Posts Tagged ‘WSJT’

An Interesting FT8 Afternoon


Lest my loyal blog-followers think I’ve taken a leap to the digital-darkside, rest assured this is not the case!


The only time that I (somewhat grudgingly) use FT8 is during the summer Es season, since most of the DX seems to have migrated to that mode. On Monday afternoon, during a moment of weakness driven by curiosity, I moved my receiver from 630m JT9 to 40m FT8 ... what might I see at around noon, via this popular weak signal digital QSO mode? To say that the results were surprising is an understatement!

40m at noon
The above screen capture shows the signals decoded between 12 and 1PM local time! Although it was surprising to see all of the east coast signals, it was shocking to see all of the signals (a dozen or more) coming from Japan and South Korea! All of them were working Europeans to their west, none of which were decoding here.

With an all-daylight path between VE7 and Asia, could these signals be coming via the long-path? If so, I would expect to see at least a few signals from other countries along the great circle path to Asia but none were forthcoming. Perhaps it’s a case of there being a sufficiently weak D-layer to allow signals to propagate on the direct path via the F-layer, in spite of the all-daylight path. What do you think?

I then moved the receiver down to 80m, and monitored there for the next two hours.


80m at 1500 local
The 80m screen capture above was made at 3PM local time! Once again, I was surprised to see so many signals coming from the east, in broad daylight! Is this further evidence of a weak D-layer or just a demonstration of the capabilities of FT8?

For both 80 and 40m, the antenna used was my 80m end-fed half-wave configured as an inverted-L ... 70’ straight up and 60’ horizontal. The feedpoint is one-foot above the ground and located beside the ocean, looking towards the east.

I then finished off the afternoon with a look on topband, using my 160m half-sloper. The screen capture of 160m was made at 5PM local time, fully two hours before my local sunset!


160m at 1700 local

Like the previous two bands, 160m was showing signals in broad daylight, from the east coast! Low D-layer absorption? ... salt water horizon gain? ... excellent antennas? ... or is this just the sensitivity of FT8 revealing 'normal propagation' that we can't hear on CW? I suspect that it's a complex combination of all of these factors and maybe others.

In reality, the weak-signal ‘digging power’ of FT8 is not too much greater than the threshold for audible CW ... hearing about 1 S-unit (~6-7db) deeper. Maybe that’s all it takes to peel-back, like an onion skin, another layer of hidden signals.

There are other weak-signal digital QSO modes much more sensitive than FT8. Both JT9 and JT65 can each hear more than an S-unit deeper than FT8 but at the expense of taking longer to do it ... there’s just no free-ride. I believe that the shorter (~15 second) sequencing of FT8 is the main reason for its overwhelming popularity, in spite of its lower sensitivity.

I’ll run this test again soon to see if Monday’s daytime prop was unusual or if it was typical of what to expect with weak-signal digital modes on the lower bands during the daylight hours ... either way, it was indeed, an interesting FT8 afternoon!

Magic Band Mid-Season Observations

courtesy: KC8RP FT8 Info

We are now half-way through this summer’s Sporadic-E season, normally the magic band’s best time of the year. The only exception to this being the winter months of those solar cycles that are robust enough to raise the F2 MUF up as far as 50MHz ... something that occurred for only two or three days during the peak of Solar Cycle 24.

Unfortunately, it really looks as if the old reliable bread and butter modes on 6m, CW and SSB, are fast going the way of the dodo bird, as very few signals on either of these modes have been heard here this summer. As speculated last year at this time, it seems as though the weak signal (WSJT) FT8 mode now reigns supreme on the band, which has come as a great disappointment to myself and many other diehard CW ops.

At the start of this year’s season I reluctantly decided to pay more attention to this mode and see if it could put any  new DXCC entities into my 6m log ... if so, it would be time well-spent.

For the past several years, my main 6m interest has focused on European or South / Central American openings, which are usually unpredictable and short-lived. As usual, most of the season’s openings have been domestic, with signals from the central and south-eastern states being the ones most often heard. Usually, signals during these openings are strong and fairly reliable and lend themselves to easy two-way work on either CW or SSB. For the vast majority of summer time openings, FT8 is not needed, as signals are not weak.

For some reason, the popularity of this weak-signal mode on 6m continues to grow in popularity even though signals are so strong! Where this mode really shines is on the short-lived long haul openings to EU or on similar long paths from the PNW, of which there have been very few this season.

With everyone crowded into a narrow passband of ~ 2kHz, it doesn’t take much to mess things up for your neighbours if you don’t think carefully about how your operating can affect other users of that small sliver of space.

One of the most common examples of poor operating skills that I see is the seemingly endless CQ. This is much easier to do on FT8 than with conventional modes, as the software used can do this automatically for you, every 15 seconds ... while you fiddle with something else in the shack. I’ve seen some nearby stations call CQ continuously for over 60 minutes at a time, with no replies. What this does is make it difficult for other nearby users to actually hear / decode any weak signals on the band that are being covered by the loud CQing station(s) during this entire span of time. Strong local signals can wreak considerable havoc with weak-signal mode software as it's just not designed to happily handle strong signals and do a good job of decoding weak ones at the same time! Please think about this if you are one of those long CQers ... you are not the only one trying to use the band.

Another observation has to do with 'sequencing'. FT8 users must decide if they will transmit on the ‘even’ or on the ‘odd’ 15-second sequence. If you, and all of your neighbours are loud with each other, then it makes sense that everyone is better off operating on the same sequence. This way, all locals are transmitting at the same time which means they are all listening at the same time as well ... nobody causes QRM for one another if everyone uses the same sequence.

This comes off the rails very easily when just one or two strong neighbours choose to transmit during the receive sequence being used by everyone else.

