Recent articles here on AmateurRadio.com by VE7SL on digital modes made me ponder about why JT65 is so popular nowadays. Like Steve I’ve also noticed rather empty CW and SSB portions of the band. Even psk31 signals hard to find, while the JT65 slice is overflowing with signals, often S9 plus many dBs in strength.
Steve lists the usual reasons often cited for its popularity: the waning sun, increased urban spectrum noise, working DX contacts at very low power levels and with modest antennas, no-code hams etc. But frankly, I think there is more to it.
Because, apart from JT65 there are many other modes that work well under difficult conditions. Take Olivia and all its derivatives. Like the JT-modes all based on MFSK and even deep in the noise you can still use them for meaningful communication over long distance. So why is JT65 king and Olivia not? Here is my list:
1) Lost voices
The smart phone has taken over as our main means of communication. However, 99% of its use is for written communication, not for voice. That written content is often not very extensive or deep: simply short bursts of information and often even in code like geek speak or emojies. I think many people either don’t want to, are too lazy to, or forgot how to talk in a meaningful way. The complaint about PSK31 was that is was mostly used for 599-73 macro QSOs. With JT65 you don’t even have the possibility to go deeper than 599-73, because it’s all that you can do with it. QSOs in Olivia can take an hour or more, because you can write whatever you like and engage in real conversation. The choice of the majority here: JT65.
2) No language barrier
Living in Asia I know that many hams here are intimidated by English. Speaking English is most awkward for many Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Part of it is lack of proper English education and part of it is saving face. Digital modes are far less intimidating. If your language and typing skills are sub-par then you rather not engage in more than a basic exchange. Thus JT65 is your best choice, Olivia clearly not.
3) The app generation
Whatever you use for the JT-modes, it’s basically like a smart phone app. Everything has been hashed out already and is presented on a silver platter. A few clicks of a mouse and you have made a QSO, automatically uploaded to a logbook on the web, probably including some form of QSLing. Compare that to Fldigi (the Swiss army knife of digital modes) where you have to find the right frequency, choose the right mode, zero in on the signal and only then you can start playing. For ease of use JT65 software is the master, Fldigi the not so convenient Jack-of-all-Trades.
3) Fixed frequencies with multi-decodes
Standards are a great thing and hard to come by. You can use JT-modes on any frequency, but there are designated meeting grounds if you are looking for a QSO. Added bonus is that on HF you monitor a 2 kHz wide portion of the spectrum, so you can quickly find the most interesting stations. Olivia has designated frequencies, too, but they are not set in stone, thus you are less likely to meet someone on air. FLdigi doesn’t guide you to a set frequency, that task is up to you. And with signals nowadays that can be received far below the noise floor and many not even visible on a waterfall the challenge of meeting someone on air is immense without fixed frequencies. The advantage here goes to JT65.
4) Standards, standards, standards
Oliva comes in the following varieties: 4/250, 8/250, 4/500, 8/500, 16/500, 4/1000, 8/1000, 16/1000, 32/1000 and 64/2000. Oh yes, the slightly improved version is called Contestia and sounds so similar that you can’t tell the difference by ear or on your waterfall. JT65 comes in one variety, its improved successor JT9 in one as well. Choice is a good thing, too much of it and it becomes hindrance. It should not be a problem to have and use multiple digi-modes on air, because the solution in IDing digi modes is RSID (or Reed-Solomon Identification). Unfortunately, not many programs offer this option and as a user you will have to turn this feature on by yourself. So, JT-modes know how to kiss (keep-it-simple-stupid), Olivia doesn’t (even though she is very sweet).
5) We’re still sheep
Apart from being hams we are also human. And humans display sheep-like behavior, following whatever trend or fad that is the talk of the day. Is JT65 a trend or a fad? I think both. The trend is towards more text based communication based on complex transmission protocols that can be used far below noise levels. JT65 falls in that category. The fad is “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities,” and JT65 falls in that category as well. Once something better, brighter, flashier comes along the herd of sheep will change course and follow the new kid in town.
Who will this new kid be? The one that plays it the smartest. And here, in my humble opinion, is the smart kid’s checklist:
– easy to use and understand app-like program
– fixed frequencies selectable inside the program
– a program that is build for all platforms including smart phones
– one standard transmission protocol or the auto-detection of it
– monitoring capabilities over a large frequency range
– lots of macros
– automated logging and QSLing
– fast transmission cycles
Now my hope is that the next mode that will reign the bands will allow for some more in-depts communication. From a technical standpoint JT-modes are very interesting and what can be achieved by them is phenomenal. But from a human standpoint I think they degrade the interaction between us hams to something that has very little meaning anymore.
