Archive for the ‘ham radio’ Category

Who Does VHF SOTA?

Who really uses the VHF and higher bands (>50 MHz) for Summits On The Air? Last year, I pulled some data from the SOTA database and provided some analysis.

Looking at VHF/UHF SOTA Data

Here is the short story:

Roughly 20% of the SOTA contacts worldwide are on VHF/UHF frequencies and about 90% of these are on 2m FM.

So that’s the information that is in the official SOTA database. For SOTA, I pretty much operate on the VHF/UHF bands so over time I’ve noticed that four types of operators use VHF/UHF for SOTA. Of course, this is based on my own observations, mostly in Colorado but also in other states.

Beginners

Many newer hams or new-to-SOTA hams just grab their handheld radio and go do a SOTA activation. This makes a lot of sense, assuming there is reasonable 2m FM simplex activity around. Summits that are within VHF range of large population areas usually work quite well. A Technician license is sufficient to have fun with this mode (both activating and chasing). If you are new to ham radio, like the outdoors, and have SOTA summits in your area, this is a fun activity to pursue!

HF+VHF Ops

Many SOTA activators are after longer distance contacts so they naturally gravitate to the HF bands. Some leave VHF behind, as they focus on HF operating. However, many SOTA activators and chasers keep a VHF radio in their toolkit, often treating it as an add-on to their HF activity. Sometimes the VHF radio becomes the fail-safe mode if things are not working well on the HF bands. Sometimes, I hear activators say something like “the HF gear was just not working for me today, so I had to use my HT to log four contacts.”

Non-SOTA Ops

There are quite a few hams out there on 2m FM that are not really focused on SOTA. They like to hang out on 2m FM simplex, especially 146.52 MHz, to chat with whoever comes along. In the backcountry, this may include hikers, snowshoers, skiers, 4WD enthusiasts, campers, etc. It also includes hams just hanging around the shack with a radio or scanner monitoring 2m FM. Announce that you are on top of a summit and these folks are happy to contact you.

VHF Enthusiasts

Finally, there are VHF/UHF enthusiasts that like the combination of higher frequencies and mountaintop operating. The effect of Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) has a huge impact at these frequencies. A 5-watt handheld (HT) might be limited to a few miles on flat terrain, but from the top of a summit, the range extends dramatically (50 to 100 miles). Improve your station and 200-to-300-mile contacts are achievable. Most of this action is still on 2m FM but adding in additional bands (70 cm, 23 cm) and modes (CW, SSB) provides another challenge. Chasers are included in this category as well…there are VHF/UHF enthusiasts that are challenged by working distant summits from home.

Summary

These are the four categories of folks I usually encounter on the VHF/UHF bands when doing SOTA. Do these match your experience? What did I miss?

73 Bob K0NR

The post Who Does VHF SOTA? appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

POTAXXIA May Be Right For You

Help Is Available

The post POTAXXIA May Be Right For You appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

POTA Enthusiasts: POTAXXIA May Be Right For You

Help is available.

The post POTA Enthusiasts: POTAXXIA May Be Right For You appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Ham Radio Gamification

Setting operating goals has been useful for me in ham radio. They often provided a reason or incentive for me to get on the air and make some contacts. I followed the typical award sequence of Worked All States (WAS), Worked All Continents (WAC), DX Century Club (DXCC), and so forth. I wrote about it here: Pursue Radio Operating Goals.

Gamification

Over time, I’ve come to realize that some amateur radio activities include the elements of gamification. Gamification is a hot topic in user interface design, online learning, and other computer-based systems. The basic idea is to incorporate gaming techniques into activities to increase user engagement. From Wikipedia:

Gamification techniques are intended to leverage people’s natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure, or simply their response to the framing of a situation as game or play.

Gamification commonly uses these elements (also from Wikipedia):

Game design elements are the basic building blocks of gamification applications. Among these typical game design elements, are points, badges, leader-boards, performance graphs, meaningful stories, avatars, and teammates.

This article discusses some of the principles involved and Dennis/AD6DM wrote this piece on the topic: The Gamification of Ham Radio.