There has been a long-standing precedent for sequencing, established and utilized by meteor-scatter operators for several decades. It calls for stations on the eastern-most end of a path (Europeans for example) to transmit on ‘evens’ ... the ‘0-15’ and ‘30-45’ second segment of each minute. Stations on the western-end of the path (NA) transmit on the ‘odds’ ... ‘15-30’ and ‘45-60’ second portion of each minute. When looking towards JA later in the day, everything reverses for NA stations, as they now become the eastern-end of the path.

Some operators seem to get totally confused by this or don’t check to see what sequence is being used locally before starting to operate ... while some don’t really seem to care.

I’m not complaining about what a given amateur chooses to do but simply describing some of the roadblocks to better use of FT8 and why it is not necessarily very well-suited for 90% of the typical propagation seen on 6m Es.

Many of the newer stations often seem to be using poor or makeshift antenna systems on 6m and are often not able to hear stations responding to their CQs, which may be strong enough locally to disrupt reception for those that are able to hear weaker signals.

I have deliberately made a point of never calling CQ on FT8. From decades of CW DXing I have come to understand that it’s much easier to work DX, on any band, by spending your time listening ... and then calling when the time is right. It’s no different with FT8, yet I see CQs that go on forever. Some will argue that if nobody called CQ, then there would be nobody to hear, which is of course valid ... the reality is, most amateurs cannot resist calling CQ, especially DX stations who enjoy working a pileup. There seems to be no shortage of CQers and those seeking DX should take advantage of that fact.

One loud station was seen yesterday calling another for over 90 minutes-straight. Perhaps he had wandered away from his shack and had forgotten to ‘Halt Tx’ before leaving! FT8 users need to understand how to use their software efficiently.

As for PNW to EU propagation this summer, it has been almost non-existent although I have worked CT1HZE in Portugal and JW7QIA in Svalbard ... by listening ... listening ... and calling briefly, both on FT8. In both cases, signals were brief but strong enough for CW! During the short-lived appearance of the JW7, two NA stations were noted calling ‘CQ JW’ the entire time. Perhaps if they had spent this wasted time more wisely by listening, they would have worked JW.

I’m happy to report that Svalbard was a new DXCC entity for me on 6m, #88, and the first 'new one' in a few years.

It seems that when used sensibly, FT8 is a useful application to have in your DX toolbox ... but for most daily summer Es operation, it’s just not needed. CW or SSB is well up to the task most of the time, even for small stations. Where FT8 shines is on the very brief, often unstable, long haul (EU-NA or JA-NA) paths and then, only if your neighbours don’t do things that will get them into the naughty-corner!

Now, let’s see what the second half of the season has in store for the magic band .... maybe the best is yet to come.




Best Digital Mode? … Not Really

For the past year, as interest in the digital modes began to skyrocket, I have been reading the topical discussions and questions posted in the WSJT Yahoo Group.




Since the introduction of FT8, the group's daily traffic has soared and easily occupies the vast majority of inquiry.

Far and away, most questions either involve software / computer configuration problems or inquiries involving the operational use of the software itself. I am often surprised at the range of inquiry and in almost all questions involving the software itself, it just comes down to 'reading the manual' ... it seems that hams, like so many others, just don't like to read manuals and for a technically-oriented hobby, I find this peculiar. Perhaps it's because I'm just the opposite, and will usually go over instructional material, more than once, before plugging something in or installing any new software.

Not all digital modes are 'created equal' nor with the same purpose in mind and for those new to these modes or making the transition from traditional mode operations, sorting them out can often be a source of confusion. One such user broached this very topic with his recent inquiry:

I have been using JT65 and FT8 a lot, mainly on 6m DX to receive weak signals in the noise floor. QSB is acting fast there and the 15s intervals are a major advantage of FT8 to be able to complete rare contacts.
But which algorithm is better to decode weak signals in theory and practice? Do the long intervals allow the JT65 algorithm to decode weaker signals than FT8?
If both modes are equivalent is there any reason to use JT65 rather than FT8?

Bill, G4WJS, has been handling most of the technical inquiries and I thought his reply might help others that could be wondering the same thing:

... simple answer, neither wins in all situations. Each mode in WSJT-X is designed for a certain set of requirements and given those the protocol and the decoders try to optimize sensitivity and robustness.
JT65 was designed initially for EME where ultimate sensitivity was necessary and one minute T/R periods with variable bandwidths between 180Hz up to 400Hz, to cope with Doppler spreading, was deemed acceptable for practical QSOs.

FT8 is not as sensitive, a few dB behind JT65A but as you point out it is particularly suitable for multi-hop 6m Es propagation where openings can be very short. This is no surprise as it was crafted for exactly that. OTOH FT8 has become *very* popular on HF, probably because most HF QSOs do not need ultimate sensitivity and the 15s T/R period makes QSOs four times as fast compared with JT65. This last attribute is surely what is driving the massive uptake on HF on the current "easy DX" propagation bands like 20m for daylight paths and 40m for darkness paths.

JT9 was designed for HF and uses about 1/10 of the bandwidth of JT65A along with even better sensitivity. Unfortunately many users use ancient software with no JT9 support or are working through JT65 goals like WAS mode specific endorsements so JT9 does not get the attention it deserves. Although JT9 works for many on 6m, the tighter frequency tolerance required is a limitation for many with older rigs.

Both FT8 and JT65A have two pass decoders that can dig out multiple overlapping signals (similar techniques could be developed for JT9 but the need has not been seen yet).

FT8 has the AP decoder which gets a couple of dB extra sensitivity for critical decodes and also helps with truncated or interrupted messages in some cases.

