Posts Tagged ‘radio’

Solar Cycle 25, and a Life-Changing Event (Part 1 of 2)

From the RAIN HamCast episode #56, 2021-XII-11 (used with permission):

When you were knee high to a grasshopper, did you undergo a game-changing experience that shaped your future career?

Here is text from the introduction:

Tomas Hood/NW7US did. Tomas has been a shortwave enthusiast since 1973. He was first licensed as a ham in 1990 at age 25.

In the mid 1990s Tomas launched the first civilian space weather propagation website, HFRadio.org, which later spawned SunSpotWatch.com. His website, NW7US has been up and running since June, 1999. Tomas has contributed to the Space Weather Propagation column in CQ magazine for over 20 years, and for The Spectrum Monitor magazine since 2014.

A product of the Pacific northwest, Tomas resides today in Fayetteville, OH. RAIN’s Hap Holly/KC9RP spoke with Tomas recently about Solar Cycle 25 and the game-changing afternoon Tomas experienced in 1973 at age 8 ( Read more about this, at his amateur radio and space weather blog: https://blog.NW7US.us/ ).

Here is the first part of the two-part interview:

Mentioned in the interview is Skylab:

From Wikipedia’s article on Skylab: Skylab was the first United States space station, launched by NASA, occupied for about 24 weeks between May 1973 and February 1974. It was operated by three separate three-astronaut crews: Skylab 2, Skylab 3, and Skylab 4. Major operations included an orbital workshop, a solar observatory, Earth observation, and hundreds of experiments.

Tomas was drawn into space weather as a life-long passion, by inspiration from Skylab, and from the hourly propagation bulletin from the radio station WWV.

WATCH FOR THE NEXT EPISODE, PART TWO

This video is only part one. The RAIN HamCast will conclude Hap’s conversation with Tomas in RAIN HamCast #57, scheduled for posting Christmas Day.

Hap Holly, of the infamous RAIN Report (RAIN = Radio Amateur Information Network), is now producing The RAIN HamCast. The results are both on https://therainreport.com and on the RAIN HamCast YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUbNkaUvX_lt5IiDkS9aS4g

KEEP ON HAMMING!

The RAIN Hamcast is produced and edited by Hap Holly/KC9RP; this biweekly podcast is copyright 1985-2021 RAIN, All rights reserved. RAIN programming is formatted for Amateur Radio transmission and is made available under a Creative Commons license; downloading, sharing, posting and transmission of this ham radio program via Amateur Radio in its entirety are encouraged. Your support and feedback are welcome on https://therainreport.com. Thanks for YouTube Technical Assistance from Tom Shimizu/N9JDI.

 

Interested in Amateur Radio Digital Mode FT8 Operations?

A VISUAL + AUDIO AIR CHECK OF DIGITAL MODE FT8 QSOs, ON THE 30-METER BAND

Here is a video capture of the reception and transmission of many digital FT8-mode amateur radio high-frequency (HF; Shortwave) communication signals. This video is a front-seat view of the software operation performed at the radio room of amateur radio operator, NW7US, Tomas Hood.

The software packages demonstrated are installed and operational on a modern personal computer. The computer is connected to an Icom IC-7610 radio transceiver, controlled by the software. While there is no narration in the video, the video provides an opportunity for you to see first-hand how typical FT8 operations are performed. The signals can be heard.

The frequency used for the FT8 communication in this video is on or about 10.136 MHz, in the 30-Meter shortwave amateur radio allocation (or, band). As can be seen, the 30-Meter band was active at this time of day (0720 UTC, onward–local nighttime).

In this video you see (and hear) NW7US make two-way contacts, or QSOs, with stations from around the country and the world.