Summits On The Air

I first became aware of this topic after I became involved in Summits On The Air (SOTA). Before SOTA was a thing, I was often found on the top of some summit making radio contacts. So when SOTA was established in Colorado (W0C), I thought “this is interesting but I am already doing it.” It did strike my fancy enough that I started submitting logs into the SOTA database. Oh, guess what, many of my mountaintop operations were the first activation for SOTA. How about that? I am the first. I win. I have bragging rights, or something.

Soon I was accumulating SOTA activator and chaser points. My first objective was to qualify for the 100-point activator certificate. (SOTA has many certificates and awards.) Achieving 100 points took me about 15 activations, so it is not too difficult but does represent an accomplishment. It did not take very long to do this and soon I was focused on 1000 points for the coveted Mountain Goat award. That goal took several years to complete, but I got it done. I decided to only use the VHF/UHF bands for the Mountain Goat award, so that was my little personal twist on that accomplishment.

We can clearly see that the SOTA program has these elements of gamification: points, badges (certificates/awards), and leaderboards. For me, the leaderboard is the Activator Role of Honour, with the Colorado (W0C) Association selected:

At the moment, I am #12 on the list. I do not aspire to be at the top of the list but I do want to be on the list, somewhere above the 1000 mark. I also like to see how my fellow W0C SOTA activators have been doing. For example, it has been fun to watch Szymon/WV0X go from zero activator points to over 1800 in a short period of time. Also, Gary/W0MNA and Martha/W0ERI are a couple from Kansas (no SOTA summits in the state) that have both made it to Mountain Goat. Not an easy accomplishment. It is cool to see that we have 19 Mountain Goats in the association and more on their way. Pretty good!

SOTA does not specifically have any teams formed as part of the program but the camaraderie of W0C is essentially a team. We share information about various summits and encourage each other when new goals are achieved. Sometimes groups of activators get together for a joint activation. (Most areas that have significant SOTA activity also have this community/team effect.)

Parks On The Air

Recently, I have become involved with Parks On The Air (POTA), which also has gamification built into it. POTA has the advantage of parks being virtually everywhere. (Unlike SOTA summits, Kansas has parks to activate.) As Joyce/K0JJW and I have traveled around the country, POTA has been a satisfying activity to include in our plans.

POTA has many different award schemes, too many to mention here. I pulled up my awards page to see what I have qualified for:

The objective I have set for POTA is to activate all the parks in Colorado. I want to visit them anyway, so this is a good opportunity to blend ham radio with our travel plans. There are 187 POTA parks in Colorado, so this is going to take a while to complete.

Implications

Gamification can be used to make ham radio activity more fun and to more fully engage the participants. Traditional radio contesting is clearly a competition and has the elements of keeping score, having leaderboards (after the contest) and having teammates. However, most contests provide painfully slow feedback. The official results may not be posted until 6 months later. (The 3830 Scores website was created to bypass this delay by sharing scores immediately.) Contesting is obviously a game, so where’s the gamification?

Perhaps your radio club (or just your group of ham friends) can use gamification to have fun. You could leverage programs like SOTA and POTA to create a club activity. Pursue a club goal (activate 50 parks or summits this year), a friendly competition, whatever. POTA lets you activate with a club call while still providing credit for the operator, so that opens up some possibilities.

If you are getting stale in your ham radio operating, perhaps one of these gamified programs would be good motivation for you. It could be SOTA or POTA (both include chasing, so you can do it from home), or maybe some other program out there.

Those are my thoughts. What do you think?

73 Bob K0NR

 

The post Ham Radio Gamification appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

What Do VHF and UHF Mean?

Recently, I engaged in a discussion about a UHF (Ultra High Frequency) radio. It seems a ham was complaining that someone had advertised an 800 MHz radio, describing it as “UHF”. His issue was that in land mobile radio, UHF is commonly used to refer to radios in the 380 to 500-ish MHz range. I disagreed with him, saying that 800 MHz is in the UHF range I was using the ITU definition of UHF, which is any frequency between 300 MHz to 3 GHz. The disagreement was not a big deal but it did cause some confusion. (Of course, I was right and he was wrong, most definitely.)

This got me thinking about how we toss around these terms quite loosely, even though they have precise definitions. Let’s start with the basics, the ITU definitions of radio spectrum.

