Thursday 20 April 2023



This isn't a technical review - it's just a Foundation License holder looking at a product from a low-level users point of view. There are lots of people who are pretty new to the hobby and want to know about a product without being bombarded with tech-talk. They just want to know what something does and how it might benefit them in their hobby. If you want something more detailed, don't worry, there's plenty of other reviews online.

My OpenSpot2 has been super reliable over the last three years and I've enjoyed many a great QSO that would have been otherwise unavailable to me. Recently though, it started to disconnect from my radio over and over, so I decided to think about a new hotspot.

For those who don't know, a HotSpot allows you to connect with Repeaters and Gateways across the globe. You basically transmit from your radio into your hotspot which then relays the signal to a physical repeater of your choice, via the internet. 

This is great for me because I'm not within reach of many physical repeaters using RF. Sure, I'd prefer to be able to use my radio alone to get into the repeaters, but that's just not an option from my two most often inhabited locations (Home & Caravan).

My very first HotSpot was a DVAP DONGLE for my Kenwood D74, which had to be tethered to a computer in order for it to work, but nowadays things have got much better and some HotSpots now work independently. There's a wide variety on the market and many of them use a Raspberry Pi as their engine, which can make them quite chunky in some cases.

Looking around on the market, I could see that the Shark-RF offerings still had no real competition in terms of size, convenience and capability, so I considered their latest and greatest - the OpenSpot4PRO.

The unit arrives in a very flimsy, thin cardboard box. Inside is the unit itself and a USB lead. That's it!! There's no stylish Apple-esque packaging to be found here, despite the high cost - you are left feeling a little underwhelmed.

I always add my phone number to portable devices
because I'm notoriously good at losing them 😂

If you pay the full retail price for an OpenSpot4PRO, you're probably looking at £300+ with shipping and import duties, so the initial unboxing disappointment might be more strongly felt than it was for me - because I managed to find a used one on eBay for just £175. I saw it with no bids and just a few minutes left to go in the auction. I was fully expecting there to be a swarm of last-second bids, but no. I won at £175 and then felt worried that everyone else knew something that I didn't 😂

The main reason for me considering the OpenSpot4PRO (apart from my OS2 going rogue) was the ability to Cross Mode with DSTAR. As far as I'm aware, the OpenSpot4PRO is the only hotspot that can do this!

With onboard transcoding hardware, the OpenSpot4PRO voice quality is exceptionally good and you can even use it without a radio by using the Shark-RF App which provides you with the ability to operate with nothing more than your iPad or PC, etc. I've tried it with my iPad and it worked flawlessly. That's a real boon for when you're on a break at work and just want to monitor (or even join in a QSO using your iPad's mic).

My OpenSpot2 allowed me to use my Kenwood D74 or my ICOM ID-52 for DSTAR and it also allowed me to use my YAESU FT3 for C4FM. Great!

The OpenSpot4PRO let's you use a DSTAR, a C4FM or a DMR radio and work in any of the modes, not just its native mode. So if you have say an Icom IC-705 DSTAR radio, you can engage in DSTAR, DMR or FUSION activities. Perfect!

Visually, the OS4 is not a lot different to the OS2 - maybe a little bigger (slightly) and it has a couple of convenient buttons on the face to switch the device on/off and to activate the wi-fi. The buttons are nicely recessed to avoid being accidentally activated in your pocket.

The device has a built-in battery which has a (claimed) battery life of 30 hours - that's 3 times better than the OpenSpot3. I seriously doubt that it would last 30 hours in continuous use, but then I can't even think of a situation where I'd need it to. It is, however, likely to last long enough for 2 or 3 hours solid chatting - and that's fine with me.

Setting up the OpenSpot4PRO is a breeze once you understand the procedure...

1. Switch it on and put it in AP mode. When you first buy an OpenSpot, it should do this by default, but mine was secondhand so I had to force it by holding the Wi-Fi button for 3-4 seconds.

