Saturday, December 15, 2018

FT8 - The Big Changeover

On the 10th of December 2018, the new upgraded version of FT8 was officially released. The new WSJT-X Ver 2.0 version replaces the earlier 1.8 and 1.9 versions which were hugely popular.

The BIG problem however is that the new FT8 protocols have been enhanced in a way that is not backward compatible with older versions of the program. i.e. those using the new version can't talk to those using the old version.

There is a three week window for users to upgrade by the start of the new year.

“The new protocols become the worldwide standards starting on December 10, 2018, and all users should upgrade to WSJT-X 2.0 by January 1, 2019.” ... Joe Taylor K1JT, WSJT-X home page.

Considering the huge number of people using FT8, it might seem at first like trying to herd some cats. Will everyone change over? Will there be people using both systems in 2019?

On the 10th of December, I adopted a 'wait and see' policy to see how many people changed. On the 12th and 13th of December, I noticed that I was hearing FT8 signals on 28 MHz and not decoding them. I checked the usual time and frequency settings and all was ok.

Perhaps the old 1.9 version might be ok on the lower HF bands like 20m where there are plenty of signals but there are very few signals on 28 MHz. If I can't decode a signal then it's a big deal.

On the 14th of December, I changed over to Version 2.0 and one of the first signals I heard on 28 MHz was VP8LP on the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.

I have no doubt that there will be plenty of people using the old version for a while but upgrading to version 2.0 as soon as possible seems like the best option.

More info here...

Thursday, December 13, 2018

VHF net in Cork every Tuesday evening

Back in April and May of 2018, the idea of having an EI VHF Activity Night was born and Tuesday evenings were selected as they tied in with some of the 2m and 70cms RSGB contests in the UK.

Over the first 6 months, there was some activity on each of the Tuesday evenings in Cork and at the start of November of 2018, we did a review to see how things could be improved.

The main suggestions were...

1) Set a specific time and frequency for a net in Cork.
Having a general activity period like 7pm to 10pm is fine for a countrywide proposal where different groups might like to do their own thing. However for a specific area like Cork, we felt it would be better if we could meet up at a specific time on a certain frequency.

2) Reminders by e-mail.
We thought a reminder by email would help as people forget.

For November 2018, we tried the new format and it was certainly better. While the numbers are still small, we have had a good net every evening with each one lasting about 70 mins.

We also established an online White Board where a very brief record of what was discussed is kept with links for more info.


The VHF activity nights for Cork are now as follows...

1st Tues of the month - 8pm - 2m - 145.475 MHz FM

2nd Tues of the month - 8pm - 70cms - 433.475 MHz FM

3rd Tues of the month - 8pm - 4m - 70.2625 MHz FM
3rd Tues of the month - 9pm - 6m - 50.150 MHz SSB

4th Tues of the month - 8pm - Digital - DMR Talk Group 2724 / Echolink node 88269 / Fusion C4FM YSF node 04251 / Fusion C4FM Wires-x node 41411 / Allstar node 29884.


At the moment, we are looking to expand the net and if anyone would like to be added to the email list, they should contact ei7gl AT yahoo DOT co DOT uk.

Only one email per week is sent out.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Shannon Basin Radio net on 145 MHz every Thurs night

The Shannon Basin Radio Club hold a net on 145.350 MHz  FM every Thursday evening at 8pm.  This initiative to promote more activity on the VHF bands started in late 2018 and has been pretty successful to date.

The net is not confined to club members and they welcome anyone that can hear them to call in, even if it's just for a signal report.

The Shannon Basin Radio Club website can be seen here...

Monday, December 10, 2018

40 MHz activity starts near Dublin

In the December edition of the IRTS newsletter Echo Ireland, Dave EI3IO wrote a short article about some developments on the new 40 MHz / 8 metre band.

On the 21 October 2018, Dave EI3IO and Tim EI4GNB made contact on the FM calling channel of 42.500 MHz. As Dave is in South Dublin and Tim is in Bray Co.Wicklow, the distance was only a few kms.

Both stations were using the Dragon SY-5430 which is pictured above. This FM transceiver is used as a CB in countries like the Ukraine and also in Italy where they have a CB allocation at 43 MHz.