WSPR is a pseudo beacon mode that uses a short message and two minute T/R period that has greater sensitivity than even JT9 despite the signal being only 6Hz wide. WSPR like JT65A and FT8 uses a two pass decoder capable of decoding overlapping signals.

There is also MSK144, QRA64, JT4, the fast versions of JT9, ISCAT, FreqCal and Echo mode. Each with a specific purpose and maybe for other opportunities they were not initially designed for.

For myself, I have yet to download the latest WSJT-X release, as I presently have no need, nor see the need to use FT8. To utilize the new release, I think I'll need to delete my older (pre-FT8) version, in order to avoid file confliction problems. My older version works very well for what I do need, and that is JT9. There are a few features on the software that I also find handy, which have been removed in the newer versions ... I think.
I can however, visualize losing out on some great DX opportunities on 6m during the summer, if the huge exodus from the CW DX mode to the FT8 mode continues to escalate. I really hate the idea of this happening but if that's what it takes, I'll install the FT8 version on my small contest-logging laptop which means building a new interface to run the 756PROIII on FT8.

Of course there is always the possibility that the trend will reverse as many eventually find that FT8 contacts are not all that interesting. The inability to exchange anything other than minimal required QSO information is the price paid for that extra sensitivity ... fine for that once in awhile new one in the log but not very satisfying for everyday communications.

The 'reversing trend' was also addressed in a recent posting to the WSJT Yahoo Group:

In my opinion it is nice to see a steady return to JT65 & JT9.
An all round better mode.
Still a bit short on the DX stations but I am sure they will follow soon.

Pretty much what a lot of us said would happen: an initial surge to FT8 and then things would settle down. Just another tool in the toolbox that does not have to be “better” or “worse” than anything else that has a few advantages over some modes in some areas (Es, for example) and disadvantages over others. None of these modes has to be classified as “good,” “bad,” “better,” “worse,” etc just like I don’t consider a screwdriver “better” overall than a hammer but each tool does a different thing. I suppose it’s human nature to attempt to classify things that way.

I have also seen some confusion when some are describing WSPR 'QSOs'. This is disturbing since there can never be a two-way exchange of information, all via radio (a QSO) using the one-way WSPR beacon-mode. Some may be confusing 'WSPR QSO's' for the actual Weak-Signal two-way 'WSPR QSO'  modes such as JT65, JT9, FT8 etc. 

Since WSPR relies on an internet back-channel exchange of information (to see where you've been heard), there is no actual on-air exchange of the data needed to claim a legitimate contact. To make such a claim would be no different than two stations, each running a beacon and calling each other up on the telephone to say that they can hear each other and calling it a two-way 'QSO'!

I have been using, and will continue to use JT9 on the new 630m band where signal levels are often too marginal for CW work but easily handled with this digital QSO mode ... otherwise I'll keep pounding brass whenever I can!

160m FT8 – The End Of An Era?

If you follow any of the numerous ham radio-related discussion groups then you know that every once in awhile a thread pops up that triggers some extended and often heated chat.

One such thread on the Topband reflector, is now finally starting to gasp its final breath but not before running through several dozens of well-thought replies and opinions. I can easily imagine a similar thread, had the Internet been around, when SSB quickly began taking over the phone bands!

The thread began when veteran 160m DXer Steve, (VK6VZ) posted an observation that also hit home with me … the seemingly overnight disappearance of a huge percentage of CW / SSB activity on the HF bands.

Steve’s comments are directed towards 160m, where weak signal work has always been an enjoyable but challenging activity but I have noticed the same effect on my other favorite band, 50MHz. With the sudden popularity of the new FT8 weak-signal fast-mode, the bands have changed.

As I and others have often stated about Topband DXing, 6m weak-signal DX as well as EME, “if it were easy, it wouldn’t be fun” … perhaps that is what has now happened. Both Steve and myself see many of the things we have cherished and enjoyed about ham radio for so many years now harder to find and wonder … is it the end of an era or not?

G’day

As a committed (yeah, that’s probably the right word – complete with white
jacket that laces up at the back) topbander since 1970, I’ve never been so
intrigued and disturbed by anything on the band as the emergence of the
Franke-Taylor FT-8 digital mode.

For me, radio has always been all about what I audibly hear. I love all the
sounds that radio signals make – and even miss the comforting sound of Loran that I grew up with around 1930kHz as a teenager in south-east England. Yeah, I am one sick puppy.

With the emergence of high resolution bandscopes through SDR technology over the last decade, I embraced that as it meant that I could find what DX stations I wanted to hear and contact quicker and more easily (and, in particular, before those stations who didn’t have the same technology).

It was really exciting and enhanced the sensual experience of radio by being
able to see what I could hear (and no dinosaur me, I was an SDR fan boy!).

During this period, there has also been an extraordinary development in digital
radio modes, in particular by Joe Taylor K1JT.

As a topbander I could see that these modes in which you ‘saw’ signals through the medium of computer screen or window as being a remarkable technical achievement, but had relatively little to do what I and the vast majority of active radio amateurs practiced as radio on 160m, as it had nothing to do with the audible.

The good thing was that I could see that good old CW and Silly Slop Bucket (you can see where my prejudices lie) that I like to use were still the modes of choice for weak signal DX topband radio contact as these fancy digital modes were either very slow or, if they weren’t, were not good at dealing with signals that faded up and down or were covered in varying amounts of noise.

While some amateurs seemed to have lost the pleasure of actually hearing
signals in favour of viewing them on their computer screens, I felt secure that
these digital modes were just a minor annoyance and any serious DXer or
DXpedition was never going to seriously going to use them, particularly on my
first and all-time love topband, for other than experimentation.

