If you haven’t already heard about PoC radios, which stands for PTT (Push-To-Talk) over Cellular, or sometimes referred to as just “PTT” radios, get ready because they are gaining in popularity, in part due to affordable radios like the Retevis RT51. The PoC radios function similarly to the old Nextel PTT phone/radios, which offer the benefits of always-connected mobile service, and the near-instantaneous functionality of a two-way radio.
While BetterSafeRadio caters more to the EmComm (Emergency Communications), Prepper & SHTF (S#it Hits The Fan) Survivalist markets, and of course during a SHTF event, there’s a good change that cell towers will be inundated or completely down, I do also serve the business and casual/family communications market, so I’m interested all technologies that help people connect. As such, I think these radios are much more suited to every-day business (and family/coordinated group) communications than the prepper/emergency/SHTF market. Retevis was nice enough to send me two radios so I could explore the technology, and hopefully this article will help you get up and running quickly.
Well-suited for small to large businesses that operate in areas where there’s already mobile service coverage, PoC offers clear and private digital communications, for two or more (up to thousands) users, across any distance in the US, and requires no costly FCC license, frequency coordination or repeater systems.
This is because your signal uses the existing 2G/3G/4G LTE cellular data service, which is available just about everywhere. Operation involves obtaining a SIM card and cellular data plan (500MB/month is usually plenty as these are very efficient radios), currently from either AT&T or T-Mobile.
As one might expect, advanced features like GPS location tracking, call message history and call voice recording/playback are included, which are great for companies that have employees spread out over a wide geographic area, whether it be a single city or nationwide.
The radios also require an annual subscription (only $10/per radio) from Retevis, to access their US-based PoC dispatch system, which coordinates and distributes the data for all users. This includes access to an online radio registration system where you can configure your network, including radio names and allowed features. You will also receive customer programming software (CPS), which allows you to configure the settings for each radio.
While this might all seem like a lot, it only has to be configured one time initially, and it’s easier than you might think. Continue reading for step-by-step instructions or watch the video to get to the heart of the configuration.
Step 1: Purchase Radios, USB Programming Cable, PoC Subscriptions & SIM Cards
When you order your radios, make sure you also purchase at least one USB programming cable. The PC28 FTDI USB Programming Cable (SKU C9055A) is recommended for a smooth driverless experience. You’ll need this to get the radios talking.
You’ll also need to purchase one annual Smart PoC Subscription (SKU BC01) for each radio.
Finally, you will need to order a standard-sized SIM card (not a mini or micro or nano or pico or quantum SIM – hehe) from either AT&T or T-Mobile. For this evaluation, I’ve chosen to use my existing AT&T family plan, which allows adding additional lines (these radios look like generic smartphones to the mobile carriers) at $10 each per month, and they will share my plan’s data with my actual cell phones (likely with very little impact, or of course absolutely no impact if you have an unlimited data plan).
I simply logged into my AT&T account, jumped into the shopping/store area, and ordered two of their Easy Online Activation SIM Card Kits, which were free! You will get to pick new phone numbers for these (which you’ll never likely use), and I received my cards in just a few days via FedEx Letter service. Note: Don’t be fooled by the “Easy” moniker – These were a major pain to activate! See the next section for details.
AT&T does offer a new Enhanced PTT business plan which might include cheaper plans at $5/month, but unfortunately, they never responded to my voice-mail for more information, so I’m not sure if they offer a standard SIM through that department.
So then, if we use my setup as an average cost-analysis, we’re looking at $120 per year for the SIM card/mobile service and $10 per year for the PoC subscription, per radio. The total per radio would be $130 per year. This does not include the cost of my actual mobile plan, but most families and companies will likely have an existing plan they can piggyback on like I’ve done here, but you’ll want to consider that cost as well, before jumping in.
While that may seem like a lot compared to just purchasing an analog radio with a one-time cost, but when you also consider repeater costs, FCC coordination and licensing fees, and the fact that that still only gives you maybe a 50-100 mile operating range (if that), you’ll see how quickly the saving of going with a PoC network will add up.