Dave also reports that during discussions with ICOM Europe, they warned against modifying transceivers like the 7300 to operate at 40 MHz or 60 MHz. They state that any such modifications could void the warranty. Dave recommends the use of transverters instead.

Both EI3IO and EI4GNB have transverters that operate between 40.0 and 42.0 MHz. If anyone would like to conduct experiments with either station, they can be contacted via QRZ.COM

As outlined in a previous post in Nov 2018, there is already some activity on 40 MHz from the West of Ireland.

For more information on 40 MHz, have a look at this page...

Saturday, December 8, 2018

TX Factor Video - Episode 22

In this episode, the TX Factor team look at the 2018 RSGB Convention, Network Radios, the Icom IC-R6800 receiver and the latest satellite news from AMSAT.

Video guide...
01:20 to 04:30... Introduction to the 2018 RSGB Convention
04:40 to 11:10... Section on Network Radios
11:20 to 20:40... 1st part of the review of the Icom IC-R6800 general coverage receiver.
23::30 to 31:20... RSGB Convention misc & adverts
31:20 to 40:30... 2nd part of the Icom review
40:40 to 43:50... Quick look at the Yaesu FTDX101MP-D high end transceiver.
44:00 to 48:00... Latest news about amateur radio satellites by AMSAT.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

FT8 signals heard on 28 MHz - Thurs 6th Dec 2018

After a poor enough week, the 10 metre band was pretty good today with plenty of FT8 signals heard.

Most notable were probably XT2BR in Burkina Faso and ZD7GWM on St.Helena Island.

The Solar flux today was 71 which is pretty low. Not a bad day though considering it was a Thursday and we are at the bottom of the solar cycle.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

December 2018 issue of Echo Ireland sent out to IRTS members

Echo Ireland is the journal of the Irish Radio Tranmitters Society, the national organisation for radio amateurs in Ireland. It is published 4 times a year and sent out to members in either PDF format by email or a printed version by post.

The December 2018 edition was emailed out to members on the 3rd of December.

As can be seen from the image above, it contains a wealth of info and gives a good idea of what various clubs and individuals are up to around the country.

I opted for the PDF version a long time ago as I just don't want yet another printed publication that I have to store or dispose of. I keep PDF versions of all the IRTS newsletters in my own private Google Docs folder online as outlined in this post from Dec 2016.

Getting the PDF version also means that I get the newsletter about 1-2 weeks ahead of the postal version and it reduces costs for the IRTS. Printing and posting the newsletter is currently the biggest cost for the Society and the more members that opt for the digital version, the bigger the savings will be and it ensures that the annual membership fee is unlikely to increase.

If you are interested then go to the IRTS website and tell the Membership Records Officer that you would prefer the PDF version by email instead.

Monday, December 3, 2018

FT8 signals on 28 MHz with the aerial on the ground

Living near the south coast of Ireland, one of the hazards at this time of year are the Winter gales. As Storm Diana passed over the country, I dropped my vertical antenna for 28 MHz as a precaution.

With the antenna resting a few cms horizontally above the ground and with the wind howling outside, I began to wonder if I could actually hear any FT8 signals on 10 metres? If it was a band like 20m or 40m then I would have assumed yes. But 10 metres? I assumed no.

What I heard over the next two days is shown below...

The big suprise on the 28th of Nov was hearing GW0PLP in West Wales, a distance of about 250kms. I can hear Don most of the time when the antenna is vertical but it was now just cms off the ground.

The big suprise on Thurs 29th was hearing Newfoundland! It just goes to show how well FT8 can dig weak signals out of the noise.

Galway Digital Net on Monday evenings

In an effort to generate more activity on the digital modes, a new net has been started in Galway on Monday evenings at 8:30pm. Activity of course is not confined just to operators in Galway and they welcome call ins from anywhere.

Activity is as follows...
DMR Talk Group 2724
CQ-IRELAND Wires-X (Fusion) Node 41411
YSF Node 04251
Allstar Node 29884
Echolink 883269 which MI0AAZ-L.