Then, out of the blue, along comes FT-8. Joe and Steve Franke K9AN have quietly created the holy grail of digital operation with a mode that can have QSOs almost as fast as CW and SSB and over the last eight weeks 160m DXing has changed, perhaps for ever.

Where once there were a few weak CW and SSB signals (I am in VK6, which is a looong way from anywhere with a population so we only ever hear a few), I can see that the busiest part of the band is 1840 kHz – FT-8 central.  On some nights I can see FT-8 signals on the band but no CW or SSB.

There are countries I’ve dreamed for 20 years of hearing on 160m SSB/CW (for example, KG4) regularly appearing on DX clusters and I can see the heap of FT-8 activity on my band scope.

Frustration sets in and I even downloaded the FT-8 software but, when it comes down to it,  I just can’t use it. My heart isn’t in it.

My computer will be talking to someone else’s computer and there will be no
sense of either a particular person’s way of sending CW or the tone of their
voice (even the way some my SSB mates overdrive their transceivers is actually creating nostalgia in me). The human in radio has somehow been lost.

I think back to my best-ever 160m SSB contact with Pedro NP4A and I can still
hear the sound of his voice, his accent, when he came up out of the noise and
to my amazement answered me on my second call, with real excitement in his
voice. Pure radio magic!

So I am sitting here, feeling depressed and wondering if overnight I have
become a dinosaur and this is the beginning of the end of topband radio as I’ve
always enjoyed it.

Now, over to you other topbanders, especially those who have dabbled with FT-8 and live in more populous areas. Has the world really turned upside down and what do you think the future holds?

Vy 73

Steve, VK6VZ/G3ZZD


Here are just a few of some of the comments elicited by Steve’s post:

… we are not forced to use the new modes. On the other hand, these new modes enable a whole new layer of operators. A new target rich environment for more opportunities to work new DX. The RF still has to go from A to B to be decoded 

I think the game changing aspect of FT8 is that many folks who would normally be available to work on CW or SSB  will now be on FT8.   The amount of activity on the FT8 frequency of any band is phenomenal.

… he was sending (me) a text message that he was sending me RRR and I needed to be sending him 73! Who needs a radio?

I turned off the radio and uninstalled WSJT-X.

Pure and simple —- No skill, no thrill.

I hear a lot of moaning that there is not any cw ……. well quit moaning and call CQ for a while … do it often, not just listen .

Stu W1BB had the attitude of do whatever you have to to make the DX contacts. There is no doubt in my mind that he would be using JT9, FT8, spark or whatever it took to make new country contacts.

FT8 is already falling victim of its own success. In my case, the number of incomplete QSOs is increasing, due to QRM caused by ‘over population’ in the FT8 segment.

There was a time when SSB was considered evil.

If using a digital mode keeps someone involved in ham radio or generates new interest, then I’m all for it.

On the other hand, these new modes enable a whole new layer of operators. A new target rich environment for more opportunities to work new DX. The RF still has to go from A to B to be decoded.

A similar situation regarding digital modes took place on 50 MHz this summer. In the case of 6 meters, JT65 and FT8 are now the predominant modes for DX work on 6 meters. During terrestrial sporadic-E openings, there are very few DX stations now operating CW or SSB on 6.  Meteor scatter is the realm of MSK144.  If you want to work DX on 6 meters now – digital is where it is at.

Like FT8 or dislike it, it’s really not the end of Ham Radio.

Technology is constantly changing. Get on the air.  Do your thing. Have fun.  When it ceases to be fun for me, then I know I’ll move onto something else.

I’ve been licensed for over 60 years, and have been a thankful participant in ham radio’s golden years, but if continuing on means having to make qso’s that I don’t hear and that I can’t understand without a computer, then it’s of no further interest.

I almost bought the new transceiver I’ve been wanting this year …. until I saw the reflector post about the gentleman who “worked 20 new ones this season, and I couldn’t hear any of them!” The new purchase is now on hold, until I see how this plays out. If there is a rapid change to digital only DXing on 160, I’m going to be happy I saved my money for one of my more interesting hobbies.

The problem is not the type of mode but the Internet. We’re spending too much time ragchewing on these groups instead of tickling the ether.

However, the trouble with the computer-based Digital modes is that there is no SKILL involved in having a contact – it’s your Computer having a contact!

You still need to set up a radio, antenna, and, of course, the computer and software to do the digital modes. Making QSOs after all of that is not a given. Different skills than CW or SSB I’ll grant you but skills none the less.

Put me in the group who of those who arrived kicking, screaming and being drug from Tubes to Solid state. From AM to SSB. From Analog to Digital. It is called advancements in technology. I still dislike cellphones. But I use them. And also all other forms of Ham Radio.

You guys should have been around for the AM versus SSB discussions/wars without the use of the instant communication internet.

VERY SORRY, BUT if 50 mc and also 1.8 mc is going to be the same this and coming 2018 season,  I stop my ham-radio and will do something else. I give it to end of 2018 to see if any changes will come.

Well said. . .I totally agree.

I’m sure there will be people who say FT8 is just “progress.”  But some psychologists divide people according to whether their preferred mode of experience is auditory, visual or kinesthetic (touch).  I think most of us who are addicted to radio are primarily auditory – on one level, that’s why we’re in this hobby.  So, no surprise that we find radio without the auditory component to be unfulfilling.

… let’s all maintain our ham licenses and continue using our favorites modes.

… don’t give up. There is still plenty of magic in ham radio.

I’m not knocking the guys using the digital modes. It’s obviously a new and interesting technology and they are having fun, which is the reason we do this, right? I just have ZERO interest in it all and still get my fun actually hearing and working another station.

