last Updated on April 2, 2023
New ICOM IC-905 VHF/UHF/Microwave transceiver
ICOM announced the new IC-905 VHF/UHF/Microwave transceiver at the 2022 Tokyo Ham Fair. It takes the same form factor as the IC-705 which was also announced at the Tokyo Ham Fair in 2019 and shipped during August 2020 here in Australia.
The IC-905 is a multimode transceiver that covers the 144, 430, 1240, 2400 and 5600 MHz bands. It has an optional module CX-10G for the 10 GHz band. The radio also supports FM ATV.
Output power is 10 W on 144 / 430 / 1200 MHz, 2 W on 2400 / 5600 MHz and 0.5 W on 10 GHz
As the launch date of April 2022 approaches in both Australia and the US, it’s becoming clearer that it will be an expensive radio to add to the shack. It’s also worth noting that the 10GHz option utilises the 2400 MHz output so it appears there’ll be no operating on 2.4 and 10 GHz at the same time. I’m sure some clever people will work out a remote switching option so you don’t need to scoot up the tower to change bands!
What we know so far
In a Facebook post and press release on March 3, Icom told us that in Australia and the US to expect the long-anticipated IC-905 around the end of April 2023, and for Europe, in the summer of 2023.
Icom said the expected Recommended Retail Price for the IC-905 [in Australia] will be $5,500-$6,000, and the CX-10G 10GHz transverter will have a Recommended Retail Price of $2,100-$2,300 which is in line with the recent speculation of a complete system of around 9K.
The images below show the RF module or head. This is installed at the top of the tower to minimise RF loss over coax. At microwave frequencies, coax loss is substantial.
Evolutionary and Revolutionary
At face value, nice. Icom has certainly lifted the bar with this new SHF radio.
I do like the LAN port to comment the radio into your local network. I suspect WiFi will still be a part of radio. If it’s enabled, that’s going to make a racket on one of the WiFi bands, 13 or 6cm. The LAN port will also hopefully make it a great radio for the VHF UHF contest as most contesting software will become band aware. AS Icom says on the pre-release information… All stated features, appearances, screenshots and specifications may be subject to change without notice.
The launch of the IC-905 does tend to raise more questions than answers, but these are now becoming clearer. The two big questions are price and availability. Icom Australia has now said (March 3) the price will be somewhere between $5500 to $6000 AUD for the base unit.
Is the IC-905 for everyone?
Not really. If you’re planning on only using what comes out of the N connector on the IC-905, then I’d be looking at the IC-9700. Not only will you get a purpose-built radio, you’ll also get much more TX power for half the price or maybe slightly cheaper. On the other hand, if you want to minimise cable runs for 2, 70, and 23 then this IC-905 is a great option. Who wouldn’t want to swap out 3 runs of RG-8 form factor coax for a LAN cable! It’s a very expensive way to do this though.
That leaves the inbuilt 2.4 GHz and 5.7 GHz bands. If you hold a standard license in Australia you can use both these bands so it may well be a good investment. But before you race out and buy an IC-905, think about the application for this radio. Take into consideration the terrain surrounding your QTH and who you’re going to talk to. This may be a no-brainer, but the reality is microwave doesn’t go through (or bend over) hills, nor does it go through buildings. Think of your signal as being like light from a torch. If you can see dirt in any particular direction, that’s as far as a microwave signal will go.
The 2.4 GHz and 5.7 GHz bands are WiFi bands
If you live in and around suburbia, the noise from wireless networks is a killer as any microwave operator would tell you. 2.4 GHz or 13cm in some suburbs is unusable due to extremely high levels of RF from wireless LANs. Having said that 2.4 GHz is a little more forgiving when it comes to ‘getting into microwave’.
In Australia, there are no repeaters above 23cm. FM is very rarely, if at all used above 23cm, and you’ll be very disappointed with your expensive $5500 plus acquisition if you just put up a verticle antenna and call CQ. It’s just not what happens on the microwave bands in Australia.
