Friday, December 30, 2016

Old IRTS Newsletters now available...

The Irish Radio Transmitters Society is the national body representing radio amateurs in Ireland and they produce several newsletters for members throughout the year. While the newsletter isn't in the same league as say Radcom or QST, it is in many ways more relevant locally as it relates to Irish issues.

The IRTS have now put up an archive of old newsletters from 1988 to 2000 on their website.

Just go to their website... ... and look for the Publications Library.

Members of the IRTS also have access to all the IRTS newsletters from 2001 to the most current one as well. Taken together, the newsletters represent almost 30 years of the history of amateur radio in Ireland from the late 1980's.

The quality of the IRTS newsletter has changed greatly over the years. Before the late 80's, it was little more than some copies of typed text. With the advent of proper desk top publishing software, it improved hugely in the 90's before colour was finally introduced in mid 2008.

As of the end of 2016, some 27% of IRTS members opt for the PDF version which is available from the IRTS website. This does of course mean that fewer physical copies must be printed and posted out which results in a saving for the Society.

For me, I just prefer the digital version as it means I don't have a physical copy that I need to store or dispose of. I can also zoom in on diagrams and photos on the PDF document allowing me to see things in more detail, something which is of course impossible in the printed version.

I just upload the PDF version to my own private online Google Drive account where they are all available for easy access. This is a screenshot from that site...

Looking at the annual financial statements for the IRTS, roughly half of the Society's annual expenditure is spent on the publishing and posting of the newsletters to members. In an age of high speed broadband and smart phones, perhaps more IRTS members should consider opting for the electronic PDF version?

It seems to me an obvious way to help the IRTS to reduce its costs and help maintain the current membership fee.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Good tropo conditions on 2m & 70cms...Wed 28th Dec 2016

The current high pressure system over the country resulted in some fine conditions on the VHF bands on Wed 28th December 2016. The local Cork repeater on 145.750 MHz seemed to be active with stations for most of the day while a few more distant repeaters were heard as well.

The opening seemed to favour the sea paths and the most consistent repeater all day was GB3WR at about 400kms. I heard this back in November but it was probably stronger this time around with a max signal of about 5/2 on my attic antenna.

A new one for me was hearing the F1ZEE repeater in Brittany also on 145.600 MHz. This has a very distinctive 'di dah dit' sound between overs with the 'dah' at a higher audio frequency compared to the two 'dits'.

The distance was 518kms which is the furthest 2m signal that I have heard so far in 2016. I was suprised to have heard it at all considering the antenna is in my attic.

According to QRZ, the repeater is at 300m ASL with a very good view towards EI.

Relais R0 de l'ARACA22  145,600Mhz en emission shift -600Khz , déclenchement 1750Hz
316m ASL installé depuis 1978 sur le site de Menez Kerespez , 22810 Plougonver, c'est le premier relais installé en bretagne. Antenne 6db COMET à 8m du sol. TX et RX Motorola MC Micro , 40w à l'emission. Responsable du site : F1LHC

It is also part of a larger repeater network in Brittany covering 10m, 6m, 2m and 70cms. Info here...

70cms.......There were two repeaters heard...GB3CH on 433.050MHz and GB3CM on 433.200MHz.

While GB3CH was just above the noise, GB3CM was pretty good at times and got up as high as 5/4. It was also the most consistent signal and was there for a lot of the day.

Other than listening, I had just one contact with GW0PLP in South-West Wales on 145 MHz FM. While Don had 90w into a 5/8 GP on his house, I had 50w into a Slim-Jim vertical in the attic. While we made a contact, the signals were at best 5/2 so it might be time to think about an outdoor antenna for 2017.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Irish radio amateurs gain secondary allocation at 5.3MHz

The Irish Radio Transmitters Society have just announced that Irish radio amateurs can use the WRC-15 band of 5.3515 MHz to 5.3665 MHz with immediate effect. No application is necessary and the power limit is 15 watts. This is very good news for anyone with an interest in the 60 metre band.

The following was announced by Séan, EI7CD...