When it comes to actually making a QSOs, I really don’t know what you get out of the process where two computers communicate with each other using signals that are not audible.

The new digital mode is an evolution of doing nothing. Skype would be more fun … digital mode is boring and soon the FT8 user will feel that way too.

Call CQ 5 times and then turn your computer on, every day, if all of us do it once a day, the band will be fun again.

JT modes were originally designed for VHF. No reason to use them on HF and especially on Top Band.

I guess I don’t understand what makes the new Digital modes any different from old RTTY. There will always be a place for CW and voice modes in ham radio for those that want to practice those … and remember one of the major facets of ham radio is to “advance the state of the radio art” which surely describes the new digital modes.

People should be excited that there are now so many signals on 160!

It is allowing people who have smaller stations the opportunity to get on and use their radios and a computer to make contacts they never would have been able to make. This is great for ham radio!

Steve’s final comments summed-up his thoughts:

G’day

Thanks very much to all those who contributed to the thread following my ‘FT8 – the end of 160m old school DXing?’ post. Here is a summary of what appeared in my ‘In Box’.

First, special thanks to CJ Johnson WT2P for bravely giving the ‘new school’ perspective and actually taking radio, in FT-8 form, into his workplace . As CJ says, FT-8 is just another natural progression of the hobby, which actually appeals to the ‘20-somethings’ we need to join us (and who just happened to be brought up with lots of screens rather than cardboard loudspeakers and bakelite headphones). Vive la difference!

In regard to the emails received via the reflector  or privately, there were three things that came through very loud and clear (actually deafening).

1. There are lots of long-time, old-school topbanders (and 6m users) like me who enjoy chasing weak signal DX on CW and SSB and are now worried about the future of this activity because of the current high usage rates of FT-8 on those bands. Always better when you aren’t alone!
—————————————
2. We can band together and do something about this – the solution for us old school ops who want to keep CW and SSB vital on the two magic bands is to go back to first principles – lots of CQing, tuning the band regularly and answering CQs – rather than just watching our bandscopes and DX clusters.  We all know that only activity breeds more activity. Duuh! (I feel really stupid now).

As JC N4IS said:

”With the computer our habits are different. Nowadays we turn [to] the PC first and if we see a spot or a RBN entry we try to call…. We should [go] back to call[ing] CQ for the fun to work someone. Call CQ five times and then turn your computer on, every day. If all of us do it once a day, the band will be fun again.”

We’ve all got CW memory and/or voice keyers – if we don’t want to actually CQ manually, we can use them for lots of daily CQing and make sure we answer anyone who calls us.

We also need to answer those who we hear calling CQ to keep the band alive, even if we worked them the day before – as we did in the older, less hurried, more polite days of yore.
——————————————–
3. The ARRL could be encouraged to change the DXCC program and add a new mode-specific category for the evolving ‘new wave’ (i.e. WSJT) family of digital modes, where contacts can be made with stations that are basically inaudible (i.e. as Hans SM6CVX suggested, where the signal levels are –1dB or more below the noise).

To keep the peace with existing DXCC holders, one potential solution is those traditional modes which generally need audibility – typically CW, SSB, RTTY  and PSK-31 – would count for the long-standing Mixed mode, but the inaudible ‘new wave’ digi modes would not.

However, the growing and evolving family of inaudible ‘new wave’ digital modes could have a whole, bright, shiny new DXCC category to themselves, for which all the current WSJT modes and their evolving, successor modes would count.

This ‘new wave’ digital award could have a new cool, 21st century-looking certificate (are holograms 21st century?) , would give new wave digital operators the chance to be among the first to get this award and would also give the ARRL DXCC program the chance to potentially get some extra revenue in issuing these awards.  Of course, all the contacts would be submitted electronically. 😉

Another different but related idea came from Mark K3MSB  – why not ask the ARRL to consider awarding band-specific DXCC awards with mode endorsements (i.e. 160M DXCC-CW,  160M DXCC-FT8,  40M-Digital, 17M-SSB etc).

If we want to get this kind of change to the ARRL’s DXCC program, then as Mark suggests we need to make our voices heard. This could be simply done by creating an electronic petition to the ARRL signed by as many current members of the DXCC program as possible, clearly spelling out what sort of change the petitioners think is needed. There is a great website which can be used for this purpose –   see https://www.change.org/start-a-petition – and it should be easy to publicise a petition of this kind, using reflectors.

For many years I was involved in administrating amateur soccer and have experience of using electronic petitions as a means of showing an administrative body the level of support for specific changes to the way the game is run.  In my experience, electronic petitions are a viable way to get rules changed these days. Some people hate them, but BIG petitions actually do get results.

Hope the above summary of ideas was of interest. Please excuse me now and I’ll get along to the low end of 160m, start doing something practical like CQing and stop worrying about the demise of old school radio (which I’ve probably greatly exaggerated).

Vy 73

Steve, VK6VZ/G3ZZD

All-in-all, some food for thought! Personally I exploit the weak-signal properties of the WSJT JT9 mode on 630m, but only when conditions are too poor for CW. I dearly miss the drop-off of CW DX activity on Topband and on the magicband. For now anyway, I will continue to avoid the use of FT8 on the HF and 6m bands, keep flogging CW, and hope that things are not as dire as some have suggested. Times are indeed interesting and changing … and as always, eventually time will tell.

Getting Started On The New LF and MF Bands

Finally the long wait is over! The LF 2200m band and the MF 630m band have finally arrived for amateurs in the USA! I'm sure most of you have read the fine print regarding deployment of the two bands, but if not, here is the ARRL's recent announcement.

