Come Join the Fun With Olivia on HF (Shortwave Digital Mode Olivia)

For those of you who have dived into the crowded but fun pool of FT8 operation or one of the other Joe Taylor modes (such as JT65 or JT9) and are excited now about digital modes, here’s something you might enjoy, too.  Unlike those modes that allow you to make quick work of getting DX stations into your logbook, simply by exchanging callsigns, a signal report, and a grid square, there are other modes that offer keyboard-to-keyboard conversational QSO opportunities.

One such mode is known as Olivia and this mode offers keyboard-to-keyboard chatting for when you want to relax, and maybe make a friend.  Ham radio is the oldest electronic social networking infrastructure.

In 2005, SP9VRC, Pawel Jalocha, released to the world a mode that he developed starting in 2003 to overcome difficult radio signal propagation conditions on the shortwave (high-frequency, or HF) bands. By difficult, we are talking significant phase distortions and low signal-to-noise ratios (SNR) plus multipath propagation effects. The Olivia-modulated radio signals are decoded even when it is ten to fourteen dB below the noise floor.  That means that Olivia is decoded when the amplitude of the noise is slightly over three times that of the digital signal!

Olivia decodes well under other conditions that are a complex mix of atmospheric noise, signal fading (QSB), interference (QRM), polar flutter caused by a radio signal traversing a polar path. Olivia is even capable when the signal is affected by auroral conditions (including the Sporadic-E Auroral Mode, where signals are refracted off of the highly-energized E-region in which the Aurora is active).

Currently, the only other digital modes that match or exceed Olivia in their sensitivity are some of the modes designed by Joe Taylor as implemented in the WSJT programs, including FT8, JT65A, and JT65-HF–each of which are certainly limited in usage and definitely not able to provide true conversation capabilities.  Olivia is useful for emergency communications, unlike JT65A or the newly popular FT8.

Here is a demonstration of a two-way transmission using the Olivia digital mode on shortwave. I am in QSO (conversation) with KA5TPJ. There are two other Olivia QSOs just below our frequency. Just above us is a lot of FT8 activity. Below the two other Olivia QSOs are PSK31 QSOs. The band is active. Olivia is not dead!

The standard Olivia formats (shown as the number of tones/bandwidth in Hz) are 8/250, 8/500, 16/500, 8/1000, 16/1000, and 32/1000. Some even use 16/2000 for series emergency communication. The most commonly-used formats are 16/500, 8/500, and 8/250.  However, the  32/1000 and 16/1000 are popular in some areas of the world and on certain bands.

This can cause some confusion and problems with so many formats and so many other digital modes. After getting used to the sound and look of Olivia in the waterfall, though, it becomes easier to identify the format when you encounter it.  To aid in your detection of what mode is being used, there is a feature of many digital-mode software implementation suites: the RSID. The video, below, is a demonstration on how to set the Reed-Solomon Identification (RSID) feature in Ham Radio Deluxe’s Digital Master 780 module (HRD DM780).

I encourage ALL operators in any digital mode such as Olivia, set the RSID feature on as shown in this example.  In Fldigi, the RSID is the TXID and RXID (I believe).

Please make sure you are using the RSID (Reed Solomon Identification – RSID or TXID, RXID) option in your software.  RSID transmits a short burst at the start of your transmission which identifies the mode you are using.  When it does that, those amateur radio operators also using RSID while listening will be alerted by their software that you are transmitting in the specific mode (Olivia, hopefully), the settings (like 8/250), and where on the waterfall your transmission is located.  This might be a popup window and/or text on the receive text panel. When the operator clicks on that, the software moves the waterfall cursor right on top of the signal and changes the mode in the software. This will help you make more contacts!

+ NOTE 1:  MixW doesn’t have RSID features. Request it!

+ NOTE 2: A problem exists in the current paid version of HRD’s DM780: the DM780 RSID popup box to click does not work. HRD support is aware of the problem. You can still use the textual version that you can select in the settings so that it appears in the receive text areas. If you click the RSID link that comes across the text area, DM780 will tune to the reported signal, and change to the correct settings.

+ NOTE 3: some websites publish frequencies that are right on top of weak-signal FT8, JT65 and JT9 segments. Even if that is a matter of contention, follow the regulations and be kind: DO NOT QRM weak-signal QSOs! AGAIN: make sure that your signal does not cross into other sub-bands where weak-signal modes are active. For instance, do not have any part of your signal at x.074 or higher, as this is the sub-band for FT8, JT65A, and JT9.

Quick Reference: we in the active Olivia group suggest 8/250 as the starting settings when calling CQ on the USB dial frequency of 14.072 MHz with an offset of 700 Hz, on 20m–that translates to a CENTER frequency of 14.0729 MHz. On 40m, 7.072 MHz on the dial with an offset of 700 Hz (and again 8/250) which translates to a center frequency of 7.0729 MHz.

An example of the calling frequency on 20 meters with a center frequency of 14.0729 MHz, 8 tones, and a bandwidth of 250 Hz.

An example of the calling frequency on 20 meters with a center frequency of 14.0729 MHz, 8 tones, and a bandwidth of 250 Hz.

Also, do not quickly switch to other modes without calling CQ for at least a five-minute window. It is really horrid when people call CQ and change settings, modes, bandwidths, tones, every time they call CQ during the same session!

There are several key resources that we in the Olivia community are developing, to make it easier for you to enter into the great world of Olivia.  One is an active support e-mail group to which you can subscribe at https://groups.io/g/Olivia — a group containing topical areas of interest which can be filtered so that you are not flooded by email containing topics of which you are not interested.  It has a files section, as well, in which we will add helpful how-to instructions and so on.

