The news, opinions and events of VE3OIJ / VE3EEE

Archive for the Digital Modes category

VE3OIJ

VE3EEE on the air around Christmas

Astrophysical and Geophysical, Digital Modes, DX, Operating

Just for something different, I’ve been using my second callsign lately.  I have been doing mostly digital modes, especially JT-65, between 10 and 30 watts depending on conditions.

Despite the solar conditions (K-index between 4 and 6 for the last few days) there has been some DX on all bands from 80m to 10m.

VE3OIJ

ARRL Field Day 2015

Clubs, Digital Modes, DX, General, Operating, Technology, Voice Modes

It’s the end of June and that means ARRL Field Day 2015.  Squidette (VA3CEW) and I deployed to the Outlet Beach (FN13jv, right beside Sandbanks Provincial Park) to operate a Field Day station as VE3EEE.

Equipment

We went out with the standard VE3EEE portable pack:

  • Honda EU2000i generator
  • Quad core i7 laptop
  • Yaesu FT-847
  • Begali paddles
  • RigExpert Plus TNC
  • LDG automatic tuner
  • Hy-Gain DP-19D dipole (set for 20m)
  • Buddipole (set for 15 or 40 depending on the time of day)

WX

Cold  and miserable with drizzle for basically the entire time.  That was not fun at all.  Nevertheless, we did have shelter, so it wasn’t the end of the world.

Solar WX

There were geomagnetic storms earlier in the week, but they had pretty much abated.  K-index bounced between 1 and 3.  15m down to 80m seemed to be open.  I listened on 10 and didn’t hear anything, so I didn’t bother with 6m.

Results

We made 72 contacts between 40m, 20m, and 15m, almost all digital although we threw in a few CW and Phone contacts just for good measure.

Social

We also took the time to drive across the county to visit the Quinte ARC Field Day site in Ameliasburg.  It was rainy and miserable there too, but they had a great setup with 4 radios going!

Photos

This is the buddipole set up on a sand dune. The tower isn't quite fully extended due to overhead trees. Nevertheless, it's got a good 5-7m over the ambient ground level.
This is the buddipole set up on a sand dune. The tower isn’t quite fully extended due to overhead trees. Nevertheless, it’s got a good 5-7m over the ambient ground level.
This is the buddipole set up on a sand dune. might be a bit easier to see.
This is the buddipole set up on a sand dune. might be a bit easier to see.
Hy-Gain dipole between trees. Had I planned this better, I'd have picked different trees and maybe gone for 40m.
Hy-Gain dipole between trees. Had I planned this better, I’d have picked different trees and maybe gone for 40m.
Looking northwest along the beach road.
Looking northwest along the beach road.
This is the cabin on the beach while we were setting up. The generator is in front.
This is the cabin on the beach while we were setting up. The generator is in front.
This is the VE3EEE operating position. That's a 27" touch screen on the left, which makes operating the radio a lot like a Star Trek console.
This is the VE3EEE operating position. That’s a 27″ touch screen on the left, which makes operating the radio a lot like a Star Trek console.
VE3OIJ

Making WSPR software work on Yaesu FTdx-1200

Digital Modes, Equipment, Operating, Technology

I will state up front: The knowledge I am about to lay down in print was imparted to me by Roger (GW4NOS).  I am putting it here so that a) I can find it again; and b) the internet will archive it for future seekers of knowledge.

The Problem:

Like many people I bought a Yaesu FTdx-1200 and it works very well… except when using WSPR software, there seems to be no incantation that permits CAT control to work.  Like the Reverend Mother told Paul Atreides:

The Solution:

It turns out, however, that the software can be made to work in a few simple steps.

Step 1: Select Yaesu FTdx-9000 on the WSPR software.  Apparently that radio has the same CAT command set as the FTdx-1200.

Step 2: On the radio, menu 039 must match the setting in the WSPR software.

Step 3: On the radio, menu 040 must be 100 ms or greater.  Apparently, the default of 10 ms is too speedy for the WSPR software.

Step 4: On the radio, menu 041 must be “DISABLE”.  Nothing I have uses CTS/RTS flow control anyway.

Once that was done, everything worked perfectly!