There are amateur radio operators within the amateur radio community who regard the FT8 digital mode (FT8 stands for “Franke-Taylor design, 8-FSK modulation“, and refers to the mode created by Joe Taylor, K1JT and Steve Franke, K9AN) as robotic (automatic, automated, and unattended) computer-to-computer communications, and not ‘true’ human communications–thus negating the spirit of ham radio. In other words, FT8, in their opinion, is not real amateur radio. While they pontificate about supposed automated computer communications, many of those holding this position have not installed and configured the software, nor tried communicating with the FT8 digital mode. They have perhaps formed their anti-FT8 opinion in a vacuum of knowledge. (This writer has other issues with FT8, but not on this point–see below)

As you watch the video linked in this article, consider these concepts:

+ A QSO is defined (as per common knowledge–see below) as the exchange of at least the minimum information needed as set by the requirements of a particular award, or, as is defined by law–for instance, a QSO would have at least an exchange of the legal call sign assigned to the radio station and/or control operator, the location of the station making the transmission, and a signal report of some kind about the signal received from the other transmitter at the other end of the QSO.

+ Just how much human involvement is required to make a full FT8 QSO? Does WSJT-X software run all by itself, with no human control? Is WSJT-X a robot, in the sense that it picks a frequency, then initiates or answers a CQ call automatically, or is it just powerful digital-mode software that still requires human control?

The video was captured from the screen of the PC running the following software packages interacting together as a system:

+ WSJT-X: The primary software featuring the digital mode, FT8. (See below for some background on WSJT-X software.)

+ JTAlert: Provides several audio and visual alert types based on decoded Callsigns within WSJT-X.

+ Log4OM, Version 2: A full-featured logging program, which integrates well with WSJT-X and JTAlert.

+ Win4IcomSuite: A full-featured radio controlling program which can remote control rigs, and provide control through virtual communication port-sharing.

+ Com0Com: The Null-modem emulator allows you to create an unlimited number of virtual COM port pairs and use any pair to connect one COM port based application to another. Each COM port pair provides two COM ports. The output to one port is the input from other port and vice versa.

As mentioned, above, the radio used for the communication of FT8 at the station, NW7US, is an Icom IC-7610 transceiver. The antenna is an off-center fed dipole that is over 200 feet in total length (end-to-end measurement).

Some Notes:

About WSJT-X

WSJT-X is a computer program used for weak-signal radio communication between amateur radio operators, or used by Shortwave Radio Listeners (SWLers; SWL) interested in monitoring the FT8 digital communications between amateur radio operators. The program was initially written by Joe Taylor, K1JT with Steve Franke, K9AN, but is now open source and is developed by a small team. The digital signal processing techniques in WSJT-X make it substantially easier for amateur radio operators to employ esoteric propagation modes, such as high-speed meteor scatter and moonbounce.

WSJT-X implements communication protocols or “modes” called FST4, FST4W, FT4, FT8, JT4, JT9, JT65, Q65, MSK144, and WSPR, as well as one called Echo for detecting and measuring your own radio signals reflected from the Moon. These modes were all designed for making reliable, confirmed QSOs under extreme weak-signal conditions. JT4, JT9, and JT65 use nearly identical message structure and source encoding (the efficient compression of standard messages used for minimal QSOs). They use timed 60-second Transmit/Rreceive (T/R) sequences synchronized with UTC (Universal Time, Coordinated). JT4 and JT65 were designed for Earth-Moon-Earth communications (EME, or, moonbounce) on the Very-High Frequency (VHF), Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) and microwave bands. JT9 is optimized for the Medium-Frequency (MF) and High-Frequency (HF) bands. It is about 2 dB more sensitive than JT65 while using less than 10% of the bandwidth. Q65 offers submodes with a wide range of T/R sequence lengths and tone spacings.FT4 and FT8 are operationally similar but use T/R cycles only 7.5 and 15 seconds long, respectively. MSK144 is designed for Meteor Scatter on the VHF bands. These modes offer enhanced message formats with support for nonstandard call signs and some popular contests. (The MSK in MSK144 stands for, Multiple Frequency Shift Keying.)

FST4 and FST4W are designed particularly for the Low-Frequency (LF) and MF bands. On these bands, their fundamental sensitivities are better than other WSJT-X modes with the same sequence lengths, approaching the theoretical limits for their rates of information throughput. FST4 is optimized for two-way QSOs, while FST4W is for quasi-beacon transmissions of WSPR-style messages. FST4 and FST4W do not require the strict, independent time synchronization and phase locking of modes like EbNaut.