The time when the microwave bands are most active is during the VHF UHF Field Days as well as the occasional MADs or Microwave Activity Days when stations go hill-topping to get on the air. Nearly all activity is SSB and horizontally polarised. It’s ironic that here in and around Melbourne, the 9cm 3398.1 MHz band has the most activity. This is the only band missing from the IC-905. As of the time of writing, there is more traffic on 3398.1 MHz than there is on 146.5 Mhz. I suspect the reason for this is NO WiFi noise.
This blog post is to encourage those who want to get into microwave to do so with eyes wide open. Microwave is a lot of fun. You’ll be using and making things you never would have had to, and the skills you’ll learn will strengthen all aspects of your construction ability for the hobby. You’ll get to love semi-rigid coax and SMA connectors. With the right tools, it’s easy, and Minikits will become your favourite shop if it isn’t already.
As 2.4 and 5.7 GHz are WiFi allocations, there are plenty of antenna choices and availability is high. 2.4 GHz lends itself to grid packs and panels, where as 5.7 GHz likes panels and dishes. Grid packs are not really suitable for this band. Most panel-type antennas are rated to 6 to 8 watts so they’re ideal for the IC-905.
Easy adjustment of antenna elevation is important as some have very narrow beamwidths.
The IC-9700 has frequency stability issues. It has a 10 MHz netting feature which was/is less than satisfactory. Sure the radio worked well on 2m but 23cm required GPS locking, especially with digital modes. Here’s hoping Icom have learnt from this. The IC-905 is GPS locked but as there’s none in the wild, it’s too early to call. The GPS antenna connects to the RF module. I wonder if one’s included?
What’s to like about the IC-905?
If you’re into microwave, then the IC-905 has some nice features.
The waterfall is essential for finding signals that are not on your frequency. The higher you go in frequency, the more challenging signals can be to find. The waterfall lets you easily see stations on the band when you’re swinging your antenna around. On 10 GHz it’s mandatory as the beam width of the high gain antennas adds to the challenge. Here, a few degrees makes all the difference between hearing a signal and not. I used to use a Yaesu FT-818 as an IF radio but now it seldom gets a go in favour of the IC-705 so the waterfall in the IC-905 is a big-ticket item.
Another win for the IC-905 is the remote RF module. As with microwave best practice, having the source of RF as close as possible to the antenna is a must as losses are great at higher frequencies.
The IC-705 form factor is also a bonus. Anyone familiar with any of the modern Icom radios will be able to drive this radio without too much drama.
Portable or home station?
For my purpose, I see the IC-905 as more of a portable installation than a home station installation. Sure it would work well as both. I have a multiband microwave dish with all bands 23cm through to 3cm Mounting the RF module at the base of this antenna in the field would be ideal. At home, the setup would be a little less optimal as my path in some directions is not clear and it would be a pain in the ass to pull down the RF module to take portable. Also, I have different bands on different masts but everyone is different.
Would I buy an IC-905? At this stage (March 23) maybe not. The price is high in comparison to other options currently on the market as well I also have equipment on these bands a purchase would replicate it. Add to the fact that 23cm’s future is a little unknown. If you price an investment in a band as price per QSO, currently this option is not very economical.
So what’s next?
This radio is a stunning example of design and engineering. If it lives up to the hype, it will become a sought-after wireless for anyone wishing to get into SHF. With the RF module separate from the control head, it could open up the possibilities for Icom to move away from the IC-705 form factor and move towards the IC-9700 style of radio as a base station.
But before you put down your hard earnt cash, put the hype aside and ask yourself would you really get value for money from a transceiver like the IC-905? Many will, but some won’t. It may be a big investment, not only in equipment but time as well. As microwave operators, we quite often joke about the cost per QSO when it comes to justifying gear. Watch the video below then go and find a local microwave operator and ask all the questions. There’s no such thing as a silly one.
Food for thought… An IC-705 (Currently $1850) plus an SG Lab 2.4 GHz transverter, plus a Kuhne 5 Ghz transverter will set you back around $3K. Chances are you already have an IC-705.