I’ll leave you with this: a new digi mode called FSQ (Fast Simple QSO) has been getting some attention lately. If you take the above into consideration, will it be the next best thing?
Two years ago this day we moved into our own house in Daxi and exactly two years later I can finally say that my shack is finished. Done, completed, set and sorted. After I fixed the walls and painted them bright during Chinese New Year 2016 it took more than a year before the itch of a dedicated bookshelf for all my radio stuff became too much to bear, so CNY 2017 saw this addition….
The lighting was too cold for my taste, so I made this with some old wood and LED lights I got for free from a defunct coffee house…..
Then I really got going and made shelves on top of my ham desk so I could finally stack all my rigs in one place. Heaven! The first time ever I got things organized this well. I also put in a new vent for the cables going to the outside, color coded everything et voila, we were done!
I haven’t been on air yet, but monitoring instead to see how my antennas perform reception wise. At first I used WSPR, but as there are only so many stations I switched to JT65. I have been spending quite a bit of time on pskreporter.info, which is fascinating website. Within 12 hours you can get a view of what you can receive and from where. Do it for a couple of days and you will get a feel of how good conditions are at the moment.
Even though noise on 20 meters is huge I can still hear a lot, but there is room for improvement. With the shack and antenna cables in place I can finally start working on my antennas and see if I can get the noise down a bit. Noise on 20 meters is the worst, 40 meters is fine, but I don’t have a resonant antenna for that band. The 5 meter vertical on the roof performs well for NDB DXing, but not for much else. The summer is always hot here, but I will beat the heat and make those improvements so I can work the world again this fall.
The monkeys are out, the roosters are in. If you are celebrating or not, a happy Chinese New Year to you.
Not much to report from my side. Amateur radio has taken a back seat, partly due to work, partly due to the enormous noise levels that plague me on HF. With the sun not cooperating there is little to be found on the bands, except for way down low. Steve (VE7SL) has promoted NDB DXing more than once here on Amateurradio.com and I am hooked (again), too. Even with my limited antenna I can pick up new stations every time I turn on my TS-440S. My best DX sofar is an NDB from Indonesia; over 3000 kilometers away. Not bad, but not good enough either. Unfortunately I have many AM stations in the area putting out ghost signals on Long Wave. Dealing with them is a pain, but it’s necessary if I want to join the fun on 630 meters. So far, no luck, but we’ll keep on trying.
By the end of this week my website pa2bx.nl will go down. The reason is simple: I will relinquish my Dutch call and no longer be PA2BX. The Dutch government started asking 31 Euros per year for maintaining a database with my call in it, while it used to be free. Not being stingy here. I know they also use the 31 Euros for other things that are beneficial for Dutch hams. But for me it’s just a little too expensive for something I use maybe once every 5 years. 31 Euros is a week’s worth of groceries in Taiwan and I have two big mouths to feed. I can re-apply for a new Dutch call any time, so nothing is lost.
Luckily my web provider is so cheap that I’m going to keep them and from the beginning of October you are welcome at BX2ABT.com (B–X to Any Bloody Thing). I’m testing a new CMS at the moment and it looks like the new site is going to be nicer and easier to maintain than before.
In other news: I broke with my QSL manager, which made me decide to stop with QSLing altogether. I make only a few QSOs nowadays and lost interest in QSL cards a bit (call it a mid-life crisis thing). I still have a stack of cards from my Longtan QTH, but once they run out I won’t have new ones printed. If you still need one of my cards, my address is on the BX2ABT HamQTH.com entry.
Playing around with DMR in Holland was fun. But back in Taiwan my brand new Tytera MD-390 would be totally useless. There is no DMR activity here (yet) and up till recently I was the first and only ham in Taiwan with a DMR ID (4661001).
Luckily there are little devices called “hotspots” and one of the most popular one right now is the DV4mini, designed by DG8FAC (Stefan Reimann), DG1HT (Torsten Schultze) and DJ0ABR (Kurt Moraw). The DV4mini is a tiny USB stick that can turn any PC into a hotspot for all the amateur digital modes: C4FM, D-Star and of course DMR. It does P25 and dPMR, too. Basically it is a router for your DMR transceiver. Ham radio purists will undoubtedly cringe at the thought of RF being routed via the internet, but this is 2016 and everything is connected to the internet, so let’s get over it.