ComReg has just today published an amended version of the Amateur Station Guidelines in Document ComReg 09/45R2. The main revision is that the WRC-15 band of 5351.5 to 5366.5 kHz has been released with immediate effect on a secondary basis. No application or fee is necessary for this segment. The power is 15 watts PEP (12dBW) measured at the output of the transmitter or amplifier. All modes including digimodes may be used. The WRC-15 decision was for 15 watts EIRP and this will be taken up with ComReg. The Society recommends that USB be used for voice as has been the convention on this band and as used by the primary user and that the provisional IARU band plan be used:

5351.5 - 5354.0 kHz CW, Narrow band Modes
5354.0 - 5366.0 kHz All modes USB for voice
5366.0 - 5366.5 kHz weak signal narrow band modes.

This allocation does not affect the availability of the existing channels centred on 5280, 5300, 5332, 5348, 5400 and 5405 kHz. Special authorisation is still required for these channels at an annual licence fee of €30. Lets hope for some more activity on 5 MHz to help our case for an increased allocation.

Seán EI7CD IRTS/ ComReg Liaison

Up to now, Irish amateurs had to apply to use the spot frequencies of 5.280 MHz; 5.300 MHz; 5.332 MHz; 5.348MHz; 5.400 MHz and 5.405 MHz

The relevant document can be downloaded from the Comreg website HERE

For the moment, the Irish allocation is different from our neighbours in the UK. See HERE

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

UK Radio Spectrum Review Shows Increased Noise on VHF Bands

Ofcom is the organisation that is responsible for radio regulation in the UK and they have just released a document for a review of the UHF spectrum from 410 to 470 MHz. While most of the report covers the UHF spectrum as expected, they do make a reference to the increase noise levels on the lower VHF bands.

In the chart below, 'Band 1' covers 55 to 68 MHz while 'VHF Low' covers 68 to 87.5 MHz.

In the past, the assumed noise floor for radios was -116dBm and the planned coverage area of a radio system was -104dBm, i.e. 12 dB over the noise floor.

What Ofcom have found is that the actual noise floor is currently 12dB higher than previously thought. As a result, the planned service signal level must now be -92dBm.

This higher noise level is likely due to a variety of sources. Just think of the extra electrical power lines, increased use of switch mode power supplies in electrical equipment and the vast multitude of computer and IT systems. Taken all together, they result in a large increase in electrical noise especially in urban areas.

What this means for amateur radio is that bands like 4 metres (70 MHz) and 6 metres (50 MHz) are likely to be much noisier than they used to be in the past. Higher VHF and UHF bands are not effected as badly. It's likely that the extra noise levels also extend down to the higher HF frequencies like 14 to 28 MHz as well.

This higher noise floor as announced by Ofcom is in contrast to what was said by Comreg, the Irish licensing authority. In response to a submission by the Irish Radio Transmitters Society, they said the following in a report published in mid-2016....

2:17 ComReg notes that no evidence was provided by the IRTS to support its assertion that the noise floor is increasing and, further, ComReg observes that its monitoring activities do not indicate a significant increase in the noise floor on the whole;

Perhaps the noise levels in the Ofcom report are based on the very large urban areas in the UK but it's hard to imagine that the noise levels haven't increased substantially in the various Irish cities and towns in the last 20 years.

1) Ofcom Strategic Reeview of UHF Band 1 and 2 410 to 470 MHz
2) Comreg Radio Spectrum Management Strategy 2016 to 2018

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Opening to the Indian Ocean on 28 MHz...Wed 14th Dec 2016

Wednesday the 24th of December was another one of those days where the 28 MHz band seemed completely dead but early in the morning, I received 3 separate transmissions on WSPR from FR1GZ on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean.

It's almost as if the North-South path is there on a lot of days but there just aren't any stations there to exploit it.

The Solar flux is down around 72 and the K index is a 1.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Proposed changes to the 70 MHz Band in Ireland

This is the current IARU Region 1 band plan for 70 MHz band...

The Irish allocation is from 70.125 to 70.450 MHz while the British one is from 70.0 to 70.5 MHz.