Another resource is our Facebook group, at https://www.Facebook.com/groups/olivia.hf — also with a files area containing help files.  This group is a great resource for getting help from like-minded Olivia digital mode enthusiasts.

Some more eavesdropping on an Olivia QSO:

And, two more:

One last note: Olivia is NOT a weak-signal mode. There are no points won by barely making a contact. In the USA FCC regulations, you are directed to use only the power necessary to make the QSO.  Typically, with poor propagation, using Olivia with an output power of 100w is the minimum to establish a reliable circuit. You just cannot go beyond your rig’s duty cycle (don’t burn out the finals in your radio!). You also must be sure that you do not overdrive the audio chain into your radio. Be sure that you do not have RF coming back into your audio chain. Yes, 100 watts is acceptable. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. After all, think about RTTY.

Welcome to Olivia!  See you on the waterfall.

73 de NW7US

Tomas Hood, NW7US, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Nebraska, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

10 Responses to “Come Join the Fun With Olivia on HF (Shortwave Digital Mode Olivia)”

  • N6RLS:

    I see a few very strong FT8 signals, from distances that suggest some folks are running a lot of power on what I thought was supposed to be a weak signal mode. What is the suggested power for FT8 signals? I’ve been trying to stay at or below 10 watts.

  • N6RLS, according to the rules and regulations of the FCC, stations under the jurisdiction of the FCC must follow this:

    97.313 Transmitter power standards.

    (a) An amateur station must use the minimum transmitter power necessary to carry out the desired communications.

  • Tony N8WAC:

    There is a misconception that digital modes such as JT65,JT9 and FT8 are QRP modes. This is the furthest from the truth. JT65 was designed for EME. Weak signal not QRP. FT8 was designed for use on VHF sporadic E. Sporadic E at times can be open or closed within minutes. Therefor the 15 second sequence using FT8. The above digital modes are so sensitive that operators use them for QRP. WSPR is however designed for QRP. As far as I know WSPR is the only mode designed for QRP. There may be another but I’m not sure what it may be.

  • Tony N8WAC:

    I concur, adamantly. But, there are many operators who are religious in their zeal for all things QRP. They mistake a waterfall full of harmonic traces as the fault of the transmitting ham, when in reality it is due to the receiving station being incorrectly adjusted at some point in the rf and/or audio chain. Those waterfall displays are not designed as a reference, but only as an operating guide to select the frequency on which the interesting operator is transmitting, so a QSO can ensue. If people would properly adjust their receivers and audio settings, those dirty waterfalls would clean up, and more decodes would occur.

  • Glenn W9IQ:

    “The Olivia-modulated radio signals are decoded even when it is ten to fourteen dB below the noise floor. That means that Olivia is decoded when the amplitude of the noise is slightly over three times that of the digital signal!”

    Just a sanity check on the math. A -10 dB SNR means that the signal is one tenth (1/10) the level of the noise while a -14 dB SNR means the signal is one twenty-fifth (1/25) that of the noise.

    But be aware that these SNR comparisons are made with a ~2 kHz wide spectrum. If the comparison was made using the actual occupied bandwidth, the results would be much less impressive.

    – Glenn W9IQ

    – Glenn W9IQ

  • Fred PA1FJ:

    Weak signal not QRO 1KW!!!
    Stop that unnecessary power! A good antenna does more than a linear!

  • Leon ZS6AYS:

    This sounds a great idea. I don’t know if this si the right place to ask, but what do you need to do/use Olivia and how much does it cost?

    73’s

    Leon
    ZS6AYS

  • Update: Olivia (Center) Frequencies

    Note: some websites publish frequencies that are right on top of weak-signal FT8, JT65 and JT9 segments. Even if that is a matter of contention, follow the regulations and be kind: DO NOT QRM weak-signal QSOs!

    AGAIN: make sure that your signal does not cross into other sub-bands where weak-signal modes are active. For instance, do not have any part of your signal at x.074 or higher, as this is the sub-band for FT8, JT65A, and JT9.

    Quick Calling Frequency Reference:

    we suggest 8/250 as the starting settings when calling CQ on the USB dial frequencies as follow: 3.5714 MHz, 7.0714 MHz, 10.141 MHz, 14.0714 MHz, etc.

    THAT TRANSLATES to the following CENTER FREQUENCIES with an offset of 1000 Hz:

    3.5729, 7.0729, 10.1429, 14.0729, and so on.

    See the pattern?

    Also: Do not switch to other modes without calling CQ for at least a five-minute window. It is really horrid when people call CQ and change settings, modes, bandwidths, tones, every time they call CQ!

    TURN ON RSID (TXID and RXID in Fldigi)!

    73 de NW7US

  • N0LSD - Joe:

    To ZS6AYS:

    Thete are several software apps and programs one can use to send and receive Olivia: FLDigi, Ham Radio Deluxe are likely the two most popular. However, there is another option, if you have an Android tablet: AndFLMsg, which is available as a third-party app via Sourceforge.

    Many QRPers use the FT817ND to do digital modes, and the Wolphilink interface makes working digital modes with a tablet very easy and very light-weight…a big plus for SOTA/POTA/RaDAR activations, as well as backpacking/camping. There are Android apps for PSK31/63, RTTY, a Tx-only WSPR beacon, SSTV; all of these are available via the Google Play store. AndFLMsg fills a big void for some of the other modes like Olivia, Thor, MFSK…it is a pretty powerful app.

  • Walt n5eqy:

    Occasionally i manage to find a Olivia qso. However when I use the freqs listed in the suggested list all i hear is FT8 / JT9 /JT65. Sub bands???

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