All of these are connected together so there is a range of options to get on the net. Please remember to leave a gap between overs to allow the network components to reset.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Video on DMR, DSTAR & C4FM Hotspots

Hotspots are generally used by those who don't have a local repeater and want to use their digital radios to get access to various online reflectors and talk groups.

Like many things, the features improve over time. This video shows what is on the market as of November 2018.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Video on the Icom IC-R8600 Wideband Communications Receiver

ICOM have recently uploaded a video to YouTube about the Icom IC-R8600 Wideband Communications Receiver. The video shows Bob McCreadie (G0FGX) of TX Films giving an overview and demonstration of this receiver's extensive range of features.

It looks like a serious piece of kit with a price to match. It currently retails for about £2500 / €3000.

One serious drawback seems to be the fact it isn't able to decode DMR or Yaesu System Fusion signals.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

PSK Reporter passes 5 Billion Reception reports

Back in July of 2018, I had a post up about how the number of reception reports on the PSK Reporter website had just passed 4 Billion.

In the middle of November 2018, it passed 5 billion. That's an extra 1 billion reception reports in just 4 months!

Over 99% of these reports are FT8 which shows how the mode has really taken off. A lot of people dismiss the mode but the numbers speak for themselves.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Calendar for F2 openings on the 11m and 10m bands

For anyone using the 27 MHz to 29 MHz part of the spectrum, propagation is an important subject especially if you want to get work stations around the world. In general, the two main modes of propagation for the 11m and 10m bands are Sporadic-E mainly during the Summer months and F2 for the rest of the year.

In this post, the charts deal just with F2 and what parts of the world are likely to be heard at certain times of the day throughout the year.

It should be noted that this is a general guide. It is highly dependent on where we are in the 11 year Solar Cycle and what the Solar flux is. Usually for stations in North-West Europe, the Solar flux needs to be about 80 or above to start getting openings. North-South paths are more likely and the East-West ones appear with higher flux levels.

The big variable in this is Sporadic-E. This occurs mainly during the Summer months but is present during most months to a certain degree. This can allow stations in the UK for example to get into the Mediterranean on Sporadic-E and then via F2 into South Africa. Expect the unexpected on 10 metres.

This map shows various parts of the World numbered and the charts are based on propagation from the UK and Ireland.

The charts below show the times of day those are might be heard at various time of the year.

Monday, November 19, 2018

New Digital repeaters near Dublin on the way

Some good news! It looks as if there are two new repeaters on the way.

EI7BCR will be located at Three Rock in the Dublin Mountains and will have DMR ID of 272222. This should give excellent coverage of the capital city and will be a great addition to the digital network in Ireland.

The second repeater EI7LLD is located near Kingscourt, Co.Cavan. This will have DMR ID 272223. This should give good coverage of Dundalk and the area to the north-west of Dublin.

Ronnie EI9ED is currently working on these and they should be on air very soon.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

FT8 signals heard on 144 MHz... Sun 18th Nov 2018

I decided to take a break from listening on 28 MHz as the reports were pretty much similar from day to day. I had noticed several posts on Twitter about good conditions on the VHF bands so I had a listen to FT8 signals on 144 MHz instead.

Even though I had heard further before, it still amazes me how my Slim Jim antenna in the attic is managing to pull in signals from the centre of the UK. The furthest signal heard was G4KUX in the north of England at 531 kms.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Number of Entries to the CQWW Contest

I came across these charts recently about the number of entries to the CQ World Wide contest. This is the largest contest during the year with an SSB and CW leg.

First off, here are the number of entries in the SSB contest every year.

Before I saw the chart, I would have assumed that perhaps the number of entries might have been determined by the sunspot cycle and the amount of propagation. While there does seem to be small increases around the time of sunspot maximum, it is remarkably steady.

The big suprise for me and I think for most people is the big jump in numbers from about 2008 on. It has almost doubled in 5 years. Why the jump?

The figures for CW show a similar pattern.

For a mode that supposed to be at deaths door, morse code seems to be doing remarkably well.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

FT8 signals heard on 28 MHz... 12th, 13th & 14th Nov 2018

Another 3 days on 28 MHz and pretty much the same. There were fewer Sp-E signals from Europe but that may well be because there are more people active on the weekends.

These are the FT8 signals heard on 28 MHz over three days...