It has been a very long wait for the FCC to implement these bands after they were approved for amateur use in 2007 and 2012 at the World Radiocommunication Conferences in Geneva. Canadian amateurs have had 630m since 2014 and 2200m since 2009 ... in the meantime, we have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of American amateurs to liven things up and to garner new interest in these bands.

Before operating on these bands, amateurs in the USA are required to register their intent via a simple web form found here on the Utilities Technology Council's website. Then follows a 30 day waiting period during which the UTC will check out your location to be sure that you are not located within 1km of any power lines that might be carrying LF or MF PLC (Power Line Carrier) control signals. If you hear nothing back from UTC within 30 days, you are good to go.

A positive outcome of registering via the UTC form is that there can be no PLC signals implemented on the lines near you at a later date! By registering your intended operating location(s), you are locking-in these spots for no further PLC development. If you have an EOC or Field Day site that you think you may want to operate from at some point, register these as well.

I think it is important that even if you do not intend to operate on either of these bands or perhaps a few years down the road, that you register as soon as possible ... the fewer PLC signals operating close to or within the amateur radio spectrum, the better, and this is one way of furthering that goal.

There has already been a vast amount of published information on both of these bands, describing transmitters, receiving systems and transmitting antennas so I won't go into much detail here regarding these topics ... and besides, it's always very interesting to search these things out yourself, learning as you go. Be assured that either of these bands will present interesting new challenges not encountered in typical HF operation, but all of the basic principles you are used to still apply ... it's just that things are much bigger down below the broadcast band!

Far and away, the best source of information for US amateurs can be found on John Langridge's (KB5NJD) NJDTechnolgies website. John has been operating on MF for several years already with an experimental licence (WG2XIQ) and is more than an expert on this topic.

His daily blog includes a detailed account of worldwide activity on 630m and makes for fascinating reading. His website provides all of the information and valuable links that you might need to plan your own LF or MF station. The information on his site, if printed out, would make a wonderful LF / MF Handbook!

My own blog and website also contain much helpful material, with a particular emphasis on Canadian activity on these bands. All of my blogspots dealing with 630m can be found here and contain enough bedtime reading to keep you busy for many nights.

If you are thinking of getting on either of these new bands, particularly 630m, here is a short Q & A that may help you through the initial planning stage of  how to get started.

What modes are commonly used on these bands?

At present, due to the low level of two-way amateur radio activity, the WSPR mode has been dominant. This is a weak-signal 'beacon-only' mode so most two-way contacts take place either on CW or on the weak signal JT-9 mode. JT-9 has been specifically designed for HF and LF / MF weak signal two-way work and can dig as deep as -27db into the noise to provide a contact that could never be completed on other conventional modes such as CW.

With the influx of new activity on these bands, particularly on 630m, I expect that most two-way work will equal or surpass the amount of WSPR activity and that JT-9 and CW will do most of the heavy-lifting.

How far can I work on these bands?

Although the erp limits appear to be QRP-sized, this is somewhat misleading ... it is astonishing what can be done. Don't think that '5W eirp' means that you can only run a transmitter capable of generating 5W. Because antennas are so inefficient on these bands, it is often necessary to run several hundreds of watts in order to achieve the legal eirp limits. The bigger and more efficient your antenna, the lower the power needed becomes. On many nights, 5W eirp will get you clear across the country on MF.

However, if you build something for 630m that only produces 25W of power, you will still have the capability of working many stations in other states on most winter evenings or mornings, as propagation, the 'great equalizer', can be amazing at times.

Presently, most stations operating on WSPR will often be detected from one coast to the other and those with excellent locations near the coast will soon be working stations down under or in Europe, either on CW or on JT-9. If you can, design and build for the maximum eirp, 1W on 2200m and 5W on 630m.

What type of transmitter do I need?

If your interests are only in CW, then the sky is the limit when it comes to design. There are numerous simple solid state transmitter designs out there, using inexpensive FETs to generate power. I'm hoping, along with many others, that there will be a considerable amount of CW activity on 630m and even a simple 25-watter should provide you with lots of  fun. There may also be some appetite for QRSS CW which can give the weak-signal digital modes a run for their money while still using a simple transmitter.

If you are interested in digital modes, such as WSPR or JT-9, the easiest way is through the use of a transverter to take care of converting your HF transceiver's capabilities to LF or HF. There are presently a few commercial transverter options available and can be found on the NJDTechnologies links page.

A good choice is the inexpensive 630m transverter produced by John Molnar, shown below and available both as a kit or prebuilt. It works well and is very popular.

630m Transverter - John Molnar WA3ETD / WG2XKA
Although not available commercially, another popular 630m homebrew design is one from G3XBM which will also provide a way to get on the digital modes. He also has a 2200m design, should your interests be focused on that band.

G3XBM -630m Transverter
Any of these simple transverters are capable of controlling a higher-powered switching FET amplifier as your station progresses.

If you want something in the 'Collins category', the tranverters (both 2200m and 630m models) produced by VK4YB's Monitor Sensors provide around 70W output and are incredibly well designed and built. I have been very happily employing a 630m model for well over a year now ... my review of the transverter can be found here.

VK4YB - 630m Transverter
I suspect that we may soon see more commercial products become available over the next year but if you are handy with a soldering iron, building your transmitter will all be part of the 630m challenge!

I would like to put on a beacon. What do you suggest?

The best and most informational type of beacon is a WSPR mode beacon. A WSPR beacon operator can always determine where his beacon is being heard, in real time, along with how well it is being heard, by watching the uploaded 'spots' of his beacon on the WSPRnet. You will have much better coverage with this weak-signal mode beacon compared to one on CW ... for every CW report received, you would likely get ten times or more that number on WSPR.