Still in Holland Cor (PD0GHF) was again very helpful and invited me into his shack for me to check out his DV4mini setups. Yes, setups, because Cor is a man with a lot of radio equipment, especially in his trusty Volvo.For the DV4mini to work you need to hook it up to a computer, install the software, configure it and off you go. The computer can be your laptop, PC, but also one of those mini computers, like the Raspberry Pi. With a tiny 3.5 inch TFT screen you can make a very portable hotspot. Cor already made two of them.Unfortunately for me Cor didn’t want to part with one of his hotspots, but luckily I had already bought my own DV4mini. Now some of you may know I am not a big fan of the Raspberry Pi, but Cor’s setup looked very appealing. And then Dave (PD5DOF) gave me a 3.5″ TFT screen as a parting gift at the last VERON meeting I attended. So I sighed and ordered a Rpi from RS, which arrived in a couple of days. I ordered the Rpi3 because it is the first Pi with on-board WiFi, so no need to buy a separate WiFi adapter.
There are many ready-made images, with the DV4mini software already installed, available to download on the net. You burn an image on a micro SD card, insert it in the Rpi and your Pi will come alive. But of the 10+ images I tried not one worked on my Pi3, probably because they were made for the Pi2. The plain vanilla Raspbian image did work with my Pi3 and the 3.5″ TFT screen, but the DV4mini software wouldn’t work. The Ubuntu MATE image would work with the DV4mini software, but not with my 3.5″ TFT screen.
So after a week of fiddling around I took the latest Raspian image, installed the latest version of Mono (open source version of MS.NET) from scratch and then the special version of the DV4mini software for small screens. And because I did all that I can now present you with……
THE FIRST EVER DMR AMATEUR RADIO STATION IN TAIWAN…..As you can see I am connected to the reflector connecting all of Holland (4500). I can now take my MD-390, walk out of the shack, sit on the couch and be able to talk with all my fine friends back home, while being in Taiwan!
In Holland most repeaters are connected to the Brandmeister network. In fact, if you look at this map it is becoming the most popular network to connect DMR repeaters to in the world. The Brandmeister network has a dashboard at https://brandmeister.network/ and the good thing about this dashboard is that you can actually see if you connected to the network.Not only that, your most recent transmissions are also logged.Apart from QSOs with Dutch hams I have also had QSOs with the US, Sweden and Australia and they were real QSOs as well. Not much use exchanging a “59” when using DMR, is it now? For me this is most important as it allows me to break my isolation here in Taiwan by being able to have QSOs with ham friends from back home and also make new friends all over the world. I always thought that that was the essence of amateur radio. Am I right?
Since I left the Netherlands in 2010 the situation on VHF/UHF there has changed considerably. The Dutch telecom regulator (Agentschap Telecom, or AT for short) revised their repeater policy which resulted in some well known repeaters not getting their licence renewed. On the other hand it opened up opportunities for new experiments like the Coversity network in the north of the country, inter regional repeaters PI3UTR and even the world’s first intercontinental repeater PI2NOS with an access point on the Caribbean island of Curaçao (PJ2NOS). If you want to listen in you can visit the 70 cm webSDR at http://websdr.pi1utr.ampr.org:8901/.
What the AT also noted was that the 70 cm band was quite underused and that there were many requests for digital voice repeaters. The frequency allocation for digital repeaters was expanded and that resulted in a wave of new repeaters, mostly DMR. If you look at the current repeater coverage map it is clear that there are only few places in Holland without DMR coverage. Unfortunately for System Fusion users this means that their repeaters aren’t getting permits to go on air. Part of the problem is that areas are already covered by DMR and D-Star repeaters and part is that System Fusion repeaters run in dual mode: analog FM and digital C4FM. Running an analog repeater in the digital segment of the band or vice versa doesn’t make sense, of course, hence the rejections.
Curious about the fast rise of DMR I decided to check it out a couple of weeks ago while I was in Holland on a family visit. I pre-ordered a Tytera MD-390 which was waiting for me the day I arrived. Unfortunately, without programming (installing a codeplug) the thing won’t work. Being a DMR newbie I decided to call in the help of the local chapter of the VERON, who meet every Friday night in their own club shack in Arnhem.I wasn’t the only one who brought a DMR rig, which confirmed again that DMR is quite popular in Holland. The local DMR repeater owner Cor (PD0GHF) knew immediately what I wanted and called Dave (PD5DOF) in to help me out. Here he is working hard to get the codeplug in order.After a while he got it right and my rig sprang to life. The MD-390 came with two antennas and the longer one was necessary to be able to hit the repeaters when we were indoors.Cor then explained the use of Talk Groups and reflectors and although I understood most, DMR is still rather complex if you come from the analog world. But back home on the camping where we stayed I tried it out and it worked. My first DMR QSO was with Cor (PD0GHF), so that was fun.