VE3OIJ

EMCOMM and amateur radio – what is needed and what is not

Digital Modes, General, Operating, Security, Technology, Voice Modes

I’ve been reading a fair bit about emergency communications (EMCOMM) and amateur radio. Nominally, EMCOMM is why amateur radio exists – the service is there, hypothetically, to be able to provide backup communication paths when infrastructure fails. Certainly, for many years, that was a pretty valid position and amateur radio filled that niche very well.

But time has marched on, and with it has marched both requirements and technology. In my considered opinion, amateur radio EMCOMM is likely to come up short when the situation is dire. This is something amateur radio can overcome, but getting past the shortcomings is going to require a new way of thinking for a lot of amateur radio EMCOMM enthusiasts.

The Use Case

It is first necessary to consider what role amateur radio is going to fill in an emergency situation.

The goal of EMCOMM is to get timely, accurate communication outside of the disaster zone to a place where the regular communications infrastructure is not damaged.  Barring an asteroid strike that makes a crater the size of Texas and destroys an entire continent, that communication is not going to need to be more than tens of kilometers, maybe small hundreds.

That brings about my first EMCOMM observation: HF is probably not going to factor in an EMCOMM situation because it’s awkward and unnecessary.  Awkward because it needs long, difficult antennas, and propagation is unreliable.  In the event of a very wide-scale disaster, then perhaps, but generally, it will be quicker, easier, and more reliable to use VHF and UHF radio to get messages out of a disaster zone because the equipment is small and much easier to come by.

Modern “first responders” – police, fire, military, para-military and medical all have reliable, effective short-range communication technology and infrastructure.  Their comms channels are robust and intended to work in adverse situations.  For the most part, amateur radio will play almost no part in assisting these people.  It’s worth noting that, military notwithstanding, none of these essential services uses HF radio much or at all.

Secondary assistance services are much more likely to require amateur radio assistance: Red Cross, various “civilian” disaster relief agencies and so on.  These are important people in any disaster, but they’re likely not well equipped in the communications department and could benefit greatly from amateur radio  help.  Again, however, they’re going to want to move information outside the disaster zone, and that distance is not likely to be “around the world” because there are many better ways to do that than HF radio.

I’ve tried to figure out what sort of info these agencies might want to send, and the most obvious one I can come up with is a casualty list.  This is a good one because it seems both likely, and highly useful to an agency like the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders, or some similar group.  There might also be traditional short “Hi Mom! We’re OK!” messages, but those are generally easy to send by any convenient means.

So what does a casualty list take?  Let’s consider a short list: 1500 people are at a shelter inside a disaster zone, and the Red Cross needs to send that list 75 km away to the coordination centre.  The list contains “phone book” info: name, (former) address, plus gender and date of birth.  If we figure the name field at 20 characters, address at 20 characters, gender as 1 character and birth date as 6 characters, and an indicator for unharmed/deceased/injured/missing of a single character, a list of 1500 people is about 72000 characters, or 70 kB, or in CW terms, 14400 words.

Right off the bat, you can see one problem.  That short casualty list, using 4 operators blasting CW at 30 WPM non-stop, will take a full 2 hours to send and still require coordinating the output of the 4 CW streams at the far end.  That is not acceptable in 2015.  That same list, sent by D-Star at 9600 bps, takes less than 90 seconds.  Even at 1200 bps D-Star it will clock in less than 10 minutes.  This brings me to the second observation about EMCOMM: Morse Code is not going to be used very much if at all in an EMCOMM situation because it is too slow to carry any significant amount of useful information.

What does this mean?

The general use case of casualty lists, supply requisitions and similar information simply can’t be sent by morse code or even by voice.  Modern EMCOMM needs to move small and medium amounts of data over those tens of kilometers.  Possibly even image data.  This simply cannot be done with traditional “Morse Code and HF” thinking, and not even with “packet” thinking.

EMCOMM groups have to start thinking about the objective, and they have to start acquiring the infrastructure and training to be able to provide useful communications.  This is what I think all EMCOMM groups need to have as a capability:

1. Enough available equipment to set up a VHF and/or UHF data link that can cover a distance of about 100 km, AND link to the neighbouring EMCOMM group – effectively able to form cells of about 50-100 km in radius to be able to get communications away from the disaster zone.

2. Enough man-portable (i.e. HT or similar) equipment to be able to deploy operators quickly and keep them highly mobile.  This would include easily erected directional antenna equipment.