LFLow Frequency30 to 300 kHz
MFMedium Frequency300 kHz to 3 MHz
HFHigh Frequency3 MHz to 30 MHz
VHFVery High Frequency30 MHz to 300 MHz
UHFUltra High Frequency300 MHz to 3 GHz
SHFSuper High Frequency3 GHz to 30 GHz

You can see that the basic scheme divides up the spectrum into decades (factors of ten), aligned with frequencies that start with 3 (e.g., 3 MHz, 30 MHz, 300 MHz). If we map the amateur bands onto this system, we see that the bands from 80m (3.5 to 4.0 MHz) through 10m (28-29.7 MHz) fall into the HF range, as expected. Note that 10m almost qualifies as a VHF band, coming in just shy of the 30 MHz limit. That band does have some VHF tendencies. The 160m band (1.8 to 2.0 MHz) actually falls into the MF range even though many of us just think of it as HF.

Let’s take a look at how the US amateur bands line up with this scheme.

Amateur bands within HF, VHF, and UHF ranges. (Some omissions for legibility: 60m, 17m, 12m HF bands.) Graphic: HamRadioSchool.com

There are three VHF bands: 6m (50 to 54 MHz), 2m (144 to 148 MHz) and 1.25m (222 to 225 MHz). The UHF range includes the 70 cm (420 to 450 MHz), 33 cm (902 to 928 MHz), 23 cm (1240 to 1300 MHz), and 13 cm (2300 to 2450 MHz) bands.

The two most commonly used bands in the VHF/UHF region are 2m and 70cm. These bands are home for many FM repeaters, FM simplex, SSB simplex, and plenty of other modes. Common dualband transceivers, both mobile and handheld, operate on the 2m and 70cm bands. These radios are so common that we often refer to them as VHF/UHF dualband radios. Accordingly, you will often hear hams refer to the 2m band as simply VHF and the 70cm band as UHF, as if VHF means 2 meters and UHF means 70 cm. I know I’ve been guilty of saying “let’s switch over to VHF” when I really mean “let’s go to the 2m band.” The 2m band is certainly VHF but VHF does not always mean 2 meters. Similarly, we might say “I’ll call you on the UHF repeater” when it would be more precise to say “I’ll call you on 440 MHz.”

Many times being loose with terminology doesn’t matter but there are times when using the right words can make a difference. Think about this the next time you are referring to a particular frequency band.

73 Bob K0NR

The post What Do VHF and UHF Mean? appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

SOTA Success on Red Mountain #3

Last year, Joyce/K0JJW and I tried to activate Red Mountain Number 3 (W0C/UR-016) for SOTA in the San Juan mountains. The map showed there was a road to the top, so we were expecting easy access. However, the road is gated off about 2 miles from the summit, requiring a hike. So we hiked almost to the summit but turned back when the thunderstorms rolled in. We retreated to safety and vowed to return another day.

Red Mountain Number 3 as viewed from Red Mountain Pass.

This week, we went back and activated the summit, along with Stu/W0STU and Liz/KT0LIZ. Red Mountain No. 3 sits just southwest of its sister summits: Red Mountain No.1 and Red Mountain No. 2. (Red Mtn 1 is also a SOTA summit, so we’ll need to activate that one sometime.)

We accessed Red Mountain 3 (RM3) by taking Highway 550 to Red Mountain Pass. The road for RM3 is County Road 14 but is not well marked. The turnoff (shown on the map above) is just south of Red Mtn Pass, going to the east (37.89587, -107.71369). County Road 14 is a narrow but easy road, barely 4WD, that leads to the gate (37.89476, -107.70774). We parked there and hiked up the road.

Sign on the gate that welcomes hikers, skiers, and cyclists.

I don’t usually like to hike on roads but this one turned out to be just fine. It was a nice, easy grade and was flat without a lot of rocks poking up. My GPS app shows that we hiked 2 miles one-way with 1400 vertical feet. We met about a dozen people on the hike, so this seems like a popular summit. We noted other trails and roads in the area and wondered if some of them might provide a better route but everyone we saw just used the road.

 

As you can see from the photos, we had excellent weather that day. This time, no thunderstorms to chase us off the peak!

