NCE Radio

Starting the NCE Pro-Cab Radio

The most reliable way to start the radio is to press the e-stop and the enter button at the same time, this yields vastly improved response over just the e-stop as stated in the manual.

Radio Notes & History

  • The Radio supports Cab addresses 3 through 49 for a total of 47 cabs. (Addresses 1, 2 and 18 are reserved)
  • The radio is going to force some cab address conventions to be used. Addresses 3-17 are ProCab (and ProCab like cabs) and 19-49 are smaller cabs (Cab04 - Cab05). The radio limits Master/Pro Cabs to the address range of 3 to 17. If you use a Master/Pro cab or any cab with a display above address 17, the display will not function, but the key press actions will still work. Essentially it is like using a smaller Engineer's Cab (cab04/Cab05). An Engineer cab is capable of working in the 3 to 17 range but there will be a reduction in response time for that cab since the radio base station thinks it is talking to a Master/Pro cab. Not recommended.
  • Average radio range can vary a lot. Some people get 25 Foot radius while others get a 50+ Foot radius. Unobstructed line of site range is much longer. Sources of interference such as computers, wireless phones, wireless computer network, screen wire scenery supports all work to reduce the range. The human body will also block the signal. NCE makes no promises as to the range you can expect in you particular situation.
  • The radio will use any type of AAA battery such as rechargeable or standard using 4 cells. As long as the TOTAL battery voltage is between 3.6V to 12V, the radio will run from it. The radio cab does NOT recharge batteries. You must provide your own charger.
  • Battery Life: Using Alkaline batteries (1250mAH), it is calculated an Engineer cab can last for about 60 hours if used for 2 or 3 hour stretches. That translates to about 30 to 40 operating sessions. A master cab will last about 2/3 to 1/2 as long due to the extra power required by the LCD backlight or about 15 to 25 operating sessions. To maximize battery life on the master cab, the backlight turns on for 3 seconds when you press a button that will require reading of the display. You can also press the "SHIFT" key to just turn on the light for 5 seconds. Smaller cabs can also get away with just 2 AAA cells but will only get about 25-30 hours.) Jim is also testing Ray-O-Vac NiMH rechargeable cells (750mAH). Results to be posted later.
  • You can plug the radio cab into the cab bus at any time. The radio automatically shuts off control of the train remains the same. This includes conditions where the battery dies. Just plug in the cab to regain control. The ProCab detects low battery voltage (3-3.6V) and displays "BATTERY" in the fast clock position on the LCD. This can be defeated.
  • Out of radio range conditions/symptoms are as follows. (Most of this has been eliminated in the latest units shipping (2011))
    1. ​The Master/Pro Cab display update will "USUALLY" start to slow down first. For example, you will still be able to change train speed without noticing any change in response, but the display will not keep up with the current speed step value in real time. As you approach maximum range the update of the speed steps stops completely but actual control of the train continues. As you move back closer to the base station the display updates will resume but may come in 'out of order' i.e.: "FWD: 021" "FWD:018" "FWD:024". A more deliberate (not harder) press of a button of say, two seconds, generally results in better results. This response is the same as the Engineer Cab.
    2. The Engineer cab range limit show up when you get erratic control or key press command lag. You will only know when you do something and nothing happens. Like the master cab, a more deliberate (not harder) press of a button for say, two seconds, generally results in better results.

More range notes:
The Engineer cabs will "seem" to have more range than the Master/Pro cab does but the range is the same. You will think it is less because you see the FIRST effects of the range limitations in a master Cab display because of how the radio works. In fact you can have a non functional display and still control your train. At that point the master cab will act like an Engineer cab with no display and continue to control the train. But when you finally hit the range limit, there is no warning on either cab. It would be best to "MAP OUT" the limit of the radio range before you run some real trains. We've had good results placing the base station on the ceiling with the antenna pointing down.

Some Technical Notes about the Radio for those who are interested.

The radio base station acts like a mini command station for the radio cabs only. It keeps a copy of each radio cab current status in its internal memory. When the real command station comes along and want to talk to cab, say a radio master cab 15, the command station will read from the radio base station who has a copy of cab 15 status. The real command station has no idea it talking to a radio cab or more specifically, the radio base station than talking to radio cab 15. The radio base station job is to prevent isolate the radio cab bus from the wired cab bus. It does this so that issues such as radio noise or out of range problem that would cause memory loss of cab control from effecting the wired cab bus. The radio base station always presents a clean picture of the radio cabs to the command station. For example, if the cab goes out of radio range, the radio base station keep the last know status of the radio cab in question on hand keeping the status quo. At the same time, if the command station sent a message to the cab, the base station stored that information as well. Mean while the radio station keeps trying to restore communication with cab. On the cab side, the out of range cab key press sequences are kept in a local memory waiting to be sent to the base station. Once communication is restored, the base station check the cab for new key presses to pass on to the command stations. The stored key pressed sequences are then passed on to the radio base station and then on to the command station. When that is done, then the radio cab display is updated. Since reading of a cab has higher priority than updating the display, this is the reason the cab display may lag the key presses. The goal is reliable communication over fast communication. No lost key presses can be tolerated for they would cause unforeseen consequences. Hence the radio base station and cab radio are in constant check with each other. Consequently the polling of the radio cabs is different from the wired cab bus due to the nature of naturally occurring real world radio problems.

The radio uses 916.55MHz at 0.00025W (0.25mW). One of the delays in the radio was caused by the FCC reduction of radio transmission power from 1mW to the lower wattage during the radio cab development. Hence radio range became an issue and more changes where needed in the radio to compensate for this loss.

If you are wondering why the master cabs are limited to the first 16 radio addresses, it simply was an issue of cache memory in the base station. Each cab with a display must have a copy of the contents of the display in local memory so the display can be restored or updated when momentary loss of radio communication goes away and operation resumes. Bottom line, the radio base station processor has only room for 16 cab display's worth of memory.

Finally in case you wanted to know, the reason the cab address range stopped at 46 was simply a recognition of practicality and the fact the clubs using AIU (Auxiliary Input Unit or the logic signal feedback device) need to have some ranges of addresses reserved for their use.