3. The ability to move data with a speed of at least 9600 bps over the coverage area.  Even faster would be better.  That may mean we all have to start thinking of better ways of moving data.  Guys, it’s not 1980 any more.  Even 9600 is glacially slow by modern standards, and information is king in a disaster situation, but at that speed you can move decent sized text blocks around.  If amateur radio can’t move enough good quality information quickly and accurately, amateur radio will be bypassed.

4. The ability to interface with existing communications channels (e.g. the internet).  I assure you, the guys who can get internet connectivity into a disaster area are going to be viewed as heroes of communications because internet is *THE* communication channel used by every organization everywhere.  Also, being able to patch into other networks like the phone system and drag a level of that connectivity into a disaster zone would be really helpful.

5. This is a pie-in-the-sky thing, but I’ll put it out there: The ability to assist with, organize, and direct the communications infrastructure of others – in short: trained operators who can free up firefighters, police, and maybe even soldiers by operating THEIR communications infrastructure while they go out and do the nasty work.

EMCOMM needs to look at the now and forward, not back in history.  It’s time to drop HF and morse, and build up robust, portable digital communications for emergencies.  That is what will be needed when the worst happens, and that’s where the expertise of highly trained radio amateurs is going to be most effectively deployed.

VE3OIJ

Is it radio when it uses VoIP? Not exactly…

Digital Modes, Equipment, General, Operating, Technology, Voice Modes

Much of this post comes from something I wrote years ago that sank with the old blog, but since the question has come up again, I thought it was time to revisit the old post (yay Archive.org) and bring things up to date.

This topic comes up from time to time, and I’ve never seen anyone give a definitive argument as to why VoIP modes like Echolink, IRLP, some uses of D-Star (dongles and “dx”), CQ100 and so forth are absolutely not amateur radio. To me, it is obvious that some of them are certainly not amateur radio, and others are really just radio-based by convenience depending on how they are used. It’s trivial to explain which is which: It’s not amateur radio if an amateur radio transceiver isn’t involved.  Period.  An even better line might be that it’s not amateur radio if an amateur radio transceiver isn’t required.  The key is in the communications medium itself.

Using that defninition, it is a simple matter to determine what is and isn’t radio. Certainly with IRLP, Echolink and “DX” uses of D-Star, radio can be involved. That’s where people get confused… “It uses a radio, therefore it is amateur radio” and that’s absolutely wrong.

It is also situational.  If you took the radio away, all those modes still work. Echolink, all the DX part of D-Star, and CQ100 work over the internet, computer to computer. When used in this manner they are absolutely not amateur radio. In the case of CQ100, it’s primary purpose is to be used computer to computer. Legally speaking, no person needs an amateur radio licence to use these applications for computer to computer communications, despite the best efforts of software authors to keep access restricted to the amateur radio community. If the guy down the street downloads Echolink or CQ100 and somehow manages to get an authorized registration, all the hooting and hollering in the world will not get your national communications regulator to come down on the guy as long as (in the case of Echolink) he never causes a signal to come out on an amateur radio frequency.

Now let’s look at it a bit deeper.  If you take the internet away, Echolink, IRLP, CQ100, and most of D-Star die immediately. They absolutely cannot function without the internet, and it is because of this that I say that this makes it clear that such modes are not amateur radio. In fact, they’re no different than Skype or Logitech’s video program, or MSN Messenger beyond having less features than those commercial VoIP programs.

D-Star is a special case because it can be used for direct, radio-to-radio communication. Thus, I have to afford that mode special dispensation: At the core, D-Star is amateur radio, but a lot of how it is used is not.

So after all that, when this topic is discussed, someone always says this: PSK and other digital modes use a computer too.  I can use a computer to send CW. I guess they aren’t amateur radio.

Wrong. That is a canard oft trotted out in defence of the “amateur radio” status of Echolink et al. but it is a strawman that is incorrect at the most basic level. The issue isn’t the use of a computer. Machines have been communicating by radio for more than half a century. PSK, RTTY and other digital modes are just modern versions of that.

Take away the internet, and people’s digital modes software still works and they can still communicate by radio. Take away the radio, and all that digital modes software becomes useless. Therefore, it is amateur radio.