Stu/W0STU examines his VHF/UHF handheld, positioning it for optimum signal level.The San Juan mountains are remote, with not a lot of people within VHF range. We were all using just VHF/UHF for SOTA, so I was concerned we could get skunked on making our four SOTA contacts. There are a few smaller towns within range and we might be able to work Grand Junction from there. I knew that Lloyd/W7SAO in Delta usually monitors 146.52 MHz and we worked him right away. After that, we called our fellow campers, James/KD0MFO and Vic/KD0OGE, working them mobile near Ridgway. We kept calling for a fourth contact and sure enough, Mike/KE5YF showed up on 2m FM. Mike is from Sweetwater, TX and was driving his Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) over Engineer Pass. So we made our four contacts to qualify for SOTA points.

Traditional summit photo: Stu/W0STU, Liz/KT0LIZ, Joyce/K0JJW, Bob/K0NR

 

Liz and Joyce are hiking on a typical stretch of the road.
Bob/K0NR operating 2m FM for SOTA. (Photo: W0STU)

The four of us had a great day on the summit. We took our time and enjoyed the hike and the radio operating. The easy access and excellent views from the top make this an attractive SOTA summit if you are traveling in this area.

73 Bob K0NR

The post SOTA Success on Red Mountain #3 appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

SOTA Success on Red Mountain #3

Last year, Joyce/K0JJW and I tried to activate Red Mountain Number 3 (W0C/UR-016) for SOTA in the San Juan mountains. The map showed there was a road to the top, so we were expecting easy access. However, the road is gated off about 2 miles from the summit, requiring a hike. So we hiked almost to the summit but turned back when the thunderstorms rolled in. We retreated to safety and vowed to return another day.

Red Mountain Number 3 as viewed from Red Mountain Pass.

This week, we went back and activated the summit, along with Stu/W0STU and Liz/KT0LIZ. Red Mountain No. 3 sits just southwest of its sister summits: Red Mountain No.1 and Red Mountain No. 2. (Red Mtn 1 is also a SOTA summit, so we’ll need to activate that one sometime.)

We accessed Red Mountain 3 (RM3) by taking Highway 550 to Red Mountain Pass. The road for RM3 is County Road 14 but is not well marked. The turnoff (shown on the map above) is just south of Red Mtn Pass, going to the east (37.89587, -107.71369). County Road 14 is a narrow but easy road, barely 4WD, that leads to the gate (37.89476, -107.70774). We parked there and hiked up the road.

Sign on the gate that welcomes hikers, skiers, and cyclists.

I don’t usually like to hike on roads but this one turned out to be just fine. It was a nice, easy grade and was flat without a lot of rocks poking up. My GPS app shows that we hiked 2 miles one-way with 1400 vertical feet. We met about a dozen people on the hike, so this seems like a popular summit. We noted other trails and roads in the area and wondered if some of them might provide a better route but everyone we saw just used the road.

 

As you can see from the photos, we had excellent weather that day. This time, no thunderstorms to chase us off the peak!

Stu/W0STU examines his VHF/UHF handheld, positioning it for optimum signal level.The San Juan mountains are remote, with not a lot of people within VHF range. We were all using just VHF/UHF for SOTA, so I was concerned we could get skunked on making our four SOTA contacts. There are a few smaller towns within range and we might be able to work Grand Junction from there. I knew that Lloyd/W7SAO in Delta usually monitors 146.52 MHz and we worked him right away. After that, we called our fellow campers, James/KD0MFO and Vic/KD0OGE, working them mobile near Ridgway. We kept calling for a fourth contact and sure enough, Mike/KE5YF showed up on 2m FM. Mike is from Sweetwater, TX and was driving his Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) over Engineer Pass. So we made our four contacts to qualify for SOTA points.

Traditional summit photo: Stu/W0STU, Liz/KT0LIZ, Joyce/K0JJW, Bob/K0NR

 

Liz and Joyce are hiking on a typical stretch of the road.
Bob/K0NR operating 2m FM for SOTA. (Photo: W0STU)

The four of us had a great day on the summit. We took our time and enjoyed the hike and the radio operating. The easy access and excellent views from the top make this an attractive SOTA summit if you are traveling in this area.

73 Bob K0NR

The post SOTA Success on Red Mountain #3 appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.


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