What it has meant is that the UK calling frequency of 70.450 MHz is actually on the limit of the Irish band. If any EI station were to transmit there on FM then their side bands would be outside the Irish allocation.

The most recent newsletter from the Irish Radio Transmitters Society carried details on submissions that had been made to Comreg, the Irish licensing authority. While many of the submissions were declined, it was obvious that Comreg was using European Common Allocations as their guide. i.e. if the European agreements said something about the amateur radio service then that's what they were likely to implement.

As regards to the 70 MHz / 4 metre band, they are guided by footnote ECA9 in the CEPT European Table of Frequency Allocations.

This is what the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) said about ECA9 / EU9...

The 70MHz band is increasingly recognised as being appropriate for amateur allocations. In the CEPT area this progress is now recognised in the European Table of Frequency Allocations by Footnote EU9 which states:
EU9: CEPT administrations may authorise all or parts of the band 69.9-70.5 MHz to the amateur
service on a secondary basis. In addition it is worth noting that there is some experimental access on a national basis in the range 69.90 - 70.0MHz in cases where 70MHz is not available.

In response to the IRTS proposal, Comreg said the following about 70 MHz...

"Comreg's work plan for radio amateur services is to make available the following bands:
. the 30-49 MHz and the 54 - 69.9 MHz and 69.9 - 70.125 bands to facilitate propagation beacons, digital amateur television repeaters and to align current allocations with those in the European Common Allocation Table: and 
. the 70.45 - 7-.50 MHz band to align it with the European Common Allocation Table.

So it looks as if they will be extending the Irish allocation so that it will cover 69.900 to 70.500 MHz. This is likely to be implemented soon...perhaps early 2017???

This is how the new Irish allocation will look now compared to other countries...

As can be seen, Irish stations will now be able to work other countries simplex without having to resort to split frequency operation.

Overall, a very positive result!

Additional info : 
1) Region 1 Band Plan...
2) 70 MHz website...
3) Comreg document 16/19 (See Page 69)...
4) CEPT European Allocation Table...

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Opening on 28 MHz...Sun 11th Dec 2016

With the ARRL 10 metre contest on this weekend, there was always going to be a chance that something would pop up. Even if there was a weak opening, there was a chance that contest stations running kilowatts of power might make it though.

I could see one of the big English stations spotted on the cluster and I could hear them weakly in the noise on SSB, probably as a result of some meteor scatter.

Around midday, I heard a weak cw contest station... GW5B or so I thought. Checked the cluster but no sign of that one. But ZW5B was spotted on that frequency and sure enough when I listened more carefully, that's what it was...ZW5B in Brazil! ...F2 propagation on 10m.

Within 20 minutes, more signals popped up on the band and some were pretty strong...up to s'7' at times. The following were worked on cw with 50 watts into the vertical...EA8AH & EA8CN in the Canary Islands and FY5KE in French Guyana. All of these were probably via F2 propagation. It seemed to be a pretty short opening...maybe an hour or two with the occasional strong signals for about 30 minutes.

Also heard were EA7ATX on SSB and the German beacon DL0IGI...both probably Sp-E.

I left the rig then on WSPR and heard the following weak signals via Sporadic-E during the afternoon on 28 MHz...

What was unusual was that I seemed to be hearing a lot more than the stations in England. Like yesterday, it was the fact that I was a lot further to the west than them which allowed me to hear the European stations shown above.

What I have also noticed about WSPR is that there are a lack of stations on 28 MHz. For example, today there were 4 from Spain, 3 from France, 3 from Italy and none from Poland. These are major European countries and very few were active. I was the only person in Ireland. Yet if you check say 14 MHz, there are plenty of stations there but it is questionable if a lot of those reports are of any real value to anyone.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

More weak Sporadic-E on 10m...Sat 10th Dec 2016

There was another weak Sporadic-E opening this afternoon on 28 MHz. Strange how there openings  always seems to be the afternoon and not in the morning?

No big signals, just weak WSPR signals buried in the noise.

The opening seemed a bit patchy as well. For some of the European stations, I was the only person hearing their WSPR transmissions as I am so far to the west in contrast to say the stations in the UK.