Just so it is absolutely clear: the way you tell if something is or isn’t amateur radio is by looking at the primary communication path, not the specific hardware.  With PSK, CW etc., even when done with a computer, that medium is radio. With Echolink etc. the primary medium is the internet.

Why does this matter?

Largely, it does not except in message board fights. One place it does matter, however, is in the public-service angle of amateur radio… you know, that part where we’re supposed to be able to communicate in the event of some kind of emergency where the major communication systems are knocked out.

One property of disasters is that they can take out the internet locally. So if your amateur radio setup is based around internet modes, you are effectively useless when the internet drops out over a wide area… as happened in Haiti and Chile during their recent earthquake disasters, as happened in Louisiana with the hurricane, and as is the case over much of the world where internet just hasn’t made it yet.

These internet modes are fun to play around with, but don’t think of them as amateur radio. In the traditional sense, they’re not, and they won’t ever be a replacement for basic radio communications.  That doesn’t mean they’re not useful or fun technologies. I really enjoy using Echolink to get into repeaters back home when I’m travelling the world.  I just don’t think of the Echolink as amateur radio, but rather as a generic assisting technology like a VOX or an antenna rotor.

What about the things the technology brings to amateur radio?

I feel very strongly that amateur radio is about more than just the ability to self-learn (although that is the essence of amateur radio).  You don’t need amateur radio if ALL it is about is learning.  With pressure from commercial interests, and a general disinterest from the public, it won’t be long before amateur radio is killed off if the best we can do is work out glorified Skype or MSN clients that look like a radio on-screen.  To me, the purposes of amateur radio are to allow people an experimental venue from which they can learn about radio communication, to further radio communication research, and to provide public service in the event of an emergency when the other infrastructure fails.  That’s why amateur radio doesn’t need VoIP on the internet… let commercial interests do that (they already have).  We shouldn’t be wasting time and effort reinventing an already well-perfected wheel.

There are aspects of this sort of technology that would be very useful in the amateur radio world.  Here’s a few ideas where I think this area of interest should be going that would further amateur radio, rather than just being yet-another-VoIP-client on the internet (and thus useless when the internet doesn’t work).  This is definitely not an exhaustive list:

  • Digital voice over radio – Yes, D-Star is a cool area of endeavour not because it links repeaters over the internet but because the limited bandwidth requirements of a digital voice signal mean more conversations can fit on the standard bandwidth of an FM repeater.  More conversations is more efficient use of the available spectrum.  This technology also has direct commercial application with cellular phones and general commercial radio.  Advancing this sort of technology advances radio communication generally and harkens back to the original goals of amateur radio: to further communication technology over radio.  Amateur radio is grossly behind the times in this area when compared with cellular phone technology.  We should be on the leading edge of this stuff, not decades behind.
  • High speed data transfer over radio – Again, D-Star is making the advances here, but amateur radio still lags far behind the rest of the communications world in this area.  The ability to send high-speed data by radio would be a huge boon when using amateur radio in the event of an emergency.  Oddly enough, one of the types of traffic such a radio data network could carry would be digitized voice (such as voice over IP), or video.  The key here, however, is to gain the ability to do this over radio links when there is no internet, nor phone lines.  Again, amateur radio is decades behind on this when we should be leading it.  Just to drive this point home… if a bunch of amateurs set up even a 128 kbps radio network running IP over radio, they could run the free software Ventrilo and chat, computer to computer. Ventrilo is a commercially supported package that is well tested and works extremely well.  Increase that network bandwidth and you could carry a lot of VoIP conversations very effectively.  My point: instead of working out ham radio simulators, let’s solve the high speed data over radio issues.
  • Both of the above over satellite – to get message and data traffic out of a disaster area, satellites are likely the way of the future.  Efforts that enable the ability to use existing and future satellites for the previous two purposes will greatly advance amateur radio in terms of the intended purpose of amateur radio and in the eyes of the public.
  • Improved HF modes – faster and error corrected methods of transferring information globally over HF radio.
  • Space communication – faster, smaller, easier methods of sending messages over inter-planetary distances.  It’s maybe a bit early, but radio amateurs can lead this field with work on things like EME and Earth-Venus-Earth or Earth-Mars-Earth work.

That’s where I think we should be spending effort instead of wasting it on things like VoIP over the internet and pretending that it’s radio.

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