2. Using a PC, mobile phone or tablet, go to your Wi-Fi settings and search for a connection called OpenSpot4. Connect to it.

3.It should automatically open a browser to allow you to alter the HotSpots settings. If it doesn't, simply type http://openspot4.local in the URL bar and that will bring it up.

4. If your OpenSpot is brand new, you'll be taken through a number of steps to get your device setup including the Country you live in, the frequency you wish to transmit on (check your bandplan),  the default mode of operation (C4FM, DSTAR, DMR), your preferred room or talkgroup and a few other settings. Once it's setup and running, you can start using it with your radio. 

The OpenSpot4PRO has  performed really well and hasn't given me any headaches at all - even during Cross-Mode operation. I'm very pleased indeed with it. I can switch from using my home wi-fi to my phone's hotspot when outdoors, switch between modes, switch rooms and all done very easily.

Would I recommend it?? At £300+ probably not. That's just too much money for me. But if you save a search on eBay and find a bargain, yes! Apart from its capabilities with a radio, I also love the fact that you can use it without one! That's a very nice feature. 

If you read through the comments at the bottom of the page, there's sure to be people who have different requirements than me and find the OpenSpot4PRO lacking something that they need. That's always going to be the case, but for me personally, it does everything I need and lots more.

And finally.....

It turned out that my OpenSpot2 wasn't faulty after all. The problem was the USB power-supply that it was plugged into 😲 Out of frustration, I tried a new USB-PSU, not expecting it to be that and it worked superbly. Lesson learned.


openSPOT4 Pro

The openSPOT4 Pro extends the feature set of the openSPOT4 with onboard transcoding hardware:

  • The openSPOT4 Pro has the best voice quality in cross mode operation
  • Supports D-STAR® cross modes: use your D-STAR® transceiver to access DMR, C4FM, NXDN® networks, or your DMR, C4FM, NXDN® transceiver to access D-STAR® networks
  • You don’t need a transceiver for the Pro! Use the free SharkRF Link app on your computer or phone to talk.
  • Supports call audio playback on the web interface
  • Supports 10 configuration profiles

Compatible digital radio protocols and networks

  • DMR (BrandMeister, DMRplus, DMR-MARC, Phoenix, XLX, TGIF and others)
  • D-STAR® (DCS, REF/DPlus, XRF/DExtra, XLX)
  • System Fusion®/C4FM (FCS, YSFReflector, XLX)
  • NXDN® (NXDNReflector)
  • P25 (P25Reflector)
  • APRS® messaging and location data forwarding (APRS-IS)

Supports cross modes* (example: talk with your D-STAR® transceiver on DMR, and with your DMR transceiver on D-STAR® networks).

Key features

  • Built-in Li-ion battery with up to 30 hours of operation**
  • Built-in transcoding hardware* for the best voice quality in cross mode operation
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and radio antenna
  • Built-in beeper with audible status tones
  • Free SharkRF Link app for computers and phones for easy web interface access. You can use the app as a transceiver with the Pro version!
  • Web-based easy and fast Quick Setup
  • Call audio playback on the web interface*
  • No additional hardware required, works out of the box without a computer
  • USB-C charge cable included in the box
  • Use even in your vehicle with extreme fast bootup and USB power supply tolerance
  • User manual available online
  • 2 year warranty
  • Web interface for configuration and monitoring
  • Create your own private radio network using our open source server application

State of the art hardware and software design

  • The openSPOT4 and the openSPOT4 Pro are the only complete hotspot on the market which is:

    • customly designed as a fully dedicated device for standalone operation (no Raspberry Pi® or anything like that is used or needed)
    • has a built-in battery
    • has built-in transcoding hardware, and supports D-STAR® cross mode operation*
    • using fully embedded software written in pure C, running on a custom-tailored embedded real time operating system. This means no Linux, no bulky Windows software, no failing SD cards – but extreme durability, reliable operation and fast bootup.
  • No desktop PC software or drivers to install
  • Supports fast battery charging with USB charger detection
  • 20mW UHF RF output, see the specifications
  • Extreme fast bootup: under 5 seconds**** from powerup to connected to a server and ready to use
  • Supports scheduling an automatic daily wakeup and powerdown
  • Built-in Wi-Fi access point mode for quick and easy connecting to Wi-Fi networks
  • Multiple Wi-Fi network support with automatic connect and reconnect
  • Fully automatic over the air firmware upgrades for new features
  • Bright multicolor LED with brightness control for easy real time state and battery LED for charge status monitoring

**** Depends on the speed of the Wi-Fi router, Wi-Fi network and internet connection conditions.

Very easy to use

  • Built-in voice announcements
  • BrandMeister Manager and Quick Call on the web interface for DMR TG/reflector linking/unlinking
  • DMR SMS chat
  • DMR ID database lookup
  • Controllable with calls from your radio to preconfigured IDs/callsigns
  • Built-in echo service for testing

Frequently asked questions

What are the openSPOT4 and openSPOT4 Pro good for?
Let’s say you live in Budapest, and talk to your friends on the local DMR repeater HG5RUC, which is linked to talkgroup ID 216 (TG216) on the BrandMeister network.

If you travel around the world, where you can’t reach the repeater HG5RUC directly, you can still talk with your friends by using an openSPOT4 or openSPOT4 Pro and a DMR (or cross mode compatible) transceiver by connecting it to the same network and talkgroup which HG5RUC uses (TG216, BM). If you speak with your transceiver on the openSPOT4 or openSPOT4 Pro’s frequency, it will route your call to TG216, and HG5RUC will transmit your signals all around Budapest, so your friends will be able to hear and talk to you.

If you don’t have local repeater coverage, the openSPOT4 and openSPOT4 Pro can link you to supported digital networks all around the world. You can talk to people living on the other side of the world very easily.

If you have the openSPOT4 Pro, then you don’t even need a digital transceiver! You can use the free SharkRF Link app to talk.

What if I already have local repeater coverage?
If you do have local repeater coverage, you can still make use of an openSPOT4 or openSPOT4 Pro to avoid interrupting local repeater traffic. You can reach any reflector or talkgroup with it, so you don’t have to disconnect the local repeater and disturb other local users.
What makes the openSPOT4 and the openSPOT4 Pro way better than any hotspot currently on the market?
Currently the openSPOT4 and the openSPOT4 Pro are the only hotspots on the market which are customly designed as a dedicated hardware unit for standalone operation. They do not need a computer, a Raspberry Pi®, an Arduino® board, SD card or any other hardware to operate. They don’t need slow desktop PC software or drivers to install. No Linux knowledge is needed at all. They have a built-in battery and the OpenSPOT4 Pro supports hardware audio transcoding for the best voice quality.


VE9KK said...

Good morning Tom, thanks for the review and up until I read your post I looked at these devices and others as just "gizmos". I was never sure what they were for or what they did. Thanks for the down to earth overview it was great!

Tom McQuiggan - MadDogMcQ said...

Many thanks for your kind comments Mike. Hope you are keeping well.

73, Tom, M7MCQ.

Anonymous said...

I have a Openspot4 pro and it works brilliantly, but being a DMR person the loss of duplex on an MMDVM hotspot is a deal breaker and also the loss of a Nextion display is also another issue where it can monitor traffic without a computer or phone, my existing MMDVM hotspots are reliable and just sit there permanently monitoring multiple TG’s both in static and dynamic on different timeslots. I have the Openspot 4 as an after thought for the transcoding and access to the networks without a radio.

MadDogMcQ said...

Thanks Ian (G0CTO),
Nice to see you at the Rally today. I’ve never had an MMDVM, so I can’t comment.

73, Tom, M7MCQ.