From Lightning Comes a New Icom IC-7610 (First Transmission)

Wow. What a radio!

One of the most useful (and, to me, amazing) features of this Icom IC-7610, is the IP+ function, which, when turned on, improves the Intermodulation Distortion (IMD) quality by optimizing the direct sampling system performance. This function optimizes the Analog/Digital Converter(ADC) against distortion when you receive a strong input signal. It also improves the Third-order Intercept Point (IP3) while minimizing the reduction of the receiver sensitivity.

In short: I was listening to an s-0 (i.e., no strength-meter movement) weak signal of a DX station, when right adjacent to the frequency came an s-7 signal, wiping out my ability to copy that weak signal. I turned on the IP+ and the distortion of the adjacent signal disappeared, and once again, I heard the weak signal IN THE CLEAR! WOW!

This video is a quick capture of my running the Olivia Digital Mode on HF, on the 30-Meter band. The transmissions are of a two-way Olivia digital-mode radio conversation between station K8CJM and station NW7US on 12 November 2019 (UTC date). K8CJM is located in Dayton, Ohio, and I am located in Lincoln, Nebraska. I’m running the radio at full power. The radio is rated as being able to handle 100% duty cycle at full power. The radio ran cool, no significant heating.

A few months ago, a lightning strike took out my ham radio station. The antenna was NOT connected, but I did not unplug the power supply chain and my computer from the wall. The surge came in through the power mains, and fried my uninterruptable power supply, the interfaces between my PC and radio, and fried the radio. Thankfully, all of that was covered by my homeowner’s insurance policy, less the steep deductible. My insurance covered all of the blown items, and that provided me this chance to obtain a repack version of the Icom IC-7610. I bought an extended four-year warranty.

CAUTION: Check the documentation of your transceiver/transmitter. NEVER run your radio’s power out at a level that exceeds what it can handle in reference to the duty cycle of the mode you are using. Olivia, for instance, is a 100-percent duty cycle mode. Morse code is NOT quite 100% duty cycle. Nor is SSB, a mode that operates with a duty cycle much lower than 100%. Your radio’s manual should tell you the specifications regarding the duty cycle it can handle! If you run more power than your radio can handle with the given duty cycle of the mode in use, you will blow your radio’s finals or in some other way damage the radio! Beware! I’ve warned you!

Compression and ALC!?

Some have noted that it appears that I’ve left on the Compression of the transmitted audio. However, the truth is that compression was not being used (as is proof by carefully taking note of the zero meter movement of the Compression activity). I had the radio set for 20-Meter USB operation on the Sub VFO. Compression was set for standard USB operation. Note also that the radio was transmitting USB-D1, which means the first data/soundcard input to the radio.

Also, some people complain about my use of ALC, because, in their view, ALC (automatic level control) is a no-no for data modes.

The notion that one must NEVER use ALC when transmitting digital modes is not accurate.

Multi-frequency shift keyed (MFSK) modes with low symbol rate–such as the Olivia digital modes–use a single carrier of constant amplitude, which is stepped (between 4, 8, 16 or 32 tone frequencies respectively) in a constant phase manner. As a result, no unwanted sidebands are generated, and no special amplifier (including a transmitter’s final stage) linearity requirements are necessary.

Whether the use of ALC matters or not depends on the transmitted digital mode.

For example, FSK (Frequency-Shift Keying; i.e., RTTY) is a constant-amplitude mode (frequency shift only). In such a case, the use of ALC will NOT distort the signal waveform.

PSK31 does contain amplitude shifts, as an example, therefore you don’t want any ALC action that could result in distortion of the amplitude changes in the waveform.

On the other hand, the WSJT manual says that its output is a constant-amplitude signal, meaning that good linearity is not necessary. In that case, the use of ALC will NOT distort the transmitted signal-amplitude waveform. You can use ALC or not, as you choose when you run WSJT modes, or Olivia (MFSK).

Clarification

Nowhere in this am I advocating running your audio really high, thinking that the ALC will take care of it. I am not saying that. I am saying that some ALC is not going to be an issue. You MUST not overdrive any part of the audio chain going into the transmitter!

Transmit audio out of the sound card remains at a constant amplitude, so there will be no significant change in power output if you adjust your input into the radio so that the ALC just stops moving the meter, or, you can have some ALC meter movement. You can adjust your audio to the transmitter either way.

If the transmitter filters have a significant degree of ripple in the passband then you may find that RF power output changes with the selected frequency in the waterfall when there is no ALC action. Allowing some ALC action can permit the ALC to act as an automatic gain adjustment to keep the output power level as you change frequencies.

Linear and Non-Linear

Regarding linear and non-linear operation (amplifiers, final stages): While a Class-C amplifier circuit has far higher efficiency than a linear circuit, a Class-C amplifier is not linear and is only suitable for the amplification of constant-envelope signals. Such signals include FM, FSK, MFSK, and CW (Morse code).

