G5 Voice Pager as a Scanner - Review
August 15, 2016, updated October 13, 2018
I've mostly used Uniden, Radio Shack, and Whistler scanners to monitor police, fire, and other two-way radio, since I began scanning in about 1980. Every so often throughout the decades, radio systems were upgraded to the latest technology. Sometimes it was simply leaving lower frequencies for higher frequencies, then it was trunking, then it was digital trunking, and encryption, etc. The scanner manufacturers often kept pace with new products that kept me scanning. As more systems went digital over the past several years, it became more difficult to easily hear many of the services we were so use to hearing. Because these new digital radio systems require more towers to provide reliable coverage for their users, it's often difficult to monitor the systems with existing scanners available from the only two scanner makers, Uniden and Whistler. Essentially, the scanners are not able to handle receiving the same signal from different directions. This problem may be called simulcast or multipath distortion, and has been around for years now. I'll leave it to you to Google that if you need to know more. Unfortunately, scanner makers do not seem interested in making scanners that work well with simulcast systems. Commercial radios do not suffer from the same problem because they are designed and manufactured to higher standards. While it's possible for some people to get their hands on commercial radio equipment for scanning purposes, it's often significantly more expensive and too complicated to tackle for many of us who simply want to be able to hear the action without the need to transmit. We can use several low-tech techniques(Yagi antennas, paperclips for antennas, coffee cans, etc.) to improve reception for fixed position scanning, like at home or work, but those often do not provide any relief in mobile situations.
Now there's a solution that fits somewhere in between a low quality, consumer grade scanner and a professional grade two-way radio. The Unication G4 and G5 "Voice Pagers" were designed as a relatively, inexpensive, but rugged and reliable receive-only device for alerting first-responders. Volunteer firefighters have used pagers for decades to be notified when they need to respond to the station or a scene. Generally, these paging systems monitor a single frequency. The pager could be "silenced", so that the speaker would only be opened up, or turned on, when a specific set of tones came across the frequency. There are several different paging protocols that made this possible. The Unication G4 and G5 Voice Pagers bring the latest digital technology into the mix. Now, a P25 channel(conventional or trunked), can be used to alert first-responders as well as the older analog protocols.
What's so great about this for us scanner listeners? Not only did Unication make the G4 and G5 really good at monitoring a single channel, they also added the ability to tune into a particular P25 channel after receiving a page, so first responders could listen to voice traffic for more information from dispatch, or the scene. You can also program in scanning, so that many different channels can be monitored.
The best part is that Unication designed and made the hardware well enough to work on simulcast systems without the simulcast distortion problems that plague lower grade scanners.
While they do not have all of the bells and whistles of the latest generation of scanners from Uniden and Whistler, the Unication G4 and G5 can perform as scanners with some smart programming. Don't get me wrong, I love all of the bells and whistles of scanners, but if you cannot hear what you want to hear, what good are they? I have sold some of my scanners to fund more Unications. I currently have 3 G4s and a G4., but I'll keep most of the scanners for their versatility.
If you want to monitor P25Trunked, Phase I or II systems(a fairly common system these days) without simulcast problems, the Unication G4 and G5 Voice Pagers may be well worth the investment. You can also monitor P25 conventional and analog conventional frequencies.
The G4 is a single band(700/800Mhz), and the G5s are dual band(700/800Mhz and VHF(137-174Mhz) or 700/800Mhz and UHF(either 400-470Mhz or 450-520Mhz). They include a heavy duty USB charging cable with AC adapter as well as the appropriate antenna, and the PPS software used to program the devices. They advertise 128 channels, but in reality for trunked systems, there's much more capacity. Basically there are up to 64 zones with 8 channel positions in each zone. A channel position can be a single conventional frequency(P25 or analog), a scan list of 16 conventional channels(already programmed in another channel position), a trunked talk group, or a scan list of up to 64 talk groups. I have almost all 64 zones, with only a handful without all 8 channel positions defined. That's more than the 128 channels that Unication advertises. There are lots of different alert tones you can set or customize yourself. However, I do not find those particularly useful when using it as a scanner. I've programmed mine with "silent" alerts.
As far as programming trunked system talkgroups go, up to 64 of them can be programmed into a channel position. There's an option to prioritize them, so that talk groups higher in the list will override those lower in the list. That is how I have mine programmed, with priority on. I've seen reports from others that even when the Priority Talk Group ID option is unchecked, the devices still scan that way. I believe it's a known issue to Unication, and believe they are addressing it in the next firmware version.
The main reason I bought mine was to monitor a very large system with lots of users and channels. It's not possible to include every talk group, nor do I want to. In some sense, you're forced to find your most important 64 talkgroups, or less. It's actually probably a good exercise in focusing your scanning on what you really want to hear. In some cases, I've programmed channel position 1 in a zone with a large list of 64 talk groups to give me an idea of what is going on with all of those users. Then, if need be, I can easily rotate using the channel knob, to other positions. In those other channels, I've programmed fewer talkgroups that focus on a particular geographic area or department. In some cases, I may only have one talk group in a channel, so that I can listen, uninterrupted to that particular talk group.
Changing zones involves using the soft menu system and several different buttons and the selection control. It's a bit more awkward than a scanner, but I understand the devices are generally designed to be sitting on a particular frequency or talk group waiting for something to alert on. They were not designed for us scanners users who often change enabled systems, banks, channels, etc. Once you've changed a zone, there's a bit of a delay as the new "channel" is loaded, and then more key presses are required to get back out of the nested soft menu. I think one of the best things Unication can do to help scanner uses is make changing zones simpler. There are some keys that are essentially unused, as best as I can tell, and I hope they will consider using those to simplify changing zones. There's an option to "add a wildcard talkgroup to " a trunked system, which would be similar to search or open mode on some scanners, allowing you to hear talkgroups, even if you do not have them programmed in. The downside is that encrypted channels are NOT muted, so you would hear digital noise.