Weak opening on 28 MHz...Fri 9th Dec 2016

I left the rig listening on the WSPR frequency on 28 MHz on Friday and I heard the stations shown above. FY5KE in French Guyana was F2 while the European stations were via Sporadic-E.

All signals were weak and the DX cluster suggested that not a whole lot else was happening. I think to the casual observer, they would have thought that the band was completely dead all day.

The Solar Flux index is in the mid 70's at the moment.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Dublin repeater EI2KPR heard

Last weekend, I heard one of the Dublin repeaters EI2PKR on 145.7625 MHz at a distance of almost 200kms. This is located on Kippure which is a 750m high mountain to the south of Dublin.

RX Freq: 145.7625 MHz
TX Freq: 145.1625 MHz
Offset: -600 kHz
CTCSS: 88.5 Hz
Locator: IO63UE

After looking at the path, it seems to thread its way through the mountains that are about 50-70kms away...A) Knockmealdowns B) Comeraghs C) Slievenamon.

The highest obstruction on the path was about 480m high although it may be that most of the signal came over the mountains with the lift conditions.

One interesting point is just how directional lifts can be. It's not a case of there being high pressure and all distant signals get stronger.

GB3PL in East Cornwall is on the exact same frequency. Last weekend, I was hearing EI2KPR with no sign of GB3PL. The previous weekend, it was the exact opposite with GB3PL being the only repeater on that frequency.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

FY5KE worked on 10 metres

I had a listen to the 10 metre band late this afternoon and I noticed some weak cw beacons around 28.204 / 28.205 MHz. They were very weak but I could just make out the N3 callsign and the FN in the locators which meant the band was open to North America. Some F2 propagation at last!

I had a look on the DX Cluster and it was quiet enough. I noticed that FY5KE had been spotted on 28.030 MHz. When I listened, sure enough he was there but he was very weak. He was calling CQ a lot so it wasn't like he had a pile up.

I heard EI4KN call and work him with ease. Ronan is in Cloughjordan on the Tipperary / Offaly border, about 120kms to the north. That's a nice distance for a direct path on 10m. I don't believe it was backscatter as the band wasn't that good.

I had a look around the band and it was pretty quiet. Went back to 28.030 MHz and just left the rig there. After about 10 minutes, he came up out of the noise and I worked him first call with about 50 watts.

My first QSO on 28 MHz since I put the antenna up back in mid-November. It was also my first contact on 28 MHz since October 2012.

It was only later that I realised that FY5KE is actually at the Space Centre in French Guyana.

I had a look around the band and it seemed dead. I put the rig on WSPR and FY5KE popped up there as well.

It was hardly a huge opening but interesting all the same.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

New 70cms repeater in Co.Tipperary

A new 70cms repeater was installed on high ground near the town of Clonmel in Co.Tipperary on Sunday the 4th of December 2016.

Here are the basic details...

Repeater Callsign : EI7HXR
Output Frequency : 430.850 MHz
Input Frequency : 438.450 MHz
CTCSS code : 103.5 Hz
Power : 25 watts
Locator : IO62EH

The repeater is highly screened from the South by the Comeragh Mountains and Slievenamon casts a large shadow to the North.

This is the coverage to the East in more detail...

This is the coverage to the West....

Note that these maps are a guide only. If you are just outside the coverage area, you may be able to still hear it if you have a good antenna up high.

This repeater has been also linked to the Southern Ireland Repeater Network.

Reception reports to Hugh, EI2HI.

Additional info...
Tipperary Amateur Radio Group
Southern Ireland Repeater Network

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Digital Modes on the VHF bands in EI

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading up on the various digital radios on the VHF bands. It would seem as if there are three potential modes which could be a replacement for analogue FM.

1) Icom D-Star, 2) DPMR and 3) Yaesu System Fusion

While the digital radio network in the UK seems to be pretty well developed, it is still in its infancy in EI.

A recent news item from the IRTS outlined how the the Yaesu System Fusion was being introduced in Donegal and Limerick.