Step 2: SIM Card Activation
At least in my case, here’s the rub… AT&T does not currently recognize the Retevis RT51 radio, which doesn’t have an IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number, the unique 15-digit code assigned to identify every mobile GSM phone. While this PoC radio is not a phone, it looks like one to AT&T, and they will not let you activate your SIM card without assigning it to a specific model of “phone,” which can only be done with an IMEI number on the AT&T Easy Activate webpage:
I’m sure AT&T will evolve on this, but for now, the only way to activate your SIM is to create a “fake” IMEI number. After a couple hours (yes, hours!) on the phone with them, the one guy that understood what I was trying to do looked up the IMEI for an older Galaxy 7 smartphone, then changed the last 4 digits in the code, just to satisfy the activation process, and viola!, my SIM cards were activated. You may be able to skip the hours-long phone calls with AT&T and find your own smartphone IMEI number, change the last 4 digits, and use the AT&T Easy Activate webpage, but you risk running into the same problem I did next…
The catch here is that because the fake IMEI numbers were for an advanced smartphone (as opposed to say an older GSM flip-phone), AT&T charged me a smartphone accessory fee of more than double what they should have ($20 per month plus taxes, instead of $10/month per line). They also charged me a mobile phone activation fee, which wasn’t supposed to happen (at least it wasn’t readily disclosed, but perhaps buried in some fine print). After another hour or so on the phone, I was able to have all of the charges reversed, and because they still didn’t understand the PoC radios, I simply cancelled the 2 SIMs to avoid being charged further. I’m still not sure if AT&T could have found an IMEI that would work with these radios, but not charge the extra smartphone fees, but Retevis swears that many people are doing so (I’d sure like to know how).
If I were to try this again, I would indeed try and look up some IMEI numbers for an older phone to try and avoid the extra fees, or perhaps try harder to reach the AT&T business PTT services to see if they could activate the SIMs without faking the IMIE numbers. They do this for their own PTT devices, but because they probably want to sell their radios, they aren’t making it easy to use your own 3rd-party radios.
T-Mobile may offer a better (or worse) experience, but in terms of programming the radios and getting them up on your network, it doesn’t matter what mobile carrier you use, so I decided not to activate and test the radios through T-Mobile (yet). If you’re interested in having me look into this, leave a comment below and I’ll see what I can do.
Ready to Set Up Your PoC Network & Radios?
Once you have activated SIM cards, programming your radios is relatively easy, with a few tricks. Here’s what you’ll need:
- A pair of Retevis RT51 PoC radios (or just one if you’re adding to an existing network).
- A compatible USB programming cable.
- A Smart POC Subscription, purchased from Retevis along with your radios for ($10/radio per year). Retevis should send you the following info:
- Your Smart Ptt Management Platform Account Username & Password, where you will enable and manage all of the radios in your PoC Network via the web.
- A single IP Address for your PoC Network, found inside your radio using the RT51 Tools software. The US IP is: 188.8.131.52
- A PoC Radio Account ID (for each radio subscription), found inside each radio using the RT51 Tools software.
- The APN (Access Point Name) for your mobile network (for AT&T it’s “NXTGENPHONE”, for T-Mobile it’s “fast.t-mobile.com”, but I didn’t test this).
Step 3: Smart Ptt Manager Platform Configuration & RT51 Radio Account Programming
3A: First, you need to log into the 4G LTE Smart Ptt Management Platform, located at:
Use the Smart-PoC Username & Password that Retevis sent to you to log into your account.
After you log in, you’ll see something like this, but without some of the extra info filled in (and you may not see any devices listed yet):
The number next to the Device Management tab should show how many subscriptions were purchase on your account.