Mon 12th Nov 2018.....A mix of Sporadic-E from Europe with a small amount of DX.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Three Part Primer on Software Defined Radios

Over the last few years, SDR's or Software Defined Radios have come on in leaps and bounds and now offer some superb performance compared to the traditional type of receiver or scanner. As microprocessors become faster and more powerful, we are likely to see even more performance leaps.

There is a huge amount of information out there on the net, some new and some dated. It can all be a little confusing.

The Swling dot Com website have a three part primer which gives a very good overview on the current state of the SDR market as of the end of 2018.

Part 1 (September 2018) - In the first section, there is a good introduction to Software Defined Radios and what software is available.

Part 2 (October 2018) - In the second section, there is coverage of some of the basic and popular SDR's on the market with some recommendations.

Part 3 (November 2018) - In the third and final part of the series, there is coverage of some high end SDR's and transceivers.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

FT8 Signals heard on 28 MHz - 9th, 10th & 11th Nov 2018

Another three days of listening to FT8 signals on 28 MHz. Each day is kind of similar with small differences.

Fri 9th Nov 2018. The usual mix of Sporadic-E from Europe and F2 from South Africa and Brazil.

Sat 10th Nov 2018. There was really a big Sporadic-E opening to Europe on this day with lots of stations heard. It was remarkable to see just how many stations in the Netherlands are on FT8!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

2700km contact made on 2m from South Africa to St.Helena Island

It was announced on Southgate Amateur Radio News during the week that a contact had been made between South Africa and St.Helena Island on 145 MHz.

"Kobus van der Merwe, ZS3JPY reports that between 19:45 and 21:45 UTC on Wednesday 7 November 2018, a QSO took place on 2 metres between St Helena Island and the West Coast of the Northern Cape. A distance of 2,740 km.

The QSO was on 145,500 MHz FM using a vertically polarised antenna between Garry Mercury, ZD7GWM and Kobus ZS3JPY and Michelle ZS3TO van der Merwe in Kleinzee as well as Cobus van Baalen, ZS3CVB in Port Nolloth.

They did try a QSO on 70 cm, but the signals did not provide for a successful QSO. "

This is a recording of the contact...

Info from Facebook..."From ZS3JPY Kobus: Qso with ZD7GWM with ZS3JPY Kobus, ZS3TO Michelle 2777km and ZS3CVB Cobus 2740km on vhf 145.500 Fm simplex with Vertical antenna 07.11.2018 qso started 21H45 until 23H45 we even tried 70cm and we nearly made a contact but signal just not good enough we will try tomorrow evening. ZS3CVB qso with Gary ZD7GWM on St Helena Island vhf Fm mode and 50w both sides
Gary: ☓520 dual band Diamond antenna;
ZS3CVB: X700H dual band Diamond antenna explorer the vertical antenna and use quality low loss coax Cable.

Me and Cobus were having our evening qso on 145.500 and Gary called in and Cobus ZS3CVB said somebody is breaking in and iam jumping up and down screaming to Michelle: St Helena Island is calling in on the frequency!"

This was a really good contact especially as it was on FM as opposed to SSB, CW or FT8. The tropo forecast for the area shows very good conditions off the west coast of Namibia so the propagation mode was probably marine ducting.

How does this compare to other contacts made on the 2m band? This is the equivalent distance of 2740kms from the South-West of Ireland.

It almost reaches across the Atlantic to Newfoundland. However, it's also the same distance from Ireland to the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa.

Most years, we have openings from Ireland and the South-West of the UK to the Canary Islands (EA8) via marine ducting tropo. It's unusual but not rare.

I suspect that the contact from South Africa to St.Helena is pretty much the same, unusual but not rare. If anyone looks at the topography of St.Helena then they can see that the populated area on the north-west of the island is blocked to the south-east by hills. ZD7GWM is in the centre of the island with a better take off and perhaps this is what made the difference. When similar ducting happens again...and it will, another contact may well be possible.

Is a contact possible from South Africa to South America. The distance is about 5800 kms, over twice the distance of the South Africa - St.Helena contact. Unlikely.

Although I seem to remember a news item from a few years back where someone in Namibia did tests on 2m with someone in Brazil?