Although WSPR is a great mode for checking out propagation, it's very easy to get into the habit of nightly beaconing and not developing your station any further. If you do run a WSPR beacon, be sure to try some of the other two-way modes such as CW or JT9 and call CQ regularly ... ham radio is all about making two-way contacts!

I don't have enough property for the large antennas required, so I won't be able to use these bands.

Even if you are limited in space, you can still enjoy these bands. There are many examples of stations on small city or suburban-size lots that are consistently heard across North America on 630m. If you have the room for an 80m or 40m dipole or inverted-L, that will be enough space to work these bands. An inverted-L for example, can be base-loaded and tuned to resonance. Along with several ground radials, even a small antenna system like this will allow you to work skywave DX or be heard across the country when propagation is good. I'm constantly amazed at how well these bands propagate with very low amounts of erp. Don't let living on a small lot stop you from exploring these bands!

All I hear is noise on these bands ... how can I use them if I can't hear anything?

Growing noise floors are common to everyone and this is often the biggest challenge for LF and MF operators, especially those in densely populated regions. Armed with a little knowledge and investigation, oftentimes seemingly impossible QRN can be substantially reduced if not eliminated entirely ... even easier when the noise source is found to be in your own home! While some amateurs just give up at this stage, most will see it as an interesting challenge to be overcome and part of the many learning experiences offered by these new bands.

In addition to the informational links provided above, I have just added a new 'Getting Started On 630m' page to my website. This page has a two-part article that I recently wrote for The Canadian Amateur, our national amateur radio journal. The articles describe a simple way of getting on 630m CW as well as providing some basic antenna information and ideas.

This blog also has extensive writings involving 630m over the past few years, describing equipment used and suggestions for new operators, much of it involving homebrewing. There are several links on the right that will take you to specific blogs dealing with 630m.

For present LF and MF operators here in Canada, the arrival of our American friends to these bands is generating much excitement and anticipation. The opening of these bands in the USA will pump new life into this part of the spectrum for all North American participants and the opportunities for homebrewing and experimenting are boundless. It should be a very exciting winter!

If you have not taken the 60 seconds required to register your station on the UTC webpage, please don't neglect to do this via the link provided above. There have, reportedly, been thousands of amateurs doing this already, as it effectively locks-out their locations for any future PLC deployment that might keep them off these bands at a later date.

See you in mid-October on 630!

Canada Post / QSLs / Magicband Transformations



Several weeks ago I mused about my interest in earth-mode VLF experiments, following the inspirational exploits of G3XBM in his earth-mode work a few years ago.





His low powered system utilizing a 5W audio IC and simple circuitry produced surprisingly interesting results over several kilometers.

With possible future experimenting in mind, I found a nice low-powered IC audio amplifier kit from China on e-Bay, capable of producing about 18W at 12V ... more with higher voltage and proper heat-sinking.



Whenever buying from China, I look for a dealer with the highest feedback rating and always compare their complaints versus the number of orders shipped. There always seems to be a few that are 99.9 - 100%, which, for me, has always assured that they are probably not selling junk. Anything lower than 98% can often be a red flag.

The kit was just $1.50 and with free-shipping, what's to lose?

A few weeks after I had placed my order, the nightly TV news had a spot regarding the problem that these "free shipping" packets were creating for Canada Post and their customers. It seems that in the past few months, as more and more "free" shipments were arriving from the far east, Canada Post had not been able to keep up with the processing. The news spot showed row upon row of shipping containers parked at the back of Vancouver International's (YVR) postal processing plant, with all of them filled with thousands of small "free" packets waiting to be processed!

It seems that each packet needs to be scanned by the border security folks (CBSA) for illegal material before it can be processed by Canada Post and the back-up was building at a tremendous rate. There appears to be little if any profit for Canada Post with these smaller untracked packages and they are given the lowest priority-rating possible.


In order to speed up the process, both CBSA and Canada Post facilities would need to expand their operational capabilities at the airport and I suspect there is no serious will to do this until pressured politically by angry customers.

All parcels from China that are mailed to Canada stop at Vancouver's YVR before going further. The mammoth recent increase in online "free-shipping", in spite of the normally estimated 3-4 week delivery time, has proven too attractive for customers and our domestic system has failed to meet the new load demands.

With this new information in mind, my e-Bay purchase would prove to be an interesting test of the system and of the TV news spot's accuracy. Normally, I would have expected my tiny parcel to arrive in about 30 days, but mine would be one that eventually ended up in the airport parking lot.

The kit finally arrived this week, with a delivery time of 89 days! Many online sellers will offer an inexpensive option to pay for faster shipping, something that will still take a couple of weeks but much better than three months. If you are given this inexpensive shipping option I would highly recommend that you choose it, and if not, ask for an alternative to "free shipping". Unless something changes soon, delays will continue to increase.

I also wonder, and perhaps you can comment below, are U.S. customers seeing the same long delays as we here in Canada are experiencing when the "free shipping" option is chosen?

#########################


QSLs in my mailbox always excite me ... especially like yesterday's, arriving in a thin light-brown envelope decorated with colorful stamps.





I'm 100% certain this is because of receiving similar-appearing envelopes containing QSL cards during my formative years from age eleven onward and how much enjoyment the cards from shortwave stations all over the world brought me at this young age. For me, there is no replacement for a paper QSL, but sadly, this long-standing tradition is slowly slipping away due to the high cost of mailing even a normal-size envelope.

Earlier this summer I had a nice run of JA's on 6m Es but this time, instead of CW, they were on JT65A. Yesterday's card was for one of the digital contacts.