As described more fully on its own page, WSPR mode implements a protocol designed for probing potential propagation paths with low-power transmissions. WSPR is fully implemented within WSJT-X, including programmable band-hopping.

What is a QSO?

Under the title, CONTACTS, at the Sierra Foothills Amateur Radio Club’s 2014 Technician Class webpage, https://www.hsdivers.com/Ham/Mod15.html, they teach,

An amateur radio contact (called a QSO), is an exchange of info between two amateur radio stations. The exchange usually consists of an initial call (CQ = call to all stations). Then, a response from another amateur radio operator, and usually at least a signal report.

Contacts can be limited to just a minimal exchange of call signs & signal reports generally between amateurs previously unknown to each other. Very short contacts are usually done only during contests while longer, extended ‘rag chews’ may be between newly met friends with some common interest or someone you have known for a long time.

Wikipedia has an entry for QSO, too.

My Issue With FT8 and WSJT-X

I have written in the past, on this website, about an issue that came about during the course of the development of the WSJT-X software package. The development team decided to widen the slice of ‘default’ (pre-programmed) frequencies on which to operate FT8. The issue was how the choice of new frequencies was made, and what choices were implemented in an upcoming software release. Read more about all of this, in these three articles:

+ Land (er, FREQUENCY) Grab (Part 1)

+ One Aspect of Amateur Radio: Good Will Ambassadors to the World

+ In Response — Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Has this issue been resolved? For now, yes. There appears to be more coordination between interested groups, and the proposed new frequencies were removed from the software defaults in WSJT-X. At least, up to this point, at the time of publishing this article.

..

Just Get On The Air! (A Makeshift Temporary Dipole Shortwave Antenna)

It might not take as much antenna as you may think would be necessary to make two-way contacts on shortwave radio (as an amateur radio operator putting an HF transceiver on the air). However, often, makeshift antennae are effective enough to be viable–just look at all the contacts many amateur radio operators make with their low-power (QRP) rigs (transceivers) using short, helically-wound, mobile antenna sticks. If they can work magic with such inefficient antenna setups, surely your effort at an antenna would pay off to some degree. Right?

Of course, I want to make a proper dipole out of this example antenna. But, while I wait for the rest of the parts I need to complete this antenna project (pulleys and a ladder, and maybe a potato launcher), I’ve put this makeshift antenna on the air, with it just high enough so that I can enjoy some time on the shortwave bands.

With this antenna, I’ve made successful two-way voice and Morse code contacts (QSOs) with stations in Europe and across North America. I am able to tune it on the 60-, 40-, 30-, 20-, 15-, 17-, 12-, and 10-Meter bands. Reverse beacon detection picks up my Morse-code CW signals, especially on 40 meters (the band on which it is tuned physically).

The bottom line: just get something up in the air and start communicating. Improve things over time. You’ll have much fun that way.

73 de NW7US dit dit

Perfect Straight-Key Morse Code? Can It Be Made Without Machines?