3B: Next, click on Add Device, or if there are already devices listed, click on the “Modify” link on the first device to edit the device details. You should see something like this:
3C: Now you need to plug in your USB Programming Cable, attach it to your first charged RT51 radio, and launch the RT51 Tools programming software, which you can download from the Retevis Resources page:
3D: Now, hold down Side-Key 1 (the one above the PTT button) on your radio and power it up. You can release the Side-Key once you see the “write code” screen like this, which will show the radio’s “account ID” (on the Name: line, you can ignore the other lines). You can note this account ID, but it will also show up in the programming software in the next step (note, this image is from a different radio, in case you wonder why my numbers don’t match up here):
3E: Select the correct Com Port, then click on the “Read” button at the very bottom. You should see a screen similar to this, showing the same “account ID” as on your radio’s display in the previous step:
3F: You’ll want to take note of or copy the “account ID” under the “Account writing management” section, then enter or paste it into the “Account” field for your Device in the Smart Ptt page that’s still open in your browser.
You can also create a new “password” (not “dealer password”) for each radio in the RT51 Tools software, and enter that into the Smart Ptt Device info as well.
If empty, you can also copy the “server IP” and enter it into the “IP address” under the “Account writing management” section in the RT51 Tools. However, if the IP address is missing or doesn’t match, just use this US IP address: 184.108.40.206 (as shown above).
Note that you can actually create a new radio “account ID” in the RT51 Tools for extra security if desired, just make sure you enter the same ID for the matching device in the Smart Ptt Management Platform. The default is 7 numerals, but you can use alpha characters also, up to 12 digits total.
In the Smart Ptt Device info, you may also wish to create a unique 7-character “Name” and a “remark” to help you identify your radios if you are adding a large amount. It’s not necessary to create any groups at this time, but you can switch to the “Groups” tab and name the default group (or create multiple groups if setting up a large network with many radios in different departments), then go back into each radio and set the default Group (as shown in the image above). You may also want to review the “Users Functions” allowed for each radio and add any features that interest you, but keep in mind that some features are data-heavy and will contribute to your data usage. Some features like “Remote kill” are not used often, as one can simple deactivate a radio in the Smart Ptt Management Platform to disable a rogue radio.
When you’re done, click on the “Save” button at the bottom of the page.
Make sure you switch back to the RT51 Tools and click on the “Write” button at the bottom to save your radio settings.
3G: There’s one more critical step that requires a bit of a workaround to complete, and that involved entering your mobile provider’s “APN setup.” For AT&T, only the “name” of “NXTGENPHONE” is required for the APN setup inside the RT51 tools, but there’s a trick to getting it to stick, at least with the version 220.127.116.11 software.
The radio will not write the APN setup unless you first write it with all 3 fields filled in. You’ll write temporary data into these fields, then you’ll remove the data and write one more time, as follows:
Check the box next to the “APN setup” section.
Enter “NXTGENPHONE” into the “name” field.
Enter some text into the “account ID” field, like your first name as this is just temporary.
Enter some text into the “password” field, like “123” as this is just temporary.
Now click on the “Write” button next to the “APN setup” section and wait for the confirmation.
Next, remove the text from both the “account ID” and “password” fields, then click on the APN “Write” button again. If successful, you can go ahead and uncheck the box next to the “APN setup” section.
You may also want to activate the “GPS on/off setup” section and turn that feature on or off, then use the “Write” button in that area to save your changes.
You can use the “Read” buttons in each section to confirm that the settings have “taken” to the radio as expected. When you’re done, you can turn off the radio and unplug the USB cable.
3H: Now repeat this process for your next radio, filling in the next Smart PoC device, or adding another new device. You can use the same “password” for each radio if you wish (although a unique password will be more secure), but each radio should have a unique “account ID,” and should look something like this (note the unique Account ID & Password, and I’ve also assigned a different Name and remark):
3I: Now, after everything is entered and saved, you should be able to remove the USB cable from the last radio, turn all your radios on (it takes about 10-15 seconds to boot and find your network), then refresh the Smart Ptt website and see a status “Statue” of “On Line” for all your radios.
Using these radios is fairly straight-forward. You can make a direct or group (default) call depending on the radio users features set, and just click the PTT button to make a call. Note that PoC radios do have a slight lag like regular cell phones.
If you go through this process or have already done so, please leave a comment below and let me know how it went for you, or if you have any tips on streamlining the process, and I’ll update this post for the benefit of everyone.
Enjoy & Be Safe!