Update: More on Olivia, the Great Compromise Mode

Some HF digital modes were designed for long-distance (DX) radio-wave propagation via the ionosphere. One such keyboard-to-keyboard digital mode is Olivia.

Friday evening, 8 December 2017, at 0200 UTC {9-DEC}, Larry, N7ZDR, called an Olivia-mode 80-Meter digital roundtable net. The following video is a snapshot of about nine minutes of on-air net operations as received at my location in Omaha, Nebraska.  My antenna is a wire run from an SEA marine autotuner mounted under the three-story-high roof’s eaves.  I live in a high-RF environment within two miles of eight high-powered broadcast antenna facilities–TV, FM, AM–as well as business and public-service transmitters.   All that RF desensitizes my receiver.  The noise floor is also affected by industrial-level man-made RF noise.

No, Olivia is not lightening-fast keyboard-to-keyboard chatting, but it can get the job done. This following video shows some real-world operation in which the very weakest signals did not decode well. However, even with the 80-Meter band (center frequency is 3585 kHz) really difficult to work with, it did well in terms of what was available for the Ham Radio Deluxe DM780 software to decode.

Example QSO in Olivia Video:

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. One other mode is better than Olivia for keyboard-to-keyboard comms under difficult conditions: MT63. Yet, Olivia is a good compromise that delivers a lot.

Join us — not just on the HF waterfall, but by joining our email-based group at:

–> https://Groups.Io/g/olivia

or, on Facebook at:

–> https://www.facebook.com/groups/olivia.hf

Thanks for spreading the Olivia love!  See you on the waterfall.

Addendum: 

Current CENTER Frequencies With 8/250 (eight tones, 250-Hz bandwidth): 

1.8269 MHz
3.5729 MHz
7.0729 MHz
10.1429 MHz
14.0729 MHz
18.1029 MHz
21.0729 MHz
24.9229 MHz
28.1229 MHz

See the pattern?

The current suggested CENTER frequency with 16/1000 or 32/1000 on 20 meters is 14.1059.

(Why the xxx…9 frequencies? Experts say that ending in a non-zero odd number is easier to remember!)

Q: What’s a ‘CENTER’ Frequency? Is That Where I Set My Radio’s Dial?

For those new to waterfalls: the CENTER frequency is the CENTER of the cursor shown by common software. The cursor is what you use to set the transceiver’s frequency on the waterfall. If your software’s waterfall shows the frequency, then you simply place the cursor so that its center is right on the center frequency listed, above. If your software is set to show OFFSET, then you might, for example, set your radio’s dial frequency to 14.0714, and place the center of your waterfall cursor to 1500 (1500 Hz). That would translate to the 14.0729 CENTER frequency.

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 configurations are popular in some areas of the world (Europe) and on certain bands.

These different choices in bandwidth and tone settings can cause some confusion and problems–so many formats and so many other digital modes can make it difficult to figure out which mode you are seeing and hearing. 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 next 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, using any digital mode such as Olivia, to TURN ON the RSID feature as shown in this example. In Fldigi, the RSID is the TXID and RXID; make sure to Check (turn on) each, the TXID and RXID.

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!

RSID Setting:

+ NOTE 1: The MixW software 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 that lists the frequency, mode, and configuration with a link to click, does not work. HRD support is aware of the problem. You can still use the textual version that shows up in the DECODED TEXT window, a feature of RSID that you can select in the HRD DM780 program settings. This setting ensures that the detected RSID details appear in the receive text area. 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.

Voluntary Olivia Channelization 

Since Olivia signals can be decoded even when received signals are extremely weak, (signal to noise ratio of -14db), signals strong enough to be decoded are sometimes below the noise floor and therefore impossible to search for manually. As a result, amateur radio operators have voluntarily decided upon channelization for this mode. This channelization allows even imperceptibly weak signals to be properly tuned for reception and decoding. By common convention amateur stations initiate contacts utilizing 8/250, 16/500, or 32/1000 configuration of the Olivia mode. After negotiating the initial exchange, sometimes one of the operators will suggest switching to other configurations to continue the conversation at more reliable settings, or faster when conditions allow. The following table lists the common center frequencies used in the amateur radio bands.

Olivia (CENTER) Frequencies (kHz) for Calling, Initiating QSOs

It is often best to get on standard calling frequencies with this mode because you can miss a lot of weak signals if you don’t. However, with Olivia activity on the rise AND all the other modes vying for space, a good deal of the time you can operate wherever you can find a clear spot–as close as you can to a standard calling frequency.

Note: some websites publish frequencies in this band, that are right on top of weak-signal JT65, JT9, and FT8 segmentsDO NOT QRM weak-signal QSOs!

We (active Olivia community members) suggest 8/250 as the starting settings when calling CQ on the USB frequencies designated as ‘Calling Frequencies.’ A Calling Frequency is a center frequency on which you initially call, ‘CQ CQ CQ. . .’ and then, with the agreement of the answering operator, move to a new nearby frequency, changing the number of tones and bandwidth at your discretion. Even though 8/250 is slow, the CQ call is short. But, it is narrow, to allow room for other QSOs nearby. It is also one of the best possible Olivia configurations for weak-signal decoding.

– End of Addendum –

73

Tomas Hood, NW7US, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Nebraska, USA. Tomas is the Space Weather and Radio Propagation Contributing Editor to 'CQ Amateur Radio Magazine', 'The Spectrum Monitor', and 'RadioUser UK Magazine'.

3 Responses to “Update: More on Olivia, the Great Compromise Mode”

  • Harry K7ZOV:

    I really like Olivia and the magic it has done in the past with making solid contacts, even when you can’t see anything in the waterfall. It is in my list of use based on the band conditions, although I have also used it just for fun.

    When the conditions are really good enough I will be on SSB.
    When the conditions get marginal I will switch to PSK, CW (which in my case is QRS), and Olivia is possible.
    When the conditions are really bad and SSB is out and PSK is not working well and CW is deal then it be Olivia
    When the conditions are really, really bad then JT-65, FT8
    When the conditions are really, really, really bad VHF/UHF Satellite using my old TS-711 and TS-811 into omni-directional Eggbeater antennas.

    One last thing about Olivia is that it really does make 80 and 40 meter come alive when all else fails and you want a interactive QSO and not WSJT-X Zombie QSO’s. Don’t get me wrong, I have had a ball with FT8 and for the first time in my 52 yrs at being a ham I finally have wallpaper. ARRL DXCC and WAS and 9 others from eQSL. I just like making real communication and reliable and Olivia does that.

  • Thank you for your feedback, Harry. I hope to see you on the waterfall. 73 de NW7US

  • Walt n5eqy:

    I have managed to make a couple of contacts on Olivia, however the JT’s FT’s and other robotic nonstop modes have proliferated the entire digital spectrum and its nearly impossible to maintain a contact thru the robot digi crowd. Good luck with Olivia, its a nice mode if ya can find a space to use it. 🙂

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