What is the proper (and most efficient) technique for creating Morse code by hand, using a manual Morse code key?
Ham radio operators find Morse code (and the CW mode, or Continuous Wave keying mode) very useful, even though Morse code is no longer required as part of the licensing process.
Morse code is highly effective in weak-signal radio work.  And, Preppers love Morse code because it is the most efficient way to communicate when there is a major disaster that could wipe out the communications infrastructure.
While this military film is antique, the vintage information is timeless, as the material is applicable to Morse code, even today.  This film has the answer to the question, “Can a person craft perfect Morse code by straight key, without the help of a computer or machine?
The International Morse Code (sometimes referred to as CW in amateur radio jargon because a continuous wave is turned on and off with the long and short elements of the Morse code characters) is a type of character encoding that transmits telegraphic information using rhythm. Morse code uses a standardized sequence of short and long elements to represent the letters, numerals, punctuation and special characters of a given message. The short and long elements can be formed by sounds, marks, or pulses, in on off keying and are commonly known as dots and dashes or, dits and dahs. The speed of Morse code is measured in words per minute (WPM) or characters per minute, while fixed-length data forms of telecommunication transmission are usually measured in baud or bps.
Why is it called Morse code? This character encoding was devised by Samuel F. B. Morse, the creator of the electric telegraph. This Morse code came in two flavors, in the beginning years of its usage. One was in use by the railroads of America, and is known as American Morse Code. And, there is a unified, internationally-used version (adopted by radio operators), now known as the International Morse Code. Now, when most people refer to Morse code, or CW, they mean, International Morse Code.
Currently, the most popular use of Morse code is by amateur radio operators, although it is no longer a requirement for amateur licensing in many countries. In the professional field, pilots and air traffic controllers are usually familiar with Morse code and require a basic understanding. Navigational aids in the field of aviation, such as VORs and NDBs, constantly transmit their identity in Morse code.
Morse code is designed to be read by humans without a decoding device, making it useful for sending automated digital data in voice channels. For emergency signaling, Morse code can be sent by way of improvised sources that can be easily keyed on and off, making Morse code one of the most versatile methods of telecommunication in existence.
More about Morse code, at my website: http://cw.hfradio.org
73 de NW7US dit dit

Software-Defined Radio: Try Before You Buy? You Might Like It!

Sure! You don’t need to have a software-defined radio (SDR) before you start learning how to use the technology; there are a few different paths you can take, exploring and learning about SDR.

One way to gain some experience with SDR without spending a dime is to install a free software package for the very popular, non-Linux, operating system (that starts with ‘W’), and give SDR a test drive. If you like it, you might consider getting your own hardware (like the SDRplay RSPdx, for instance), and connecting it up to your computer and running this software, too.

Why I Dived Into SDR

I have always loved radio, ever since the early 1970s, when I discovered shortwave radio. In the last couple of years, I’ve had an increasing interest in the world of SDR. When I am working, but away from home (remember those days, before Covid?), I want to sample news and programming from around the world, but through shortwave. The way to do that, I found, is by using the various SDR options which allow a person to tune a remote receiver, and listen.

I also find working with the waterfall of a typical SDR-software user interface rewarding because, instead of blindly searching for signals in a subband, I can see all of the received signals on the scrolling time representation of a slice of frequency. Simply select that signal on the waterfall, and the radio tunes right to it.

I often connect to different SDR radios around the world, to catch all manner of shortwave signals, from maritime, military air, trans-oceanic air, or coast guard radio traffic, or other interesting HF communications including amateur radio CW and SSB signals. Occasionally, I also check out VHF and UHF signals from around the world. All of that, while instead an office building that is not suited for shortwave radio reception.

I’ve now decided to give back to the community; I’ve added my SDR receiver to the collection of receivers located around the world on the SDRSpace network of SDR radios.

My new SDRplay RSPdx software-defined radio receiver is live, via http://www.sdrspace.com/Version-3, using the SDR Console software (Version 3).

The receivers are online whenever I am not transmitting and when there are no local thunderstorms.

Antenna Port A is connected to a wire antenna (a horizontal 100-foot wire that runs out from my house’s chimney to a tall tree; about 10 feet of that wire is oriented vertically, where the wire passes through a pulley and then is weighted down so it can move with wind-driven tree movement), while Antenna Port B is connected up to a VHF/UHF discone.

Both antenna systems have an AM Broadcast band notch (reject) filter reducing local AM Broadcast-Band radio station signals by about 30 to 40 dB. I need to use these because the very close KLIN transmitting tower is just miles away and those signals overwhelm the receiver. When I use the signal filters, the local AM Broadcasting signals no longer overwhelm the receiver.

In the following video, I first explain my SDR setup, and in the second half of the video, I tune around the radio spectrum, using the software to control my SDR receiver.

A Couple of Questions

After watching this video, WO9B wrote an email to me. Michael asked of me two questions, summed up as:

1. Your SDR window has the IF screen on top. How is that accomplished?

2. Your AM Broadcast filters; more info, please. I live in the area of mucho broadcast stations and that looks like something I could use.