Signals were weak, at -23 db ... far too weak to be heard on CW but easily readable during the 60 second deep-listen period mandated by the JT65A mode. With so many stations now listening higher in the band for JT-mode signals, there has been very little activity on CW and now, with the introduction of yet another new digital mode, FT8, even the digital activity is split into sections, with neither mode being compatible.

I have held off installing the newer WSJT-X version containing the FT8 fifteen-second transmission mode until all of the bugs are ironed out ... the software will likely be tweaked a few more times yet before it reaches the polished final version we see for JT65 and others. 

FT8 has been designed for weaker 6m Es openings that are often too short in duration for the longer time periods needed by JT65's sixty-second sequences. FT8 contacts can be completed quickly, before short-lived signals can drop out, but the shorter sequences come at the cost of reduced sensitivity ... probably a worthwhile tradeoff.

Conventional mode activity on 6m has suffered tremendously with the introduction of these new modes and it seems that if you want to work weak signal DX (and not all do), sadly it may be digital or nothing at all if the trends continue.

If all of the DX moves from CW to digital, for me, much of the magic will disappear as well. Letting the computer do all of the thinking is not nearly as satisfying or enjoyable as using my brain and CW skills to put a new rare one in the log. Six meters continues to evolve and I'm not overly excited by the direction it seems to be going.

Canada Post / QSLs / Magicband Transformations



Several weeks ago I mused about my interest in earth-mode VLF experiments, following the inspirational exploits of G3XBM in his earth-mode work a few years ago.





His low powered system utilizing a 5W audio IC and simple circuitry produced surprisingly interesting results over several kilometers.

With possible future experimenting in mind, I found a nice low-powered IC audio amplifier kit from China on e-Bay, capable of producing about 18W at 12V ... more with higher voltage and proper heat-sinking.



Whenever buying from China, I look for a dealer with the highest feedback rating and always compare their complaints versus the number of orders shipped. There always seems to be a few that are 99.9 - 100%, which, for me, has always assured that they are probably not selling junk. Anything lower than 98% can often be a red flag.

The kit was just $1.50 and with free-shipping, what's to lose?

A few weeks after I had placed my order, the nightly TV news had a spot regarding the problem that these "free shipping" packets were creating for Canada Post and their customers. It seems that in the past few months, as more and more "free" shipments were arriving from the far east, Canada Post had not been able to keep up with the processing. The news spot showed row upon row of shipping containers parked at the back of Vancouver International's (YVR) postal processing plant, with all of them filled with thousands of small "free" packets waiting to be processed!

It seems that each packet needs to be scanned by the border security folks (CBSA) for illegal material before it can be processed by Canada Post and the back-up was building at a tremendous rate. There appears to be little if any profit for Canada Post with these smaller untracked packages and they are given the lowest priority-rating possible.


In order to speed up the process, both CBSA and Canada Post facilities would need to expand their operational capabilities at the airport and I suspect there is no serious will to do this until pressured politically by angry customers.

All parcels from China that are mailed to Canada stop at Vancouver's YVR before going further. The mammoth recent increase in online "free-shipping", in spite of the normally estimated 3-4 week delivery time, has proven too attractive for customers and our domestic system has failed to meet the new load demands.

With this new information in mind, my e-Bay purchase would prove to be an interesting test of the system and of the TV news spot's accuracy. Normally, I would have expected my tiny parcel to arrive in about 30 days, but mine would be one that eventually ended up in the airport parking lot.

The kit finally arrived this week, with a delivery time of 89 days! Many online sellers will offer an inexpensive option to pay for faster shipping, something that will still take a couple of weeks but much better than three months. If you are given this inexpensive shipping option I would highly recommend that you choose it, and if not, ask for an alternative to "free shipping". Unless something changes soon, delays will continue to increase.

I also wonder, and perhaps you can comment below, are U.S. customers seeing the same long delays as we here in Canada are experiencing when the "free shipping" option is chosen?

#########################


QSLs in my mailbox always excite me ... especially like yesterday's, arriving in a thin light-brown envelope decorated with colorful stamps.





I'm 100% certain this is because of receiving similar-appearing envelopes containing QSL cards during my formative years from age eleven onward and how much enjoyment the cards from shortwave stations all over the world brought me at this young age. For me, there is no replacement for a paper QSL, but sadly, this long-standing tradition is slowly slipping away due to the high cost of mailing even a normal-size envelope.

Earlier this summer I had a nice run of JA's on 6m Es but this time, instead of CW, they were on JT65A. Yesterday's card was for one of the digital contacts.


Signals were weak, at -23 db ... far too weak to be heard on CW but easily readable during the 60 second deep-listen period mandated by the JT65A mode. With so many stations now listening higher in the band for JT-mode signals, there has been very little activity on CW and now, with the introduction of yet another new digital mode, FT8, even the digital activity is split into sections, with neither mode being compatible.

I have held off installing the newer WSJT-X version containing the FT8 fifteen-second transmission mode until all of the bugs are ironed out ... the software will likely be tweaked a few more times yet before it reaches the polished final version we see for JT65 and others. 

FT8 has been designed for weaker 6m Es openings that are often too short in duration for the longer time periods needed by JT65's sixty-second sequences. FT8 contacts can be completed quickly, before short-lived signals can drop out, but the shorter sequences come at the cost of reduced sensitivity ... probably a worthwhile tradeoff.

Conventional mode activity on 6m has suffered tremendously with the introduction of these new modes and it seems that if you want to work weak signal DX (and not all do), sadly it may be digital or nothing at all if the trends continue.

If all of the DX moves from CW to digital, for me, much of the magic will disappear as well. Letting the computer do all of the thinking is not nearly as satisfying or enjoyable as using my brain and CW skills to put a new rare one in the log. Six meters continues to evolve and I'm not overly excited by the direction it seems to be going.

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