After two weeks of using the MD-390 I was totally hooked. The rig can do both DMR and analog NFM and I did make a few QSOs via PI2NOS in good old NFM mode. But NFM pales in comparison with DMR. I have never been able to stand the white noise that is so typical in FM mode; it tires my ears too much. When there is a signal I really have to strain my ears to follow the conversation, especially with weaker signals that have a lot of artifacts. Because of this I have never liked having an FM rig in my car, either.
DMR, on the other hand, is crystal clear. The signal is either there or not there, but when it is there it seems the person is standing right next to you. There is a little “robotic” sound effect, often associated with digital voice, but overall I didn’t find it disturbing. There were no problems hitting local and more distant repeaters and quality was very constant. Amazing that they can put all this in 6.25 kHz of bandwidth. It makes good old NFM look “old” to me.
And then there is the linking of repeaters. Via my local DRM repeater I could talk to any one in the Netherlands on the repeater in their neighbourhood, not just the hams within reach of my repeater. The internet helps out here and linking is global. Saturday at 16 UTC the DMR-MARC World Wide Net is held and you can hear hams from all over the world checking in on Talk Group 2. Amazing!
Now I know many of you old timers will object to digital and the use of the internet in ham radio: “First it was Echolink, now it’s all this digital voice stuff hooked into the net. If it’s not radio, it’s got nothing to do with us hams. And digital signals don’t make for good DXing anyway. FM, AM and SSB degrade more gracefully and provide better signals under challenging conditions.”
I understand the objections. Even I rather listen to good old AM radio on shortwave and SSB on the ham bands. Unfortunately, these modes are fading out and are being replaced by others, if you like it or not. I still don’t understand the attraction of using any of the JT-modes, but they are more popular than ever. To me they are not what ham radio is about, but I accept that many others don’t agree with me. Luckily ham radio is such a diverse a hobby that everyone can find his or her “thing” and be happy with it.
And besides, we hams are quite innovative and always keep radio in the back of our head. We want to be independent, after all. Up and coming in the Netherlands is Hamnet. In short: HAMNET is a high speed amateur radio multimedia network based on commercial wireless devices using mainly the 6 cm band. An internet for hams via radio waves. Guess what you can use to connect all those DMR repeaters with each other instead of the internet? Analog is dead. Long live digital!
The QSO with ON5DN in Rune’s shack would be the only one I made as SM/PA2BX. As I reported in a previous post I packed small and took a Chinese made crystal controlled, direct conversion trx with me. Just for fun and just to try out if you could make some QSOs with it at all.
Before I left Taiwan I tested it in the shack and there was indeed some signal coming out of it. But not the 3 Watts as advertised. Actually not much at all. In fact, barely noticeable on my power meter. And I’m lying here: not noticeable at all on my power meter. But I could hear a lot of Japanese stations on both 20 and 40 meters and I could hear my own signal S9+60 dB on my big rigs in the shack using only a wet noodle. Well, if not QRP then maybe QRPp. Or QRPpp. Or QRPpppppp. I didn’t expect a lot power from a single D802 transistor anyway.
So when we arrived in the small town of Rättvik, in Dalarna County I took out my small box and within 15 minutes I was “on air”. Enjoy with me the beautiful backdrop of my temporary, outdoor shack.Reception was good and I heard most of Europe on 40 and 20 meters by juggling between four different crystals and two end-fed half wave antennas. But my CQs went unanswered and answering the CQs of the strongest stations also didn’t yield a QSO. I didn’t mind, honestly. I had a lot of fun just listening and taking code, something I haven’t had time for in the last 18 months. And what really impressed me was the direct conversion receiver. Even more impressed when I heard a station from the US calling CQ.
Compared to Asia the bands in Europe are much more fun. They are crowded and you can hear many different modes any time of the day. In Asia there aren’t so many hams to begin with and during weekdays most of them work (Japanese retirees being a notable exception). On the weekends it gets busier, but then I have to work. Tough luck, so I was happy to get a good dose of ham radio in Sweden.
So, if you are thinking of buying a Chinese QRP CW kit of off eBay, then prepare yourself for being either surprised, or disappointed. The kit I bought was easy to assemble (surprise), received better than expected (surprise), but lacked the power for a proper QSO (disappointment).