If Joe Taylor’s various modes (in WSJT software) are constant-envelope signals, than class-C works, right? At least, in theory.

Some Additional Cool History

The digital mode, Thor, came out of DominoEX when FEC was added. Here is an interesting history of FSQ that seems to confirm that FSQ is like MFSK, so no problem with a bit of ALC.

The following is from https://www.qsl.net/zl1bpu/MFSK/FSQweb.htm

History – Let’s review the general history of Amateur MFSK modes. The first Amateur MFSK mode developed anywhere was MFSK16, specified by Murray Greenman ZL1BPU, then first developed and coded by Nino Porcino IZ8BLY in 1999. Before MFSK16 arrived, long-distance (DX) QSOs using digital modes were very unreliable: reliant, as they were, on RTTY and later PSK31. MFSK16 changed all that, using 16 tones and strong error correction. Great for long path DX, but nobody could ever say it was easy to use, never mind slick (quick and agile)!

Over the next few years, many MFSK modes appeared, in fact too many! Most of these were aimed at improving performance on bands with QRM. Most used very strong error correction, some types a poor match for MFSK, and these were very clumsy in QSO, because of long delays.

The next major development, aimed at easy QSOs with a slick turnaround, was DominoEX, designed by Murray Greenman ZL1BPU and coded by Con Wassilieff ZL2AFP, which was released in 2009. Rather than using error correction as a brute-force approach, DominoEX was based on sound research and achieved its performance through carefully crafted modulation techniques that required no error correction. The result was a simpler, easier to tune, easily identified mode with a fast turn-around.

DominoEX is widely used and available in many software packages. A later development by Patrick F6CTE and then Dave W1HKJ added FEC to this mode (THOR) but did not add greatly to performance, and at the same time eroded the fast turn-around. The final DominoEX- related development was EXChat, a version of DominoEX designed specifically for text-message style chatting. While completely compatible with DominoEx, it operates in ‘Sentence Mode’, sending each short over when the operator presses ENTER. EXChat was developed by Con ZL2AFP and released in 2014.

Back in 2013, Con ZL2AFP developed an MFSK mode for LF and MF which used an unusual decoding method pioneered by Alberto I2PHD: a ‘syncless’ decoder, which used a voting system to decide when one tone finished and another began. The first use of this idea was in JASON (2002), which proved to be very sensitive, but very slow, partly because it was based on the ASCII alphabet. The new mode, WSQ2 (Weak Signal QSO, 2 baud) combined the syncless decoder with more tones, 33 in total, and an alphabet specially developed by Murray ZL1BPU, which could send each lower case letter (and common punctuation) in just one symbol, resulting in a very sensitive (-30 dB SNR) mode with a 5 WPM typing speed.

In the subsequent discussion in late 2014, between the developers ZL2AFP and ZL1BPU, it was realized that if the computer had enough processing power to handle it, WSQ2 could be ‘sped up’ to become a useful HF chat mode. This required a large amount of development and retuning of the software to achieve adequate speed was involved, along with much ionospheric simulator and on-air testing used to select the most appropriate parameters.

Tests proved that the idea not only worked well, but it also had marked advantages over existing HF MFSK modes, even DominoEX. As expected, the new mode was found to have superior tolerance of signal timing variation, typically caused by multi-path reception, and would also receive with no change of settings over a wide range of signaling speeds.

So this is how FSQ came about. It uses the highly efficient WSQ character alphabet, IFK+ coding, the same number of tones as WSQ (33), but runs a whole lot faster, up to 60 WPM, and uses different tone spacing. The symbol rate (signaling speed) is modest (six tones per second or less), but each individual tone transmitted carries a surprising amount of information, resulting in a high text transmission speed. And it operates in ‘Chat’ (sentence) mode, which allows the user to type as fast as possible since they type only while receiving.

The ability to send messages and commands selectively has opened a huge array of communications possibilities.

What Makes FSQ Different

Incremental Keying – FSQ uses Offset Incremental Frequency Keying (IFK+), a type of differential Multi-Frequency Shift Keying (MFSK) with properties that make it moderately drift-proof and easy to tune. IFK+ also has excellent tolerance of multi-path reception.

IFK was developed by Steve Olney VK2XV. IFK+ (with code rotation) was proposed by Murray Greenman ZL1BPU and first used in DominoEX. IFK+ prevents repeated same tones without complex coding and provides improved rejection of propagation-related inter-symbol interference. In the context of sync-less decoding, the IFK+ code rotation also prevents repeated identical tones, which could not have been detected by this method.