The G Series Pre-Programming Software(PPS) may seem a bit awkward at first to scanner users, but it's actually easy to get use to. It basically walks you through programming conventional frequencies or trunked systems. Then you add talkgroups(which are not tied to a particular trunk system). Next you program the Zones and channels with information from the frequencies, trunked systems, and group IDs. Before programming, there's more options that can be configured. The supplied USB/micro cable(like on Android phones), is also used to connect the G series to your computer. Programming is very quick. They are also working on a separate program for transferring audio recordings from the devices to your PC. The beta version of that software took a while to download 1000 audio clips, but when done, it was easy to play and save those elsewhere. A separate text file, similarly named included channel information.
Here are some of the pros and cons that I've found, since I received my Unication in early July, 2016.
Actually works, and works great on LSM(Linear Simulcast Modulation) P25 trunked systems (no Yagi antennas or paper clips required!)
Receives distant systems very well
No messing with receiving parameters(digital thresholds, DSP Levels, Gains, etc.) like with lower grade scanners. It just works.
System, Site, IDs etc. can be used, so that it only hears the system you intend to hear. Lower grade scanners get confused when there are band openings that let distant systems through.
Good solid feel with IP67 (waterproof/dustproof rating)
Small, easy to carry around
Record and Easily Playback
Software included for programming.
Bluetooth speaker/earphone/headphone capability
Charges while you use it
Originally they were pricey compared to low-grade consumer scanners, but now they're actually very reasonable and they work!
No hold/continue scanning function(hopefully this will be added, but with some thoughtful programming, it's not as difficult as you might think)
Can only scan one system/site at a time
Too many steps to change zones. After using them for a couple years, this really isn't as big a deal as I originally thought.
Receiving an active transmission changes screen from menu to receiving info
Conventional scan, relies on knob positions
No wired head/ear phone jack
encrypted talkgroups are not ignored or muted
Zero volume isn't muted, audio still comes through. They have the on duty/off duty function, but I'd rather not use that.
Make the Home Key hold on a talk group
Make the Reset and/or Function buttons(on left side), programmable to do more useful things, like return to Zone 1.
Assuming that changing zones stays menu-driven, after changing zones through menu, clear the menu, so you don't have to click undo/back several times.
Make a very long hey press or hold of the Home key return you to Zone 1.
Mute or ignore encrypted channels
I'd like for the speaker to be totally muted when the volume is turned to zero. That way I don't disturb anyone, or myself, if I'm napping, but the G5 can keep on recording while it's turned down to zero.
Plan your programming so it's easy to switch to different profiles using the channel position knob.
Program a zone with lots talkgroups in the first position, then the same profile with fewer
talkgroups in following channel positions, so you can focus in on particular talkgroups. The software allows you to easily copy and paste zones.
Change Zone #s to meaningful names so you can remember what's in a zone.
Right-click in software for more options, like moving entire zones up or down in the list.
Power-Cycle: If you need to power cycle without, removing the batteries, here's a suggestion that I saw on Radio Reference from Unication Dave. "OK for those having the audio issue I need your assistance... the next time your unit experiences this issue instead of pulling the battery try this. Hold down both side buttons and the top voice playback button at the same time once the screen goes off and the 3 lights come on release. This should power cycle your unit. i am trying to determine if the issue is hardware or software."
Where to Buy:
Rays Pagers (http://www.rayspagersales.com/) - Ray was the quickest and best at responding to my questions. Once I placed my order, he followed through with shipping information as he said he would.
Once I decided to order one, I was really hoping the $895(As of late January 2017 the prices are quite a bit lower at $565.25(G4) to $660.25(G5)) that I spent would be worth it. That's a lot of money that could have been used on a couple of scanners, camera equipment, or bicycling gear. I'm very happy with my purchase of the Unication G5 (700/800/VHF). I'm now able to consistently hear the system I wanted to monitor, in my car, without missing traffic, and without special antennas, or just-right vehicle position, wind direction, time of day, etc. I find myself using the playback function more often than on my Uniden and Whistler scanners, when I miss something(usually because another radio is too loud, or I had the volume down during a nap). It's easier and more reliable to go back and get call details.
Will it replace all of my scanners? No, but I may replace many of them with more G4s. While it's certainly not for every situation or every one, if you need to monitor a 700/800/VHF/UHF, P25 Trunked System reliable, without simulcast problems, I believe it's a good investment. I think many scanner users do not realize what they are missing due to simulcast problems. I also sincerely hope that Uniden and Whistler will step up their game, and follow Unication's lead in making higher quality receivers that are up to the task. Some of their scanners would TOTALLY ROCK, if they received simulcast systems reliably.
Ben Saladino, KC5IRJ
Update 1/28/2017: Prices are now quite a bit lower. Currently $565.25 for the G4 and $660.25 for the G5.
I now own 3 G4s as well as a G5-VHF. One of my G4s and all of the original batteries(they switched from LiPo to LiOn) have been replaced under warranty, and it was a fairly painless process, thanks to Rays Pagers and Unication. I do fireground photography in all weather, and have dropped the G5 many times, and it's still working. There's no way any scanner I've ever owned would still be working after similar incidents.
Unication G4/G5 Brochure
Radio Reference thread on the Unication Voice Pagers
For the latest firmware and programming software, please see the link at the thread below.
Video on programming the Unication G5 with the PPS software.
Video comparing the Unication G5 to the Uniden BCD436HP and Whistler 1080 scanners.
Rays Pager Sales