The final rules for the Fox Mike Hotel Portable Ops Challenge have been posted! This weekend, October 3-4, 2020, is the first year of this new and very differently scored HF contest. The Steering Committee has come up with a metric to make the playing field “more level” between the Big Gun contest stations and the portable operators. By making the basic score scaled on a distance-per-watt metric, the QRO operators don’t necessarily have the advantage that they have in most contest pile-ups. In addition, the POC has multipliers to make the focus on Radio Sport rather than Radio Equipment.
Take the annual Stew Perry 160 meter contest for 2019. I took the public logs and computed data visualizations (box plots) for the average distance in kilometers as well as the longest (“best”) DX distance, both by reported power level. This was QRP, barefoot (100 watts), or QRO. No surprise! The level of power largely shaped the medians and extremes as shown in the Raw Distance panel (row).
But look at the Distance Per Watt panel! When made relative to power, the QRP operators flipped the field by dominating those scores. Why? Because it didn’t take more power to make the contact! Getting the optimal power level to make the contact is more about sport than equipment.
So the POC is using these types of results to handicap the field as more fixed stations use QRO than portable ones. While QRP is not synonymous with portable ops, there is a similar tendency for them to operate that way. Barefoot operators can easily be in either location. But the point here is clear: distance per watt can be a great equalizer across these groups. No, wait, the QRPers actually have a distinct advantage. That could be challenging to the QRO contestants, no?
…the POC has multipliers to make the focus on Radio Sport rather than Radio Equipment.
The mode of transmission multiplier, for instance, doesn’t just give extra advantage to CW operations since CW gets through when phone can’t, right? So other than a particular choice of emphasizing using Morse Code, why do that? In addition, CW that can’t be heard by the human ear can’t be copied. But some digital modes (ahem, FT8) that can’t be heard above the noise floor can get through, after some time. The POC gives multipliers that favor the “all else equal” mode that is more difficult to get through. Digital gets a x1, CW gets a x2, and phone gets a x3.
Some Super Stations run a dozen rigs during contests. Wow. How’s that for going up against a single operator? The POC for the first year limits the number of simultaneous transmitters to two (2). But it goes a bit further by dividing the final point total by the number of TXes (or 2, if two are used). For sport, it’s the per-transmitter-production that counts, not the amount of radio equipment. In future years, the POC will consider allowing unlimited transmitters but make the per-transmitter-production scaled so as to level that obvious advantage too. We will see how this year goes in the submitted logs.
Well, does this make the typical fixed contest station (if there is such a thing) equal to a portable one? Directional antennas with gain still give an advantage unless the portable operator sets one or more up as in Field Day activities. ERP was considered but getting a reliable gain estimate can be troublesome. Just read what some manufacturers claim versus what some user measurements come up with. You get idea here about the unreliability of gain estimates perhaps being as much trouble as it is worth. So, the Steering Committee examined some data, did some statistical simulations to compare hypothetical fixed (QTH) stations with portable ones, and came up with a multiplier for operating portable as a type of “tuning parameter” to get things more equal. This is not unlike the slope rating of golf courses which reflects professional judgment of the difficulty of the course itself. The POC has a set of four multipliers depending on the location of the pair of stations in each contact. A QTH to QTH contact has a x1 multiplier. A QTH to Portable has a x1.4 (and Portable to QTH). A portable to portable contact has a multiplier of x2. (Mathematicians note: 1.4 squared is about 2). The Steering Committee will analyze this year’s results to see how this “tuning parameter” performs with an eye on perhaps adjusting it for next year.
The key question is: Will you take the Challenge? If you’re operating from the comforts of your home shack, can you beat the portable operator on a level playing field? We won’t know if you don’t take the Challenge! Or, perhaps you rather get caught in the rain…