Efficient Alphabet – In FSQ, a relatively high typing speed at a modest baud rate comes about because the alphabet coding is very efficient. All lower case letters and the most common punctuation can be sent in just one symbol and all other characters (the total alphabet contains 104 characters) in just two symbols. (The alphabet is listed below). This is a simple example of a Varicode, where it takes less time to send the more common characters. The character rate is close to six per second (60 WPM), the same as RTTY, but at only 1/8th of the baud rate. (RTTY has only one bit of information per symbol, 7.5 symbols per character, and wastes a third of its information on synchronization, and despite this, works poorly on HF).

No Sync – Another important factor in the design of FSQ is that no synchronizing process is required to locate and decode the received characters. Lack of sync means that reception is much less influenced by propagation timing changes that affect almost all other modes since timing is quite unimportant to FSQ; it almost completely eliminates impulse noise disruption, and it also contributes to very fast acquisition of the signal (decoding reliably within one symbol of the start of reception). Fast acquisition removes the need for the addition of extra idle characters at the start of transmission, and this leads to a very slick system. Add high resistance to QRM and QRN, thanks to the low baud rate, and you have a system so robust that it does not need error correction.

Cool.

See you on the bands!

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', and 'The Spectrum Monitor' magazine.

7 Responses to “From Lightning Comes a New Icom IC-7610 (First Transmission)”

  • Mike ve9kk:

    Good evening Tomas, a very nice rundown of the 7610 and yes it’s a great radio as I have one myself. Just a question out of the blue what power supply are you using with your 7610?
    73,
    Mike
    VE9KK

  • Mike, VE9KK,

    for the moment, I am using an older RS35M from Astron, which is a 35-Amp power supply with meters (amps, volts). It is a transformer-based supply. Looks like there’s a newer version: https://amzn.to/2XkmgI4

    73

  • Fred AE2DX:

    I also use the Astron RS35m have it set for 13.9 volts to my 7610 been working great on all modes great Power supply. Heavy but worth it.

  • Hermann, CA2FNZ:

    Gentlemen:
    I am writing from Chile, South America, in connection with the Weekly Propagation Summary, which in turn is given to my fellow hamradio operators.
    I have been searching the meaning of the following terms but even through Wikipedia, it has been unseccessful.

    The term: 2MeV (Electron flow)
    CH HSS (Negative polarity)
    G1 (Geomagnetic field activity is expected to reach G1 storm levels)

    Any assistance on this matter would be much appreciated.

  • 2 Mega-Electron Volt. That means 2,000,000 electron Volts. What is an electron volt? In physics, the electron volt (symbol eV; also written electronvolt) is a unit of energy equal to approximately 1.602×10−19 ( that is a 10 to the -19th power, see https://exponentiations.com/10-to-the-negative-19th-power ) joule (Si unit J). By definition, it is the amount of energy gained by the charge of a single electron moved across an electric potential difference of one volt.

    CH HSS = Coronal hole high-speed stream. It is a component of the solar wind, with an origin in a coronal hole.

    G1 – see this: https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/noaa-scales-explanation – look under Geomagnetic Storms (click on that header, and it will expand).

    I hope that helps you.

    By the way, visit my website, http://SunSpotWatch.com <– the oldest continuing space weather website not provided by a government. It's the website I started, because of my love of space weather and radio propagation. If I did not work for a living, I would do a major overhaul. 🙂

    73 de NW7US

  • Cliff, KU4GW:

    Great article Tomas and very informative! I learned a lot reading this article that I didn’t know about FSK modes. I guess you can teach a old dog new tricks afterall. I’m wondering what would be the best software to use for FSK. The Feld Hell Club has been using FSK HELL-105 mode for our weekly 40 meter nets throughout the poor band conditions we’ve had to deal with near the bottom of solar cycle 24 and it works much better with only 25-30 watts than Hellschreiber does at 100 watts. I’ve been using FlDigi for most digital operating lately other than JS8Call mode. Thanks for the great article and congrats on the really nice rig. I just hate you had to get it the way you did because my station took a direct strike back in 2011 that took out $3,600 worth of my stuff! Thank the Lord for full replacement homeowner’s insurance, but getting everything back up and running is still a hassle. My antennas were all disconnected and grounded when the lightning struck here, but it came up through the ground wire and through the telephone line and back then I was using a old desktop PC hardwired to the internet and the lightning entered my FT-1000MP Mark-V through the CAT port. (Now I’m wireless from a laptop to the radio.) I did get lucky and the ground wire burnt in two just before it got to my Ameritron AL-80B amplifier and so it was spared. Hope you get lots of enjoyment from the new rig and have a wonderful holiday season as well as a happy and prosperous(and lightning strike free) 2010! Very 73!

  • Cliff, KU4GW:

    *CORRECTION: That’s 2020, not 2010. Sorry for the error. Wish there was a way to edit posts on this forum. Very 73!

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