In the following video, I demonstrate how I changed my layout of the SDR Console software. And, I mention the AM Broadcast Filter for SDR Receivers (the hardware filter is found here: https://g.nw7us.us/3kU5SJN).

To Use My Receiver

Download the latest version of SDR-Console from https://www.sdr-radio.com/download – there is a 32-bit and a 64-bit Windows installation package.

The 64-bit installation package may be downloaded from one of these three sources:

1. Googlehttps://g.nw7us.us/3auBq44
2. DropBoxhttps://g.nw7us.us/310ooIG
3. Microsofthttps://1drv.ms/u/s!AovWaZDu7Hrd3U-yqK1bs3wuaFw2?e=o4nKeh

The 32-bit installation package can be downloaded from one of these three sources:

1. Googlehttps://g.nw7us.us/3iLasrZ
2. DropBoxhttps://g.nw7us.us/3g4VcVc
3. Microsofthttps://1drv.ms/u/s!AovWaZDu7Hrd3U4mJiiRtI9lm70s?e=HDG4ZX

Install the SDR Console package according to the directions given. Once you have the software installed, you will want to add my server. It takes some work to get familiar with the software, but there are online FAQs on how to begin.

One guide on how to add a server to the list from which you can pick may be found, here:

https://www.sdrplay.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/SDRConsoleV3-ServerGuide1-1.pdf

I worked on getting all of the bugs worked out of my installation before making the video. It did take some work, and reading up on things. But, the software is solid and a good contender against SDRuno, and HDSDR, and, this way I can share it online with you.

My server is known as, ‘0 NW7US‘ — it will be online when I am not using my antenna systems for transmitting. It will be offline during thunderstorms, or during times when I must use the systems for transmitting.

Look for the 0 NW7US server.

Software-defined radio is a great way to hear all sorts of communications, from local AM broadcast stations, FM stations, VHF Air Traffic, to shortwave radio stations including amateur radio HF communications.

Thank you for watching, commenting, and most of all, for subscribing; please subscribe to my YouTube Channel: https://YouTube.com/NW7US Also, please click on the bell, to enable alerts so that when I post a new video, you will be notified. By subscribing, you will be kept in the loop for new videos and more.

73 de NW7US

.. (yes, this is an expansion of an earlier post… forgive the redundancy… thank you) ..

Check Out My New SDRplay RSPdx Software-Defined Radio Receiver – Live!

My new SDRplay RSPdx software-defined radio receiver is live, via http://www.sdrspace.com/Version-3, using the SDR Console software (Version 3).

The receivers are online whenever I am not transmitting and when there are no local thunderstorms.

Antenna Port A is a wire antenna (100′), while Antenna Port B is a VHF/UHF discone. Both have an AM Broadcast band reject filter, reducing local AM Broadcast signals by about 30 to 40 dB. I need to use these because the very close KLIN transmitting tower is just miles away and those signals overwhelm the receiver. When I use the signal filters, the local AM Broadcasting signals no longer overwhelm the receiver.

Let me know what you think. Enjoy!

To use my receiver:

Install the latest version of SDR-Console which can be downloaded from https://www.sdr-radio.com/download

Install SDR Console according to the directions given. Once you have the software installed, you will want to add my server.

It takes a little to get familiar with the software, but there are online FAQs on how to begin.

My server is known as, ‘0 NW7US‘ — it will be online when I am not using my antenna systems for transmitting. It will be offline during thunderstorms, or during times when I must use the systems for transmitting.

Software-defined radio is a great way to hear all sorts of communications, from local AM broadcast stations, FM stations, VHF Air Traffic, to shortwave radio stations including amateur radio HF communications.

Thank you for watching, commenting, and most of all, for subscribing; please subscribe to my YouTube Channel: https://YouTube.com/NW7US Also, please click on the bell, to enable alerts so that when I post a new video, you will be notified. By subscribing, you will be kept in the loop for new videos and more.

Video:

73!

 

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!


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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor




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