A key fact is that the Yaesu DR-1X repeater controller will work on both analogue FM and on the Yaesu C4FM digital system. This means that at worst, it will work away as an FM repeater even if no-one uses the digital system. It will receive digital signals and convert them to FM on the o/p so that everyone can hear them. e.g. Digital in, FM out. It can also relay whatever is on the input...i.e. FM in, FM out OR digital in, digital out.

It was mentioned in the news item that some people in the Limerick region have bought the following Yaesu radios...

There are some obvious issues with introducing this new system in EI...

1) As you can see, they're not cheap. Someone can buy an ordinary analogue FM rig for a lot less. A cheap Chinese FM handheld can be purchased for less than €50.

2) The level of activity on the existing FM network is pretty low. The Limerick repeater has very little traffic on it as it is so it's hard to justify buying an expensive radio.

It will be interesting to see how things develop. I suspect though that in Ireland, DPMR may well become the system of choice for those that want to experiment with digital as cheaper radios come on the market.

This video explains what the Yaesu Fusion System is all about....

This is a video of the new repeater in Donegal...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bandscan on 145MHz during Nov 2016

I have been scanning and listening on 145MHz for most of November 2016 so I now have a reasonable idea as to what the level of activity on the band is like. As expected, the level of local activity is very low and is mainly confined to mobile stations calling through the various repeaters.

The only real activity period is after the IRTS news broadcasts on Monday and Tuesday evenings.

This is a map of the repeaters that I have heard on 145 MHz under flat conditions...

These are the frequencies I have heard most activity on  while listening to 145 MHz FM. The set up was pretty modest with just a home made half wave vertical antenna. The signals in Purple are those heard under lift conditions.

Freq. Station
145.400 ... Used as a net frequency near Waterford city
145.450 ... Used as a net frequency in South Tipperary
145.475 ... Packet type signals from the Chinese Satellite Kaituo 1B. Norad ID 40912.
145.525 ... Used as a net frequency in Wexford
145.600 ... FM repeater. GB3WR nr Bristol. IO81PH. CTCSS F 94.8Hz.
145.6325 ... FM repeater. GB3DN. North Devon repeater. IO70UW. CTCSS 77Hz.
145.650 ... FM repeater. EI2DBR. Devil's Bit Repeater, Tipperary. IO62BU. Southern Ireland Repeater Network.
145.675 ... FM repeater. EI2HHR. Helvick Head Repeater. IO62EC. Southern Ireland Repeater Network.
145.675 ... FM repeater. EI2CCR. Clermont Carn Repeater, Co.Louth. IO64UB.
145.675 ... SSB on downlink from transponder on Chinese satellite XW-2A. Norad ID 40903.
145.6875 ... Digital repeater. No positive ID. Might be GB3WE? Weston Super Mare. IO81MH.
145.700 ... FM repeater. EI2TKR. Truskmore Repeater. Sligo. IO54TI. CTCSS 77 Hz.
145.700 ... FM repeater. GB3AR. Carmarthen Repeater. IO73VC. 110.9Hz.
145.725 ... FM repeater. EI2TAG. Tountinna, Tipperary. Limerick repeater. IO52TU.
145.725 ... Beacon on Chinese satellite XW-2B. Norad ID 40911.
145.725 ... FM repeater. GB3NC. North Cornwall repeater nr St.Austell. IO70OJ. CTCSS 77Hz.
145.750 ... FM repeater. EI2MGR. Mullaghanish, Co.Cork. IO51KX.
145.7625 ... FM repeater. GB3PL. East Cornwall. IO70VM. CTCSS 77Hz. ID is 'GB3PL Amateur Radio Repeater'.
145.775 ... FM repeater. GB3WW. West Wales repeater. IO81CP. CTCSS F 94.8 Hz. 
145.775 ... FM repeater. GB3WT. West Tyrone. IO64JQ. Nr Omagh. CTCSS 110.9Hz.

While this list is unique to my location, it should give a general guide as to what can be heard if you are living near Cork. You may well hear other repeaters but this is a good list to start with and it's a guide on where to listen.